TUSC: The Rolex 24 finally arrives after long anticipation

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It’s hard to quantify what’s going to come out of the 2014 edition of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

On-track, the four classes of the unified TUDOR United SportsCar Championship – Prototype, Prototype Challenge, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona – are pretty much wide open, even though Corvette DPs have dominated the P and overall timesheets this week.

The backstory of the 16 months leading up to today’s moment is that of unification in North American sports car racing at long last, after more than a dozen years between two combined series (GRAND-AM Rolex Series, American Le Mans Series).

Discussion has centered on rules, regulations, rankings, ramblings and regurgitations of platitudes we’ve all heard before in various years or series.

Today, none of that matters.

TUSC has a golden opportunity to seize its moment both in the motorsports landscape and additionally, the sporting world at large.

The manufacturer interest is legitimate. The media interest is legitimate – the press room for this year’s Rolex 24 is filled to the brim, much as you’d see for a Daytona 500.

And more importantly, the fan interest is legitimate. The infield is packed with fans, campers and filled grandstands.

It won’t look that way from the outside, because the outside grandstands of the oval never have that many folks sitting them.

But the discussion is robust, and the chance for this mix of cars, sounds, partners is there to capitalize.

Whether it does or not is a question mark. To my mind, the confusion that sports car racing presents, by its very nature, is going to be the hardest thing for this new series to overcome in the long run. But that question can wait.

As for the next 24-plus hours though, it’s time to ignore the BS, watch the cars, have a beer or two and enjoy the on-track action as the sweet symphony of engine noise wakes the racing world up from its winter hibernation.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.