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NASCAR drivers kept off podium at Rolex 24

January 26, 2014, Holly Cain,

Larson, McMurray still upbeat about the experience

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The Rolex 24 at Daytona was NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie Kyle Larson's first sports car race. But he and fellow Cup drivers Jamie McMurray and AJ Allmendinger had to feel right at home even if they didn't figure into the overall win this year.

After 23 hours of racing, a caution flag bunched up the field with less than 20 minutes remaining and the ensuing final laps featured lots of door-slamming contact, daring passes -- and even a controversial penalty -- all prompting comparisons to the competitive and aggressive brand of racing in NASCAR.

Competitors say that bodes well for the future of the inaugural TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season.

"It made people think of NASCAR because it came down to the last little bit, and it was a cool finish because all the classes were really close," said Larson, whose first Rolex experience came in a Team Ganassi Ford that contended for the win but retired in the final hour with severe body damage.

The other Ganassi car also retired early (with engine woes) -- the first time owner Chip Ganassi can remember that neither of his cars made it to the finish.

"It's part of it, part of the game of racing -- it'll happen and now we'll move on to the next race," said Ganassi, whose team had five wins and two runner-up finishes in the previous eight Rolex 24 races.

Larson and McMurray, teammates in Ganassi's Sprint Cup, were tabbed to co-drive in the Rolex 24 with an all-star two-car team of IndyCar champs and sports car veterans. Larson, whose three Nationwide Series road course races last season were the extent of his road course experience, finished 15th overall. McMurray finished 43rd in his sixth Rolex start.

"I honestly still don't know what exactly happened, when I woke up at 4:30 or so this morning to come get back in the car, I noticed we were quite a few laps down," said McMurray, whose best finish is runner-up in 2011. "I know we got into the wall, had some starter issues. But I got back in and did my two and a half, three hours and I got out, took a shower and now I'm back to just hang out.

"It's really disappointing, but that's what I think makes this race so great if you can finish it. It's extremely hard to do. I've had a really good time."

JTG Daugherty driver Allmendinger, the 2012 Rolex 24 overall winner, finished 47th overall, his No. 60 Michael Shank Racing prototype suffering from mechanical problems.

But while the current NASCAR drivers were shut out -- only the second time since 2006 there were no full-time NASCAR drivers on the podium -- the overall winning Chevrolet prototype did have several NASCAR connections.

Former NASCAR executive Gary Nelson is the team manager of Action Express Racing, and former NASCAR driver Elton Sawyer is the director of competition. And the team uses Earnhardt Childress Racing (ECR) Chevy engines, something team owner Bob Johnson credited with being a difference-maker.

The sport was also represented in Victory Lane by British sports car driver Nick Tandy, who considers himself a huge fan of American stock car racing.

Tandy, who won the GT LeMans class in the Rolex 24, said he watches every Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series race and has for years.

He grew up a big Dale Earnhardt fan and is now appreciative of Kyle Busch's talent.

"It was so cool when I got the chance to come here and race in Daytona because I've been such a fan for 20-odd years," Tandy said "I haven't missed a race on TV in years, and I mean all 36 races each season. I'm a huge fan."

"Everyone has something they are passionate about and not that I'm not passionate about my own racing, but as a sports fan, NASCAR is kind of my game."


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