24 Hours of Daytona Kicks Off 2008 Season

Adam Amick@adamamick1Senior Writer IJanuary 31, 2008

Wow...for a while there I wasn’t sure who the heck was going to win the 2008 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona (or whatever it’s called).

The Ganassi car with defending champions Scott Pruett (seven-time 24 Hours winner), Juan Pablo Montoya, Memo Rojas, and new addition Dario Franchitti (Indycar and Indy 500 Champion) were strong for the entire race.

It seemed every time they’d fall back a little it was just a matter of time before they came roaring to the front to show the field who was boss. During most of the night there were five cars on the lead lap in DP (Daytona Prototype).

I must admit I was disappointed that Jeff Gordon didn’t run this year, but then again he has a family at home and I can appreciate that he’s spending time with them, or doing something away from the track at least. Nevertheless I found myself rooting for the car I was rooting against for most of last season: Bob Stalling’s number 99 Gainsco Insurance Pontiac Riley.

Defending Grand Am DP champs Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney were in fine form and were joined by former Champ Car star Jimmy Vasser and two-time defending NASCAR Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson. Johnson kept the car on the road in one piece and, aside from a late gearbox issue, this car would have given the Ganassi boys a real run to the finish.

The reliability was remarkable this year. After the race Stallings said if the team had pitted under caution and changed the gearbox, they figured it would have cost them about 12 minutes, but since Ganassi’s car had a minor issue late, they would have pulled off the win. Oh well, hindsight is what it is.

Former NASCAR Cup Champ Kurt Busch was teamed up with Ryan Briscoe and Helio “Spiderman” Castroneves in the Penske-Taylor Racing entry. Kudos to this crew for recovering from an early tire puncture and other issues during the race to finish third overall. It’s pretty neat to see The Captain (Roger Penske) field a car in Grand Am. I think he’s really got a boner for Chip Ganassi. They have a great racing history against each other.

Penske’s Porsche RS Spyders dominated in the LMP2 Class (and at times overall) last season in the American LeMans Series and look strong heading to Sebring this year. Ganassi, on the other hand, has his efforts focused in Grand Am, where Scott Pruett came up two points shy of the title in 2007.

The two owners battle head-to-head in NASCAR Cup and Indycar through the season. Ganassi had the advantage in Indycar last season when Scott Dixon came within .5 miles of the championship, only to run dry and lose to Dario Franchitti, who came over from Andretti-Green Racing to drive for Chip in the number 40 car in Sprint Cup this year. Oh well...At least we’ll be seeing more of Ashley Judd in the garage area, and with the way she popped off at the end of last year about Milka Duno, we're bound to get some good stuff from her to talk about.

Both Penske and Ganassi are looking to get their Cup programs competitive. Roger has three teams this season with former champ Kurt Busch, “Rocketman” Ryan Newman, and rookie/crash-test dummy Sam Hornish, Jr. Nothing against Sammy, but I hope he learned some things during the offseason because he sure was causing a lot of work for his crew with the number of cars he bent up last year.

Ol' Chip’s team has high expectations this year. The senior member of the crew is...What? Reed Sorenson? I’ll have to look and see if he’s legal to drive a car on the street, much less a cup car.

Actually Reed showed some promise, but more often than not found himself in places he shouldn’t have been. Then again, Ganassi’s COT program struggled, except at Sonoma, where 2007 Rookie of the Year Juan Pablo Montoya found a way to milk every drop of gas out of his Dodge and take his first Cup win (second NASCAR win after taking the victory at Mexico City from his teammate Pruett).

I like Juan a lot and want to see him succeed in the Cup. The pressure is on him this season, but he should be able to handle it. With impressive runs at Atlanta and the big tracks, and not taking crap from the likes of Tony Stewart, I think Juan should make the chase this year. If not he’ll finish in the top 15 in points. I expect him to ruffle a few feathers getting there though. Watch for the words, “Hell...Rubbin is racing!” to come from Juan this year.

Indycar and Indy 500 Champ Franchitti will be somewhat of a wild card on the track this year. I hope he adapts quickly and runs well. I’ll guess he finishes in the top 20 in points.

So now that I’ve covered all that (and a bag of chips...man, when will I shut up?) I guess I should mention that it was no surprise that Nick Ham, Sylvan Tremblay, David Haskell, and Raphael Matos brought home their Speedsource Mazda RX8 first in the GT class at Daytona. They were almost unstoppable last season on their way to the GT title, but the TRG Porsche guys will have something to say about it again this year.

All right, enough for now. This being my first blog entry for 2008 (and first in a while, DOH!) I guess I went on. But hey! This is what it’s all about. Racing Talk: By Race Fans, For Race Fans.

So we enjoy some more testing and prepare for the 50th running of the Daytona 500 in a couple of weeks. Oh I guess there’s some big football game (I don’t think I can say it due to licensing) coming up between now and then.

But after Sunday, it’s time to go racing, folks!