Rolex 24 is the real International Race of Champions
The Daytona 24-hour -- the Rolex 24 -- is a true world-class race. Every driver who wins it is very proud to put it on his resume. Don't believe it? Where else can you see
Also entered in the top Daytona Prototype class: four-time Champ Car champion and former F1 driver Bourdais of France in a Riley-BMW, 2004 Indy 500-winner
Johnson shook off a big hit on Thursday that destroyed the back half of Gainsco Racing's Chevrolet-powered Riley. Driving the Daytona Prototype for the first time in a year, Johnson came upon a slower GT entry at the fastest corner in the infield and hard braking sent him into a tire barrier at an estimated 100 miles per hour.
"He hit very hard," teammate
The record-setting winner of the past four NASCAR Sprint Cup championships had a very sore back and, facing the prospect of five or six hours driving on the bumpy track, could have used the crash as an excuse to bow out. Nobody would have blamed him. The Daytona 500 is coming up soon, and that's his day job, the most important race of the year. Why risk getting beat up more in a race you're doing basically for the pure enjoyment of racing?
But Johnson got back into the rebuilt car at Friday morning's practice for the Rolex 24 at Daytona. He ran it hard, too, on the fast 3.56-mile, 14-turn course, and was third-fastest in the session.
Johnson's decision to continue is based partially on his integrity -- he committed to the race and was cleared to drive -- but primarily because the Daytona 24-Hour is a prestigious event that every race car driver in the world wants to win. It's the real International Race of Champions.
This is what Johnson said in the prerace media release: "It would be unbelievable to win the Rolex 24."
That's also the sentiment of an all-star list of drivers, a convention of champions.
Johnson is driving for a championship team in Gainsco, the winner in two of the past three Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car seasons with regular drivers Gurney and
Gainsco's fourth driver is 1996 CART Champ Car champion
Johnson was angry with himself for crashing the car. "I hate it that I tore up equipment and put the guys in this spot," he said.
The team scrambled to put the Riley chassis back together overnight, straightening the frame and having a new rear structure flown in from Riley Technologies in North Carolina. Johnson provided use of his jet to retrieve the rear structure, which was welded into place at the firewall to the driver compartment. It was ready to go for the Friday morning practice and so was Johnson. The crash seems to have fueled his determination.
"The car was good, everything is just fine," he said after the practice. "I'm better, but not until this race is over. I'll finally forgive myself."
Gurney, the 35-year-old son of the legendary
The AAR Eagle-Toyota had an all-American driver lineup of
"Representing the USA gives us all a lot of extra motivation," Alex Gurney said. "It's something very rare these days in motorsports. We are definitely very proud that we are able to put forth such a competitive all-American effort."
The race begins Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET.