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One More 24 For Jimmie

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, December 3 2009
Jimmie Johnson will be back with the GAINSCO team in the 24 hour race at Daytona. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Jimmie Johnson will be back with the Bob Stallings Racing team in the 24 hour race at Daytona. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

NASCAR superstar Jimmie Johnson is anxious to expand his “comfort zone,” and Bob Stallings Racing will give him another opportunity to do so in America’s most prestigious endurance race.

Johnson, who won his record fourth-consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship last month, will rejoin reigning Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype champions Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney for the 48th annual Rolex 24 at Daytona. Rounding out team-owner Stallings’ all-American lineup for the third consecutive year will be Jimmy Vasser, the 1996 CART Champ Car World Series open-wheel champion.

The twice-around-the-clock endurance classic, scheduled for Jan. 30-31 on the 3.56-mile combined oval/road-course at Daytona International Speedway, is the leadoff event for the 2010 edition of Speedweeks.

The Rolex 24 will be Johnson’s fifth appearance in the season-opener for the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16. Johnson, who logged second-place finishes in the 2005 and 2008 Rolex 24s, won NASCAR’s marquee and season-opening Daytona 500 in 2006. Johnson, of Hendrick Motorsports, could become the first Cup champion to also win the overall Rolex 24 title.

“To me, on a personal note, to win this race, it’s hard to say where it would rank,” Johnson said during a NASCAR/Grand-Am teleconference on Wednesday afternoon. “But it is extremely high on my list because it’s outside of my comfort zone and cars I haven’t spent a lot of time driving.  I just don’t have experience in higher-downforce cars. To run well and finish second in the two times I have is really special to me.  Certainly hope we can win this year.”

Additionally, Stallings announced a switch to Chevrolet’s race-prepared 5-liter V-8 engine beginning with the Rolex 24. BSR’s recent three-year partnership with Pontiac produced series championships in 2007 and 2009, and a runnerup finish in 2008. Fogarty and Gurney won 12 races during that span in the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance “Red Dragon” Riley DP.

Fogarty, Gurney, Johnson and Vasser finished second in their first Rolex 24 together in 2008 and placed seventh last winter. David Donohue, Darren Law, Buddy Rice and Antonio Garcia gave Brumos Racing its first series victory since 2003 in the 47th edition of the Rolex 24 last Jan. 24-25, denying TELMEX/Target Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates its fourth consecutive victory by 0.167-seconds. It was the closest margin of victory in event history. Donohue, driving the No. 58 Brumos Porsche Riley, passed NASCAR’s Juan Pablo Montoya with 39 minutes remaining and went on to win on the 40th anniversary of father Mark Donohue’s victory in 1969.

“All of us at GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing want to win our third Grand-Am Rolex Series championship just as bad as we want to score a victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona,” said Stallings, a Dallas-based businessman/racer.

Stallings’ team was the first to file official entries for both the Jan. 8–10 Roar Before the Rolex 24 Test Days at Daytona and the Rolex 24. “We are honored to carry the great racing history of the Chevrolet Bowtie in the Grand-Am Rolex Series and we feel very, very fortunate to have put together for the third year an unmatched lineup of American champion drivers.”

Johnson has raced in five of the last six Rolex 24s, including the last two with BSR. In addition to the second-place finish with the GAINSCO team in 2008, Johnson also was part of 2005’s second-place Howard/Boss Motorsports Pontiac Crawford team. He made his first Rolex 24 start with the same team a year earlier and returned in 2007 for not only the Rolex 24 but also that summer’s Brumos Porsche 250 at Daytona with Riley Motorsports. Johnson turned to Stallings’ organization prior to the 2008 event while looking for a team capable of winning the Rolex 24.

“It would be unbelievable,” said Johnson, alluding to an overall Rolex 24 title. “I’ve had such a great time with Bob and his entire race team. I hope to do a better job (in 2010) in the 24. I kind of broke our toy (in 2009) after a pit stop. We had a great time. I know it’s very important for all of us to win the Rolex 24 and we’re going to show up with that in mind.

“The Rolex 24 is an event that’s been around for ages and there’s a lot of prestige that goes with it. To me, it’s in the top five of races in the world. You can lump it in with the 24 Hours at LeMans, the Daytona 500, the Monaco Grand Prix, the Brickyard (400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway). I think it’s in the top five of all racing worldwide.”

Johnson, Gurney and Fogarty all led the 2008 Rolex 24 and joined Vasser in keeping the No. 99 in contention for the overall win throughout the race. “Winning the Rolex 24 is a primary goal for the 99 GAINSCO team,” said Gurney, son of American racing icon Dan Gurney. “During the year, we’re constantly talking about it and are planning for it. It’s one of the big challenges in all of racing and it would be a career achievement to win it. Coming off the 2009 Rolex Series championship win, we’re going in with high hopes.”

Fogarty welcomed Johnson and his championship pedigree back to the Stallings stable. “We are all focused on winning the 24 and adding an extra bit of that fuel to the fire only makes it brighter,” Fogarty said. “In addition, the fact that we have worked with Jimmie in past Rolex 24 races makes the whole operation work more smoothly. It’s a comfortable situation that lets us get down to business right away. The icing on the cake is that Jimmie is just a great guy to spend time with, racing aside.”

Live coverage of the 2010 Rolex 24 begins on SPEED on Saturday, Jan. 30, at 3 p.m. ET, prior to the 3:25 p.m. ET green flag, and lasts until 10 p.m. Coverage resumes at 7 a.m. ET on Sunday and will run to the finish at 4 p.m. Tickets for the Rolex 24, and all Speedweeks events including the 52nd annual Daytona 500, can be purchased online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, December 3 2009
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