Rolex 24 crossovers: Here are the NASCAR and IndyCar stars racing Daytona this month

Rolex 24 IndyCar NASCAR
Brian Cleary/bcpix.com
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For the second consecutive year, the defending series champions of the NASCAR and IndyCar series will be racing the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.

And Chase Elliott and Scott Dixon are just the start of this year’s star-studded list of auto racing crossovers flocking to the 59the edition sports car classic at Daytona International Speedway.

This year’s Rolex 24 also will feature a seven-time Cup Series champion, the 2018 Daytona 500 winner, the 2020 IndyCar rookie of the year and a contingent of IndyCar veterans who have 11 championships and eight Indianapolis 500 victories.

Here’s a rundown of the drivers the country’s top stock-car and single-seat circuits who will be racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener – and why some of them are here:


NASCAR

AJ Allmendinger: Before his first full-time season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Allmendinger will be making his 15th start in the Rolex 24. His best was an overall victory in the 2012 race with Michael Shank, whom he is reuniting with this year. Allmendinger, who moves back to the top prototype class for the first time in five years, will be driving the No. 60 Acura of Meyer Shank Racing, pairing with Juan Pablo Montoya, Dane Cameron and Olivier Pla in a DPi entry that is packed with talent as the team makes the transition to the Honda-affiliated brand.

AJ Allmendinger at the 2019 Rolex 24, which he raced an Acura in GTD for Meyer Shank Racing. He will race the event in DPi with the team this year (IMSA).

Austin Dillon: The Richard Childress Racing driver missed the NASCAR Cup Series race on the road course at Daytona International Speedway last year after testing positive for COVID-19. With NASCAR’s premier series slated to return to the layout next month (in place of Auto Club Speedway), Dillon wanted real-world experience – so why not hop into the No. 51 LMP2 of Rick Ware Racing? This will be his first Rolex 24, but Dillon does have some (minor) has some sports-car experience, running a Camaro (with Kaz Grala and Tyler Reddick) against a fleet of spec Miatas in a club-level race at Circuit of the Americas in December

Chase Elliott: The current king of NASCAR road racing continues his Cup championship tour of another racing series, adding sports cars to an offseason that also has included Super Late Models and a debut on the dirt of the Chili Bowl. Though he might be a Rolex 24 novice in the Action Express No. 31 Cadillac, the IMSA community already has mad respect for Elliott’s road-racing skills. When IMSA’s GT divisions detoured to the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval last fall, Corvette Racing champion Jordan Taylor credited Elliott’s work on the GM Racing simulator with helping the team fine-tune setups for the track’s grip level.

Jimmie Johnson: The race that unofficially begins Johnson’s post-NASCAR career has been on his bucket list for a long time. The seven-time Cup champion grew up a fascinated fan of the Rolex 24 because endurance racing contained echoes of the off-road desert racing in his youth. This will be Johnson’s eighth Rolex 24 start but first since 2011. Paired with Simon Pagenaud (a sports car ace before winning the Indy 500), two-time Rolex 24 winner Kamui Kobayashi and 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans champion Mike Rockenfeller, Johnson has abundantly talented teammates in the (appropriately secured) No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that could bring him his first Rolex.


INDYCAR

Oliver Askew: Unceremoniously cut loose by Arrow McLaren SP after a rookie season in which he showed flashes before being sidelined by a concussion, the Jupiter, Florida, native will be running in the new LMP3 division with Riley Motorsports. The Rolex 24 debut of Askew, 24, will be an opportunity for the 2019 Indy Lights champion to showcase his talents while seeking his next full-time ride.

Sebastien Bourdais: Headed back to a full-time IndyCar ride next season with AJ Foyt Racing, the Frenchman will be making his 12th start in the Rolex 24, which he won in 2014. The four-time Champ Car champion will have another shot at an overall victory, pairing with Tristan Vautier and Loic Duval on the No. 5 Cadillac of Mustang Sampling Racing.

Helio Castroneves: For the first time in 20 years, the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner will be racing outside Team Penske – with Meyer Shank Racing in the IndyCar Series and with Wayne Taylor Racing for the Rolex 24. After winning the 2020 DPi championship with Ricky Taylor in an emotional capstone for both his sports car and racing career, Castroneves, 45, will remain in an Acura as WTR makes a manufacturer switch.

IMSA Road Atlanta Penske
Helio Castroneves celebrated after winning the pole position at Michelin Road Atlanta last fall (IMSA).

Scott Dixon: The six-time and defending IndyCar champion was a big-game hunter last year, winning the Rolex 24 and Petit Le Mans as an endurance driver for Wayne Taylor Racing. This year, he will be racing for the home team as Chip Ganassi Racing returns to sports cars with the No. 01 Cadillac. It’s Dixon’s 18th (!) start in the Rolex 24, which includes three overall victories and a GTLM triumph.

Colton Herta: BMW is scaling back its GTLM effort, but the manufacturer still found a spot for the rising IndyCar star with the GTD entry of Turner Motorsport. That will pair Herta, 20, with Bill Auberlen, 51, who became the winningest driver (61 victories) in IMSA history last year. After winning the 2019 Rolex 24 and setting the fastest lap in GTLM, Herta will be adjusting to being in the slowest division.

J.R. Hildebrand: It’s the Rolex 24 debut for the perennial Indy 500 veteran, racing an Audi R8 for NTe Sport in the GTD class. The articulate Californian (whose Twitter analysis and musings on racing make him a must-follow) was testing this week with the team at Circuit of the Americas.

Ed Jones: Announced Wednesday as the new full-season driver of the No. 18 Dallara-Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan Racing, Jones will be driving the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 in the GTD division (pairing with former IndyCar winner Ryan Briscoe).

Juan Pablo Montoya: He will be making his first IndyCar start in nearly four years when he returns to the 105th Indy 500 in May with Arrow McLaren SP, but the two-time Brickyard winner mostly will be focusing on sports cars this year. He’ll race an Acura in the Rolex 24 and in the Michelin Endurance Cup with Meyer Shank Racing and also in the WEC (aiming at an elusive 24 Hours of Le Mans victory and triple crown) with DragonSpeed.

Simon Pagenaud: Given how he established himself as an IndyCar standout at Team Penske, it’s easy to overlook that Pagenaud was regarded as one of the hottest sports car prospects in the world just over a decade ago. A 2010 champion of the American Le Mans Series, Pagenaud will be making his eighth Rolex 24 start, paired with Johnson (whose brother, Jesse, is a close family friend of the Frenchman) in the Action Express No. 48.

Alexander Rossi: After a largely forgettable 2020 season, the 2016 Indy 500 winner is amped to kick off the new year with a new Rolex 24 ride. Making his fourth start in the Daytona opener, Rossi will begin a season as the new endurance driver for Wayne Taylor Racing. He was in Sebring this week, testing on consecutive days in the No. 10 Acura and his familiar No. 27 Dallara-Honda of Andretti Autosport.

Rinus Veekay: The 2020 IndyCar rookie of the year was especially strong on road courses, winning a pole and finishing third at Indianapolis last October. For his Rolex 24 debut, the talented Dutchman will be in LMP2 with the No. 81 ORECA of DragonSpeed USA, whose lineup includes the versatile veteran Ben Hanley.