The weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona was certainly rare of late, in that none of the current NASCAR drivers entered in the great sports car race hoisted an overall winner’s trophy.
Since Casey Mears became the first full-time Sprint Cup Series driver to score an overall victory in this event in 2006 – NASCAR drivers have won five more grand Rolex titles, including team owner Chip Ganassi’s head-turning sixth overall victory last year.
But Series driver Brendan Gaughan was NASCAR’s highest finisher this year, his No. 20 ORECA FLM09 finishing third in the Prototype class; nine laps behind the class winner and eight laps ahead of the next car in class. He was 43 laps down to the overall winner.
“It was a lot of fun to come back to the 24 – my average finish is two now [he won in GT3 Class in 2011]so I either retire now or come back for another Rolex,’” Gaughan said. “Such a great event and what an honor to be here.”
Former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year (2011) Andy Lally claimed his fifth class win in the GT Daytona classification.
But as is sometimes the case in this 24-hour endurance test, some of NASCAR’s biggest names didn’t end up hoisting trophies, instead finding the value in turning laps on the speedway to feel prepped and ready come stock car’s version of Speedweeks here in two weeks.
“I’m spending Tuesday with my new spotter and we’re going to watch speedway races and intermediate tracks and go over what we expect of each other,’’ 2015 race winner Jamie McMurray said. “Once this race is over, your focus just goes to your real job [in NASCAR].”
The defending overall Rolex race winning team of McMurray and co-drivers Kyle Larson, IndyCar champion Scott Dixon and former Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan finished 13th overall, 28 laps down after a crash with approximately three hours remaining thwarted any chance of a podium finish.
Larson was driving when the car suffered its second major brake problem of the race, launching the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year straight into a tire barrier at substantial speed.
“That one time, it locked early and wasn’t slowing down and I didn’t make the corner and I drilled the barriers,” Larson said, assuring that he was fine physically.