Pruett ties Haywood's record as Ganassi wins Rolex

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 28, 2013 at 3:53 am •  Published: January 28, 2013
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Juan Pablo Montoya turned down pit road, stopped at his stall and picked up his boss and teammates.

Chip Ganassi and Charlie Kimball squeezed into the cockpit. Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas jumped on the hood.

Montoya gave them all a lift — much like he did during the closing laps.

Destination: Victory Lane and the record book.

Chip Ganassi Racing won its fifth Rolex 24 at Daytona on Sunday, a victory that gave Pruett his fifth celebratory watch and tied Hurley Haywood's record for wins in the twice-around-the-clock endurance race at Daytona International Speedway.

"To have Scott tie Hurley's record is something special," Ganassi said. "I used to race against Scott Pruett, and he amazed me then with his tenacity, and we saw it again here. I never met a guy that was so team oriented. And for he and Juan to get back together and have a victory I think mended a lot of things there.

"Hurley asked me if I could just make sure that Scott retired now, and I said no. I said what I will do, though, is maybe ask Hurley to come out of retirement if he wants to join (Pruett). So there's a carrot out there for Hurley."

Humbled a year ago when both its cars failed to make the podium, the Ganassi organization returned to the Rolex 24 at Daytona determined to perform.

An eyebrow-raising lineup change that involved Montoya showed just how serious the team was about winning, and it delivered with its fifth win in 10 appearances in the prestigious sports car race and put Pruett in the record books.

"Having gotten to know Hurley real well over the years by racing with him and just as a friend, and to have him there at the end was pretty special," Pruett said.

The winning team of three-time defending Grand-Am drivers Pruett and Rojas, along with Montoya and IndyCar driver Kimball, making his Rolex debut, beat the Max Angelelli-led VelocityWW team by almost 22 seconds.

It was Montoya who closed out the win, driving the final stint and waging a strong battle in the final hour with defending champion AJ Allmendinger. Ganassi's No. 01 BMW Riley had a clear horsepower advantage, and once Montoya got past Allmendinger, the win was his for the taking.

But the Ganassi team figured it was four laps short on fuel, and Montoya needed to build a lead of at least 40 seconds to hold off Angelelli and Allmendinger when he was forced to stop for gas. The Colombian did it by turning laps close to qualifying pace, and breezed to his third Rolex victory.

"It was a lot of pressure; I thought we have a decent lead, we're just going to go out there and ride for two and a half hours," Montoya said. "And then you realize there's a caution and another caution and another caution, and with the way the rules are and the speed the car had, it's like you didn't want to get into a ... contest with anybody. You had to be smart about when you passed them.

"We were kind of concerned about the (Shank) car, what they were going to do with fuel because they told me they could make it until the end and that we were going to have to push, and we pushed like crazy and opened up a hell of a gap. It was fun."

Montoya's other two wins were with Pruett on the No. 01 car in 2007 and 2008, but he spent the last three years driving for the No. 02 Ganassi "star car" and came away empty-handed each time. When the Ganassi cars were left off the Rolex podium last season for the first time since 2005, team management went to work on the cars and setting up a lineup that gave them two chances to win.

Montoya admitted he thought the switch was "a weird move," but owner Chip Ganassi and team manager Mike Hull insisted it wasn't a demotion for the driver who has been stuck in a lengthy slump in his full-time NASCAR job.

Ganassi said the Montoya move was Hull's call, but he also questioned it when the decision was made.