NASCAR drivers see varying results in 2021 Rolex 24 journey

9 Mins read
Credit: Michael Levitt/LAT Images

The 2021 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona have come to an end, and scattered among the finishing order of forty-nine cars were various names that are more well known for their stock car experience rather than sports cars. While overall winner Wayne Taylor Racing‘s #10 DPi has no NASCAR background (instead being more for their IndyCar Series prowess), others in the field did, whether as former champions or even just drivers who ran a road course race as a ringer.

Drivers with regular NASCAR experience see mixed results, Johnson comes close in overall

Finishing second overall behind WTR is the #48 Action Express Racing DPi driven by a star-studded roster of Kamui Kobayashi, Simon Pagenaud, Mike Rockenfeller, and recently-retired seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson. Johnson, running his first Rolex 24 since 2011, started the race sixth and ran for the opening hour before turning over the Cadillac to Pagenaud. Two more stints came in the early morning that included enjoying time in the lead by the ninth hour. By the end of the day, Johnson had spent over 3 hours, 48 minutes, and 57 seconds in the car, considerably less than his team-mates with nearly double his amount, but he contributed to the team’s second-place finish.

It is Johnson’s third runner-up placement in the endurance race after doing so in 2005 and 2008. Johnson, who heads to IndyCar in 2021, was joined by familiar company on the #48 as longtime crew chief and Hendrick Motorsports Vice President of Competition Chad Knaus, who won the seven Cup titles with him, worked with him atop the pit box. Various other Hendrick personnel also worked on the #48 car.

“So close. What a race,” Johnson said in a social media video from sponsor Ally Financial. “First and foremost, I need to thank Ally for their support and creating this opportunity for myself and this incredible team to get together and take a run at winning the Rolex 24. Ended up P2, had an amazing day of racing. So many lessons learned, so many friendships kind of built through this process of racing with these other drivers and being a part of this race team.

“I definitely need to sleep. I think I got two hours of sleep through the entire 24-hour race, but I hope everybody enjoyed following it and I got to come back and do this again and try to get that watch.”

Meyer Shank Racing‘s #60 DPi finished fourth with Dane Cameron, Olivier Pla, Juan Pablo Montoya, and A.J. Allmendinger. Montoya and Allmendinger both boast versatile racing résumés that include full-time seasons and road course success in NASCAR, and the latter is set for his first full-time NASCAR season since 2018 when he races for the 2021 Xfinity Series championship. Montoya was the third driver in while Allmendinger, who worked with NBC as a commentator to begin the race, was the last.

Allmendinger, running his first Rolex 24 in a Prototype since 2016 and the 2012 winner, ran in the top five for much of his stints. Montoya hung out in podium range as the race entered its final hour. A three-time Rolex 24 winner seeking his first since 2013, he was fifth after the last pit stop and finished fourth.

Credit: Richard Dole/LAT Images

“I thought we had a very strong car from all the testing we did,” Montoya said in a team release. “When we started the race, it was off. We all struggled and at the end I could keep up with the lead pack but I had nothing to be able to compete with them. I was killing myself just to run at the same pace. Otherwise, I had a blast working with Meyer Shank Racing. You can’t win them all, and that is racing. It is cool to see Acura finally get a win here at Daytona, so big congratulations to them.”

Allmendinger explained he was “really proud of the effort by all the men and women at Meyer Shank Racing. We kept fighting through the race and never gave up. Having no mechanical issues the entire race with a brand new car is amazing. We came so close to a podium, and it’s disappointing not to, but overall I really enjoyed driving the Acura DPi. As always, it’s an honor to drive for Mike Shank, I can’t believe this was my 15th Rolex 24 with him. And I can’t thank Dane, Oli and JPM enough for helping me get up to speed and be a part of this team.”

The sixth DPi to cross the line was Action Express Racing’s #31 with Felipe Nasr, Mike Conway, Pipo Derani, and defending Cup champion Chase Elliott. Elliott, making his Rolex 24 début and entering the 2021 Cup season on a four-race road course win streak, was the car’s second driver and would ultimately raced for a smidge over five hours.

However, despite being the subject of much discussion from NBC’s race coverage and starting on the pole, he found himself off the pace due to various misfortunes that placed him 22 laps down after repairs. A gearbox failure ultimately did the #31 in and it finished eigth overall.

“I lost the drive and could hear a loud bang on the gearbox, that was the fourth gear done,” explained Nasr to NBC. While the ex-Formula One driver has never turned laps in NASCAR, he and AXR helped with testing the Cup Series’ 2022-bound Next Gen car at Daytona last August. “I don’t know what to say. I feel terrible for everybody. We put in such a good work all weekend. Last weekend starting on pole. I don’t know what to say, man. We’ve got to come back with better luck next time.”

In the LMP2 class, a pair of Rolex 24 newcomers and NASCAR veterans in Austin Dillon and Cody Ware took their #51 RWR Eurasia Ligier to a tenth-overall and fourth-class finish. Dillon, the 2018 Daytona 500 winner, was the second driver to pilot the Ligier after Salih Yoluç, while Ware, the 2019–20 Asian Le Mans Series champion set for full-time Cup racing with RWR, took over following Sven Müller.

The two NASCAR drivers would spend the most time in the car at over six hours each, with Ware doing the brunt of the work including taking over for the final stint. Despite losing power steering with less than three hours to go, the #51 was able to finish its first Rolex 24 in fourth.

Credit: Richard Dole/LAT Images

“I finally got to race in the #Rolex24 and came home P4 in LMP2[,]” Ware tweeted. “Austin, Salih, and Sven we’re amazing teammates and I was proud of our pace with the (Ligier) JSP217. WHAT A DREAM”.

The LMP3 team CORE Autosport fielded the #54 for Colin Braun, Jon Bennett, George Kurtz, and Matt McMurry, but trouble appeared to await them at every corner. After Braun, a Camping World Truck Series full timer for two years and series race winner who returned to stock cars as a relief driver in the ARCA Menards Series last August, took over the car from Kurtz, he reported struggling to maximise his car’s braking power, leading to a pit stop to change the brakes. The brakes would eventually be lost nearly entirely due to a broken fluid reservoir that sank the car further down the order, followed by another issue in the foot box that the team could not fix without spending too much time in the garage. Despite fighting back thanks to full-course yellow flags, debris and tyre punctures led to a fifth-place class finish.

“As soon as I got in the car I could tell we didn’t have the same braking capacity that we had in practice,” Braun said. “You couldn’t really attack for most of the race. The crew tried to sort it out and put in a valiant effort to get it fixed, but we never had a quick fix and had to keep, kind of, driving around the problem. It’s tough to diagnose a brake problem in the middle of the race when you don’t have any telemetry and very little experience with the car. George, Matt and Jon all did a great job of not turning this issue into a big problem. It definitely would have been easy to make a little mistake and have a big moment.

“Overall, I’m really proud of everyone. Certainly, we would’ve liked to contend. On pace, considering our brake issues, we were running pretty well. If we had a car to fight, we would have been in great shape. Beyond that we had no reliability issues, and nobody put a foot wrong. It wasn’t meant to be, but we have a lot to build on for Sebring.”

Of the GTD drivers in the field, only Andy Lally of Magnus Racing has raced in NASCAR as something besides a ringer. The 2011 Cup Series Rookie of the Year, who has become an Xfinity ringer in recent years, took over the #44 Mach 5-themed Acura from John Potter and would record the second-most seat time of his quartet behind Mario Farnbacher. The three and Spencer Pumpelly would suffer some setbacks such as a downed right-rear tyre and lost ballast, but managed to finish eleventh in the class.

Despite describing the race as “a tough day”, Lally remained positive on Twitter and added that “1) If it weren’t for tough days, the good days wouldn’t be so sweet. 2) Even on a day that we put a ton of time, heart and effort into before hand and it all went wrong, we are still incredibly fortunate to do what we do.

“On to Sebring”.

Pure ringers battle in GTD, Habul scores best class finish

Road course ringers, or drivers whose only starts in NASCAR have come on such tracks, comprised seven of the NASCAR-represented drivers. All seven were also in the GTD field and spread across five teams.

The highest-finishing ringer is Kenny Habul, whose SunEnergy1 Racing team finished second in the GTD class behind Winward Racing. Habul, who has fifteen Xfinity starts between 2012 and 2016 with four for his SunEnergy1 operation, began the Rolex 24 in the #75 Mercedes-AMG GT3 before turning it over to Mikael Grenier. Mercedes factory driver Raffaele Marciello and Grenier would race the car the most, with Luca Stolz having the third most and Habul the least as the only one with less than five hours of seat time. Marciello closed out SunEnergy1’s first IMSA race since 2018 with a runner-up finish.

Credit: Michael Levitt/LAT Images

Patrick Long and his Wright Motorsports companions finished fourth in the class. Long only has one start in the Cup and Xfinity Series each, both at road courses, but is a two-time winner in the now-ARCA Menards Series West. His co-drivers Jan Heylen, Trent Hindman (who replaced an injured Ryan Hardwick), and Klaus Bachler drove the #16 Porsche 911 GT3R first before Long took over. Heylen, a former Champ Car driver, carried the load of the work with eight hours in the car compared to his team-mates, none of whom broke the six-hour mark. The team ran in podium range for much of the race but was also involved in an incident with the Mustang Sampling/JDC-Miller #5 DPi that resulted in damage.

“Fourth place finish at #rolex24,” tweeted the team. “For the second year in a row, we came within seconds of the podium finish. These guys worked so hard to make this race happen, and unfortunate contact from another car set us back during the night. But we’re so proud of all the hard work for P4!”

Ninth in GTD was Alegra Motorsports‘ #28 GT3 piloted by Maximilian Buhk, Daniel Morad, Billy Johnson, and Mike Skeen. Johnson, a longtime Ford factory driver with five Xfinity and one Cup start, was the second driver in the car after Morad. Meanwhile, Skeen would have to wait a while before taking over as the last driver; a Trans-Am Series veteran who returned to NASCAR last summer as a ringer for the Daytona RC Truck race (his first since 2013), Skeen was a last-minute addition after Michael de Quesada tested positive for COVID-19. Johnson had a tad over seven hours of racing while Skeen had the second-fewest ahead of Buhk.

“After 24 hours of gruelling endurance racing, we crossed the finish line P9. It’s not where we wanted to be – but given some of the curveballs thrown at us this weekend and our first real outing with our new Mercedes-AMG GT3 we’re feeling pretty good about the results,” Alegra posted on Facebook.

Sandwiched between Braun and Lally were Katherine Legge and Earl Bamber of Team Hardpoint EBM, whose #88 finished tenth in class. All but one of Legge’s four Xfinity starts came on road courses, while Bamber débuted in the Xfinity Series on the Daytona RC last year. Rob Ferriol and Christina Nielsen were the first on deck before Legge took over, followed by Bamber. The 2017 FIA World Endurance LMP1 champion, Bamber was the fastest GTD driver by Hour 9, but the team struggled with understeer through the night. Ferriol would bring the car home in tenth. Legge and Bamber led the four in track time at over seven and six hours, respectively.

Forty-second overall and sixteenth in GTD was Vasser Sullivan‘s #14 Lexus driven by Aaron Telitz, Kyle Kirkwood, Oliver Gavin, and Jack Hawksworth. Hawksworth, a former IndyCar driver whose lone NASCAR race came at Mid-Ohio in 2019, was the last in the car and had five fewer minutes of track time than the second-fewest Gavin; he was also the team’s penultimate driver. The Brit is not the only Vasser Sullivan driver to have NASCAR experience, with 2019 Cup champ Kyle Busch being his team-mate for the 2020 Rolex 24.

Credit: Richard Dole/LAT Images

Rolex 24 NASCAR driver results

Overall Finish (Class)Overall Start (Class)#DriverTeam-matesTeamClassTime on TrackTotal Time in Car
2nd (2nd)6th (6th)48Jimmie JohnsonKamui Kobayashi, Simon Pagenaud, Mike RockenfellerAction Express RacingDPi3:43:56.1213:48:57.301
4th (4th)4th (4th)60Juan Pablo MontoyaDane Cameron, Olivier Pla, A.J. AllmendingerMeyer Shank RacingDPi6:34:50.1146:46:50.161
4th (4th)4th (4th)60A.J. AllmendingerDane Cameron, Olivier Pla, Juan Pablo MontoyaMeyer Shank RacingDPi4:27:17.0374:33:25.916
8th (6th)1st (1st)31Chase ElliottFelipe Nasr, Mike Conway, Pipo DeraniAction Express RacingDPi4:52:30.9525:03:31.374
10th (4th)15th (8th)51Cody WareSalih Yoluç, Austin Dillon, Sven MüllerRWR EurasiaLMP26:11:40.7786:18:27.772
10th (4th)15th (8th)51Austin DillonSalih Yoluç, Sven Müller, Cody WareRWR EurasiaLMP26:00:07.4976:05:49.302
23rd (2nd)40th (10th)75Kenny HabulMikael Grenier, Raffaele Marciello, Luca StolzSunEnergy1 RacingGTD4:38:37.9834:42:34.766
25th (4th)38th (8th)16Patrick LongJan Heylen, Trent Hindman, Klaus BachlerWright MotorsportsGTD5:09:09.7185:13:16.280
30th (9th)44th (14th)28Billy JohnsonDaniel Morad, Maximilian Buhk, Mike SkeenAlegra MotorsportsGTD6:55:38.1597:00:18.942
30th (9th)44th (14th)28Mike SkeenDaniel Morad, Billy Johnson, Maximilian BuhkAlegra MotorsportsGTD5:19:43.2525:24:16.602
31st (5th)20th (3rd)54Colin BraunJon Bennett, George Kurtz, Matt McMurryCORE AutosportLMP35:12:20.0295:17:58.504
32nd (10th)43rd (13th)88Katherine LeggeRob Ferriol, Christina Nielsen, Earl BamberTeam Hardpoint EBMGTD7:17:31.5627:27:30.024
32nd (10th)43rd (13th)88Earl BamberRob Ferriol, Christina Nielsen, Katherine LeggeTeam Hardpoint EBMGTD6:38:09.6426:44:52.145
33rd (11th)41st (11th)44Andy LallyJohn Potter, Spencer Pumpelly, Mario FarnbacherMagnus RacingGTD6:18:11.8726:28:17.747
42nd (16th)34th (4th)14Jack HawksworthAaron Telitz, Kyle Kirkwood, Oliver GavinVasser SullivanGTD4:36:43.0984:40:27.236
Bold: Competing full-time in NASCAR in 2021
Italics: Road course ringer
Underline: NASCAR national series race winner
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Justin is neither a NASCAR nor off-road racer, but he has covered them for The Checkered Flag since 2018.
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