Loading Related Articles ...

NASCAR drivers ready to put Rolex in rearview mirror

Kyle Larson

RELATED: Best photos from Rolex 24

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- 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.

XFINITY Series driver Brendan Gaughan was NASCAR's highest finisher this year, his No. 20 ORECA FLM09 finishing third in the PC class; nine laps behind the class winner and eight laps ahead of the next car in class; 43 laps down to the overall winner.

"It was a lot of fun to come back to the 24 -- my average finish is 2 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 GTD 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.

"I've never hit anything like that so I was just hoping it would be soft. It was pretty soft. I'm not hurting at all. Glad I'm going to be here in two weeks in a stock car."

His No. 02 Ford prototype suffered multiple nagging problems throughout its title defense this week, forcing time off track to repair and the laps lost -- even earlier in the event -- proved too much to overcome. Still, they finished seventh in class.

NASCAR driver AJ Allmendinger was scored 50th in the 54-car field. His No. 60 Honda prototype -- which won the 50th anniversary of this race four years ago -- suffered engine failure about nine and a half hours into the 24-hour affair. The Michael Shank Racing team had hoped to score a victory in honor of their longtime driver Justin Wilson, who was killed competing in an IndyCar race last season.

And while the overall race winning Honda team will duly and deservedly earn the world's headlines this week, the new look Daytona International Speedway will also be talked about for a great while.

RELATED: Larson, McMurray react to Daytona renovations

It proved a wonderful venue for the Rolex and will be packed with fans and VIPs in only two weeks as NASCAR takes over for its 2016 edition of Speedweeks. Having some time to check out the $400 million speedway makeover this week, the drivers were impressed and enthused about the new-look facility. And track executives couldn't be more ready to introduce it to the NASCAR crowd.

"The Rolex 24 is a unique event but the focus has always been on the infield,'' Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood said. "We're so excited that Daytona Rising and the Rolex 24 has given fans a chance to check out the concourses, sight lines and seats, but with NASCAR coming to town, we know all the grandstand amenities on the other side of the stadium will be put to their fullest tests because we'll get maximum capacity.

"So all those great NASCAR fans that never get a chance to get into the infield are going to enjoy the Daytona 500 and the events with all the great things on the outside -- 1,400 screens, we've got wifi in all concourses, vertical transportation, social zones, you name it.

"That's when we'll put the Daytona International Speedway to a true test when we're at max capacity with all those NASCAR fans during Speedweeks."

More stories