Photo courtesy of IMSA

Jeff Gordon back at Daytona, has slight mishap early on in Rolex 24 stint

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It’s been 10 years since Jeff Gordon’s last and only prior appearance in the Rolex 24 (2007), one of the biggest sports car races in the world.

But even with all the changes in sports car racing design and technology over the last decade, it’s clear that the retired four-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion hasn’t lost much.

Gordon was the second driver for Wayne Taylor Racing to take the track Saturday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway. Gordon replaced race starter Ricky Taylor at approximately 1 hour, 48 minutes into the 24-hour event. Taylor ran the first three scheduled stints behind the wheel until yielding to Gordon.

It was especially fortuitous that Gordon’s stint in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R began when it did – Taylor was leading the Prototype class at the time.

Gordon and Taylor made the quickest pit stop and driver exchange of the Prototype cars on that particular stop.

However, Gordon was only about 10 minutes into his run when he made contact with the No. 70 Mazda of Tom Long, which was attempting to transition back onto the racetrack after pitting. The contact forced Long into the grass, but he was able to recover once the field passed him. Gordon, meanwhile, had just minor cosmetic damage to the left front end of his Cadillac.

The incident caused Gordon to fall back slightly to third-place, where he ran just before the two-hour, 30-minute mark. Shortly after that, and with pit stops by several other teams, Gordon climbed back into first place. Gordon then came onto pit road for service about 2 hours, 36 minutes into the race and resumed his place in third position behind class leader Seb Morris and second-place Christian Fittipaldi.

Gordon drove two stints and exited the car at about 3 hours, 11 minutes, yielding to veteran Max Angelelli. The 50-year-old veteran Italian driver is making his final career appearance in the Rolex 24.

“These restarts are crazier than NASCAR restarts,” Gordon told Fox Sports about the incident with Long. “I wanted to be cautious because I was on cold tires. The tires were sliding around pretty good when I got into Turn 3. I feel sorry I got into him and spun him. … I hope they put me back in there again because I had so much fun.”

Gordon is expected to drive in at least one more stint before the endurance race completes at 2:30 pm ET on Sunday (he’ll most likely drive again Saturday evening). For the team to get full credit points-wise, Gordon has to drive a minimum of at least two hours within that 24-hour period.

In Gordon’s only other Rolex 24 appearance, he was part of the SunTrust Racing team in 2007, which started second and finished third.

Gordon, who filled in eight races for Dale Earnhardt Jr. last season, in what was originally supposed to be his first retirement year from NASCAR, has been looking forward to his return to Daytona in a sports car.

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F1 2017 driver review: Romain Grosjean

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Romain Grosjean

Team: Haas
Car No.: 8
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P6 (Austria)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 28
Championship Position: 13th

After leading Haas’ charge through its debut Formula 1 season in 2016, Romain Grosjean once again stepped up as team leader for the American team through its sophomore campaign despite scoring one point fewer.

Haas did not expect any major step in performance heading into 2017, having dealt with building all-new cars for two different sets of regulations, but the team was able to match its season one points total by the halfway mark this time around.

The big boost was the addition of a second points scoring driver – Kevin Magnussen – to partner Grosjean. Grosjean looked increasingly comfortable at Haas even if the car often presented problems, particularly under braking.

Radio rants were frequent, with Grosjean unable to drive around the issues as Magnussen did. But he was nevertheless able to finish the year as Haas’ top scorer, with his highlight moment being a perfect run to sixth in Austria.

Greater consistency was evident from both Grosjean and Haas through 2017, yet there were still swings in form that need to be ironed out in the future. The team was unable to capitalize on Renault and Toro Rosso’s late season difficulties that could have seen it jump to sixth in the constructors’ championship.

Grosjean once again proved himself to be a very competent and talented racer through 2017, but needs a little more panache – perhaps down to the car more than anything – if he is to put himself in the frame for a top-line drive in the future.

Haas continues to offer a good platform, though, and its third season should be its best yet thanks to the stability in the regulations. It will be a real chance for Grosjean to show what he can do.

Season High: A perfect run to sixth in Austria, leading the midfield cars.

Season Low: Crashing early with Ocon in Brazil, hurting Haas’ constructors’ hopes.