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Pruett off to strong start in Rolex 24 at Daytona

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 26, 2013 at 7:40 pm •  Published: January 26, 2013

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Scott Pruett's chase for the Rolex record got off to a strong start Saturday.

Pruett and his Chip Ganassi Racing teammates were leading or near the front of the field during the early stages of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Pruett started the grueling endurance race on the pole and was the fastest in the 57-car field. It was the perfect way for Pruett to begin his pursuit of Hurley Haywood's record of five Rolex victories.

"I don't know it we have enough for Ganassi," fellow driver Jordan Taylor admitted.

Pruett, a five-time series champion, maneuvered the No. 01 BMW Riley around the 3.56-mile road course without any problems — something few drivers could say in the early going.

AJ Allmendinger, whose Michael Shank Racing team won the event last year, fell way behind in the first hour after breaking a left-front tie rod on the No. 60 Ford Riley. The part affected steering and suspension, and left the car seven laps back.

Allmendinger was suspended by NASCAR last season for failing a random drug test and sent home hours before the July race at Daytona. He was hoping to make a triumphant return while defending his Rolex title.

Instead, Allmendinger and teammates Ozz Negri, Justin Wilson, John Pew and Marcos Ambrose could have a tough time catching up. Then again, anything can and often does happen in the twice-around-the-clock test that kicks off the racing season.

"Luckily, it happened in the kink," Allmendinger said. "If it'd happened in the banking, I'd have killed myself. It was big. So once I got in the grass, I just tried to get it whoa'ed down, but still not dig the nose in the grass. At least it's early."

The team can gain a lap back with every caution, but those have been few and far between through the first five hours.

"There's no hanging back there," said Negri, racing with a broken right foot. "We need to be pedal to the metal, and we need cautions."

Allmendinger wasn't the only driver who ran into trouble early, either.

Fellow Daytona Prototype drivers Stephane Sarrazin, Ian James and Bruno Junqueira fell laps behind. Sarrazin had a transmission problem. James had a gearbox failure. Junqueira spun off the track. Emmanuel Anassis also had issues.

So, five of the 17 cars in the DP class were seemingly out of it.

And considering that the six Corvettes in the field were so slow in qualifying that Grand-Am officials gave them an extra five horsepower Friday, the two Ganassi cars are the clear-cut favorites. Grand-Am officials previously stripped the Chevrolets of power.

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