In past years, NASCAR’s finest such as Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, and Greg Biffle have taken their shot at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. But at the moment, the presence of NASCAR stars racing in the endurance race kickoff to the 2014 North American racing season is minimal.
Thus far just Earnhardt Ganassi Racing’s pair of Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson are the only confirmed Sprint Cup drivers who will be participating in this year’s race, though JTG Daugherty’s AJ Allmendinger is expected to be confirmed soon with Michael Shank Racing, the team he has been with for years at the Rolex.
“It’s the most fun race I get to run all year long,” McMurray said on Friday at the Chip Ganassi Racing team announcement in Daytona. “There’s no points for us and it’s all about being able to win. What makes it such a good time, you’ll see guys all year long and they’ll be here, so you can eat lunch with them, hang out and things like that. It’s fun to be a part of it.”
McMurray has five career Rolex 24 starts with a best finish of second in 2011, while Larson will be making not just his sports car debut, but his 24-hour race debut. But the 21-year-old had a good one-liner yesterday when it came to the potential of driving overnight shifts.
“I didn’t think I’d have the opportunity to do it this year,” Larson said. “As far as 3-4 a.m. shifts, I’m usually out that late anyway, so bring it on.”
Both have the tutelage of Scott Pruett to work with in the CGR stable. Pruett’s win last year was his fifth overall, tying the record set by Hurley Haywood.
As for as other full-time NASCAR Cup drivers go, last year Marcos Ambrose raced with Shank and Clint Bowyer with Michael Waltrip in an AF Corse-run GT class Ferrari 458. At the moment, neither is projected to a seat this year.
Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.
Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.
On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.
One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.
After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.
The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.
Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.
“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”
Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.
“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”
But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.
“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.
“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”
Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.
“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.
“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”
The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.