Pruett, Ganassi win fourth Daytona title

By: MARK LONG AP Sports Writer
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Chip Ganassi stood to the side and watched his drivers douse each other with champagne, kiss the Rolex 24 at Daytona trophy and parade around Victory Lane with flags draped on their backs. Ganassi’s celebration was much more subdued. Has he grown accustomed to all this winning? No chance. The owner simply knows who deserves credit for the unprecedented “Ganassi Slam.” “I don’t drive the cars, I don’t change the tires, I don’t work on the engines,” Ganassi said. “There’s a lot of great competitors that it takes to make up a team. I’m just the guy that gets to stand up here and talk about it.” Few car owners have done that as often as Ganassi in recent months — at least on racing’s biggest stages. Three-time and defending Grand-Am Series champion Scott Pruett drove the last leg of the Rolex 24 on Sunday and held off Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon during a frantic, one-lap sprint. Pruett, who resides in Auburn, got a smooth restart on a green-white-checker finish and a little help from slower traffic to pull away from Dixon and third-place finisher Joao Barbosa in the Daytona Prototype class. Andy Lally led TRG Racing to victory in the Grand Touring class. The team drove the final 17 hours without a clutch, but still finished two laps ahead of the next closest car. Pruett, meanwhile, won by 2.42 seconds. He earned his 32nd victory in the series and his fourth Rolex 24 (1994, 2007, 2008). This one could be his most meaningful. It surely was for Ganassi, who became the only car owner to win the four biggest races in the United States during a 12-month period. His drivers won the Daytona 500 (Jamie McMurray), the Indianapolis 500 (Dario Franchitti) and the Brickyard 400 (McMurray) last year. “It’s the guys that do all the work,” Ganassi said. Hard to argue after the prestigious, twice-around-the-clock endurance race at Daytona International Speedway. Pruett and co-drivers Memo Rojas, Joey Hand and Graham Rahal overcame several setbacks to get Ganassi back to Victory Lane in the Rolex 24 after consecutive runner-up finishes. It was Ganassi’s fourth win in the season-opening event. “There’s a lot of should’ve, would’ve, could’ve,” said Pruett, who teamed with Rojas to win nine of 12 races in the series last year but not the biggest one on the schedule. “I was right there the last two years. ... I lived it. Chip as well. We lived it the last two years. So it’s certainly nice to be back in Victory Lane. At the end of the day, it’s exciting for our team to have a 1-2 finish. That’s how you one-up what you do here. I think that’s absolutely amazing.” Pruett used pit strategy to get his No. 01 BMW Riley ahead of the other Ganassi entry in the final hour and stayed out front down the stretch. The car went down two laps Saturday because of a gear box issue and fell as low as 18th in the class before getting back to the front. Even then, it was short-lived. Hand hit a tire on pit road and received a drive-through penalty that included a 30-second stop. He dropped 51 seconds behind the lead pack, but made up 30 seconds under green-flag conditions. Pruett took over from there, driving the final 110 minutes. He made up the rest of the ground by pitting earlier than the others on the lead lap and taking advantage of new tires. “Obviously, all of us were a little disappointed with that (penalty), but you can’t think about it,” Pruett said. “You’ve got to keep focusing on getting to Victory Lane. The thing all these drivers did up here is keep the car absolutely immaculate. “If you look at that car, there may be a few scratches, but that’s what it takes to win and be in contention for this race. Our car’s not beat up, it’s not tore up, it’s not banged up. It’s still a strong piece.” It certainly was too fast for the No. 02 Ganassi entry, the one with the star-studded lineup of Dixon, Franchitti, McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya. The No. 02 team faded late as track temperature rose, and the four drivers were clearly disappointed with the second-place finish. “You can’t go home being happy knowing that you had a chance,” Montoya said. Nonetheless, they celebrated with Ganassi. “It’s really quite amazing what Chip’s done,” McMurray said. “From a team side of it, it’s really amazing for not only this group, but just the whole organization what he’s been able to accomplish. It’s incredible.”