NASCAR: Best NASCAR Driver Performances In Rolex 24
Each year the North America racing season unofficially kicks off with the 24 Hours of Daytona at Daytona International Speedway. And each year, NASCAR drivers take to the turns of Daytona to test their skills against the world’s best.
The Rolex 24 is one of the most storied races in all of motorsports. Each year the race is filled with the best-of-the-best from the racing world.
Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, and Kurt Busch are all some NASCAR champions who have taken a liking to competing in the Rolex 24. But were their performances the best?
Here’s a look at the five best performances by NASCAR drivers in the Rolex 24.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2001, Fourth Overall
In the 2001 Rolex 24, the father-son duo teamed up with Andy Pilgrim and Kelly Collins to finish second in the GTO class and fourth overall.
Heading into the race, expectations were low for the #3 Corvette Racing GM Goodwrench Corvette team despite the level of star power behind the wheel of both of their entries. Their team car, #2 Corvette Racing GM Goodwrench Corvette, was piloted by Ron Fellows, Chris Kneifel, Franck Fréon and Johnny O’Connell.
Despite starting 19th, the Earnhardt’s along with Pilgrim and Collins would climb to finish fourth overall as attrition set in. In the end it would be the Earnhardt’s teammates in the #2 Corvette Racing entry that would bring home the victory during the 2001 Rolex 24.
This would be Earnhardt Sr.’s first and only start in the Rolex 24 and Earnhardt Jr.’s first of two starts, his other coming in 2004 where he would team up with Tony Stewart to finish fifth overall.
AJ Allmendinger, 2012, Overall Winner
The 2012 racing season would start better for AJ Allmendinger than it would finish. Allmendinger would drive the final stint in his #60 Riley Mk. XXVI Ford to win the Rolex 24 in his seventh start in the storied race.
Allmendinger, fresh off beginning his career with Team Penske, teamed up with Justin Wilson, Oswaldo Negri, and John Pew to fend off the rest of the competition after 761 laps. This would give Michael Shank Racing w/ Curb-Agajanian their first win in the Rolex 24.
For Allmendinger the rest of his NASCAR season wouldn’t go quite as planned. Allmendinger was suspended by NASCAR after failing a drug test and was subsequently released from his ride with Team Penske after just 17 races. He would return that season to drive James Finch’s #51 in four races.
Allmendinger would go on to compete in the Rolex 24 just once more in 2013, finishing 3rd with Michael Shank Racing.
Casey Mears, 2006, Overall Winner
During in the middle to late 2000’s, Chip Ganassi’s teams were the cars to beat during the Rolex 24. In 2006, it was no different.
Casey Mears, Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon teamed up in the Chip Ganassi team #02 to win the Rolex 24. The three drivers would combine to lead 272 laps, the most of any team during the race by more than 150 laps. Their closest competition, surprise, was their team car driven by Scott Pruett, Luis Diaz and Max Papis.
Mears victory was impressive. This was the first time in decades that a full-time NASCAR driver was part of an overall winner of the Rolex 24. Mears’ victory would pave the way for Juan Pablo Montoya, also in a Ganassi Racing car, to find victory lane in the Rolex 24 for the next two years.
Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray, 2015, Overall Winner
It took almost ten years, but the #02 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates would win the Rolex 24 again, this time with a different set of NASCAR stars.
Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray would team up with Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan from IndyCar, to bring home the overall victory in the Rolex 24.
Despite leading 264 laps, tied for the most, the race wasn’t even decided with 10-minutes remaining. The Wayne Taylor Racing team, who led 264 laps also, had to make an unplanned pitstop to swap out drivers which resulted in the lead being handed back to the Chip Ganassi Racing team.
Scott Dixon would drive the final stint and finish just 1.333 seconds ahead of the No. 5 Action Express Chevrolet Corvette DP.
This was McMurray’s fourth start in the Rolex 24 and Larson’s second and their only victory to date in the historic race.
Mark Martin, 1995, First overall in GTS-1 class
NASCAR driver Mark Martin may have never won the Daytona 500 but he certainly had his fair share of success in the Rolex 24.
Martin would win the GT class four different times. In 1995 he was teamed with actor Paul Newman, Tommy Kendall and Michael Brockman. The star studded group would go on to win the GTS-1 class and Paul Newman, at age 70, would become the oldest winner in the event’s history.
Martin was the 90’s version of a current-day combination of Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart. Martin would race just about anything and be competitive. Martin was a regular winner in the then-Busch Grand National Series, competed in multiple Rolex 24’s and would race local short track races in lower-level series. endurance races, local short.
No matter what his track record would end up being in the Daytona 500, 40 wins in NASCAR’s top series and a place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame is nothing short of a great career, Martin’s four Rolex 24 GT class wins ranks him at the top of this list.
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