Bowyer, McMurray, Montoya confident for 24-hour race
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Sure, it took 43 years for a NASCAR regular to win sports car’s great Rolex 24 at Daytona.
But ask the stock car drivers entered in this weekend’s 51st annual twice-around-the-clock Grand-Am season-opener on the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway road course and they’ll tell you they hold their own just fine these days, even on a 59-car starting grid filled with a Who’s Who list of racing greats.
Casey Mears became the first full-time NASCAR driver to win a Rolex timepiece in 2006. Since then, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have been on three of the last six winning teams.
A pair of Chip Ganassi Racing teammates -- 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray and Sprint Cup Series teammate Juan Pablo Montoya -- held a lively discussion in Victory Circle on Friday afternoon surrounded by former Rolex race winners participating in a pre-race photo opportunity.
"It's absolutely crazy that you can race for 24 hours and it will come down to the end."
-- Jamie McMurray
They are drivers on the two front-row starting Ganassi team BMW/Rileys -- Montoya on the pole-sitting No. 01 car and McMurray on the outside pole-winning No. 02 -- but they acknowledge even a prime starting position is overrated in this race.
“This race is interesting because you get so worked up by what happens in the first hour and then by hour nine, you’re like, ‘why in the world was I worried about what happened eight hours ago,’ ” McMurray said with a smile.
His words were well-received by another NASCAR full-timer, Rolex 24 rookie Clint Bowyer who briefly joined the group and took in the advice -- real and otherwise -- from McMurray and the two-time Rolex winner Montoya.
The biggest thing they stressed was the need for “give and take” -- especially in Bowyer’s case as he is driving a slower GT-class Ferrari and they are driving the faster Daytona Prototypes. Bowyer, who will co-drive with his Sprint Cup Series team owners Michael Waltrip and Rob Kauffman, said his biggest concern going into Saturday’s green flag is how to appropriately handle the speed discrepancy between the two classes of cars.
As Indy 500 champs and Formula One stars mingled around the threesome, both McMurray and Montoya assured Bowyer that their NASCAR education put them well ahead of the competition on several fronts.
“You learn the give and take in NASCAR and it’s something no one else knows here,” Montoya said, looking around. “I’m being honest. When I came here I didn’t know that. When I started NASCAR, I didn’t know that. And you realize it makes life in racing so much better.”
McMurray was quick to back Montoya up.
“Here’s the thing, the value of give and take in our world is, if you give early, then later on the race, your competitors give back,’’ McMurray said. “So I think that’s what makes it harder for rookies when they come in to Sprint Cup. They typically don’t give and then when they’re trying to pass, they have to work twice as hard to make it happen.
“You don’t see it any other form of racing; someone letting someone go. It’s the smarter way to go -- especially in this (Rolex 24) race -- because it doesn’t matter until the last 30 minutes.
“That’s the race. It’s absolutely crazy that you can race for 24 hours and it will come down to the end.’’
And when the clock does wind down Sunday afternoon, these drivers say they are the best prepared to compete.
“Apart from the endurance races in any series, we run the longest races,’’ Montoya said. “We’re used to being in the car for three or four hours, no one else is.’’
Bowyer -- sitting on a wall taking in the conversation -- laughed out loud when a reporter asked if he had watched any simulations or otherwise special preparations for his first Rolex 24.
“No,’’ he said, “It’s 24 hours long, what are going to prepare for? It’s a long race. I’m along for the ride and I’m having fun.
“It’s just neat to come down here and get the year started off with both of my bosses.”