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Ganassi drivers make statement at Rolex 24 qualifying

January 24, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com

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Chip Ganassi Racing sweeps front row for first time in event history

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- As expected, the Daytona 500-winning Chip Ganassi Racing team made a strong statement in Thursday’s qualifying for the Rolex 24 at Daytona sports car season-opener, for the first time ever sweeping the front row with its star-studded lineup of sports car, NASCAR and IndyCar drivers.

Thanks to a fast lap by his five-time Grand-Am Rolex Series sports car champion co-driver Scott Pruett, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Juan Pablo Montoya will at least start this weekend’s Rolex 24 up front. A finish there would give Montoya his third Rolex win -- the most ever by a NASCAR regular.

"Getting to drive for Chip (Ganassi) on the NASCAR side obviously puts you in a car that’s capable of winning here."

-- Jamie McMurray

He leads a handful of NASCAR’s best who were well-represented in qualifying for the classic twice-around-the-clock race on the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway road course.

Pruett’s pole-winning lap of 127.455 mph in the No. 01 TELMEX BMW/Riley was less than a tenth of a second faster than his Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon’s effort in the marquee Daytona Prototype class.

The 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray will co-drive with the former IndyCar champ Dixon.

And 2011 Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year Andy Lally just missed the pole in the GT-class. With less than 10 minutes remaining in the session, Nick Tandy’s lap of 119.074 mph in the No. 32 Konrad Motorsports Porsche GT3 swiped the top spot from defending class winner Lally in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Porsche GT3.

Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip and last year’s Sprint Cup Series champion runner-up Clint Bowyer will start 33rd overall and 17th in the GT-class co-driving the No. 56 Ferrari 458.

While the Ganassi team’s showing isn’t new, it will be a new look in the driver lineup. It’s the first time McMurray and Montoya have been in separate Ganassi entries in the three years McMurray has entered the event.

“It’s the same group of guys that builds both cars and even more so than in NASCAR, it’s really all one team,’’ McMurray said. “But ultimately you want to win.

“I tell my wife every year before coming down here that this is like the biggest race you could win other than the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400. It would be amazing to say you were a part of winning all those races.’’

McMurray would be the first to accomplish that. And he has good reason to like his chances considering Ganassi teams have won five of the past seven Rolex 24s -- including a historic run of three consecutive victories from 2006-2008.

After being shut out from victory for 43 of the event’s first 50 years, NASCAR drivers have been apart of four of the last seven winning teams.

“Getting to drive for Chip on the NASCAR side obviously puts you in a car that’s capable of winning here,’’ McMurray said. “I don’t know how many of the other NASCAR guys got to be in a car that was really capable of winning before. It seems like there’s been more opportunity for NASCAR guys to get in better cars even outside of Chip’s cars.’’

The field of 57 cars will take the green flag at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.

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