Rolex 24 at Hour 6: Similar drives, different reactions for Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A quarter of the way through the Rolex 24 at Daytona, NASCAR champions Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott each had taken a turn behind the wheel and had very different reactions to similar performances.

True to form as a perfectionist who never shies from withering self-criticism, Elliott assessed his debut in a double stint as “terrible” for Action Express Racing’s No. 31 Cadillac after handing over to Mike Conway.

“I put these guys way, way, way, way, way, way too far behind,” Elliott told NBC Sports pit reporter Marty Snider. “Hopefully Mike can make up some ground, and Pipo (Derani) after him. We’ll just try to keep pushing. Obviously, a long way to go, but I hate to put them in a big box like that.”

HOW TO WATCH THE ROLEX 24Full broadcast schedule on NBC Sports

‘STEEP LEARNING CURVE’: Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson make sports car transition

Because of an extra pit stop under yellow, the car already was seventh overall and last among the top DPi division when the defending Cup Series champion took over from pole-sitter Felipe Nasr.

Chase Elliott talks with Jeff Gordon before the Rolex 24 at Daytona (Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports).

Elliott said he hit a curb early in the run and was lacking speed (especially compared to his most recent practice) in virtually every sector of the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course.

“Probably (Turn) 6 and the Bus Stop were the two worst places for me,” he said. “I didn’t do a good job there at all of finding a rhythm and getting going. So I need to step up for these guys this next go around. I was really worried that I damaged the underneath (of the car), so the next caution, we definitely need to get a look at that. Definitely can’t be doing stuff like that, bottom line.”

The numbers, though, didn’t quite bear out Elliott’s pessimism, particularly for a Rolex 24 rookie who was competing at speed for the first time against the best sports car drivers in the world. Elliott consistently turned lap times in the 1-minute, 37-second range, usually matching the times of the other six DPi drivers on the track.

He appeared to stay within a second of the pace in an extremely deep field of talented drivers and formidable teams that were setting blistering speeds from the green flag.

NBC Sports analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. knows Elliott’s self-flagellating side well, having been a Cup teammate for two seasons at Hendrick Motorsports after fielding a championship Chevrolet for him in the Xfinity Series at JR Motorsports.

“Chase is harder on himself than really anybody I’ve ever met that drives race cars,” Earnhardt said. “His pace wasn’t that bad. But yeah, he’s going to keep pushing until he finds the pace that he feels his competitive with his teammates, and that may bring him back to this race more than once because he’s just a competitor and wants to win.”

Punctuating the support he has expressed for Elliott since last week, Nasr said he had encouraged him to watch the team’s gearing and how to enter the corners and manage the tires.

“I think he’s ready,” Nasr said. “We’ve all been giving him enough information the whole weekend. I think he’s really pumped to be jumping in the car. I know he’s going to learn a lot and much more in the race. Because there are things you can only experience in the race. I’ve been there before.

The No. 31 Cadillac started on the pole position in the Rolex 24 at Daytona (Nigel Cook/USA TODAY Sports).

“I think he’s going to find out now everything seems to be much quicker when you’re driving at night. But I’m really confident he’s going to do well.”

After starting the race in the No. 48 Cadillac, Johnson handed off after two stints to two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud. The seven-time Cup champion was roughly as fast as Elliott but in a more upbeat mood, joking that he babied the car because he “didn’t want to be the one to break the toy.”

Johnson had a few close calls with the prototypes in LMP3, a new division that has drawn scrutiny for its lack of experienced drivers.

“One was spinning and came back up on the track and turned right in front of us,” Johnson said. “That really got my attention because the dirt, dust was up in the air, and I couldn’t see. Certainly a lot of nerves to deliver the car in one piece. I’m so happy to have that out of the way so I can go rest and just kind of fall into the rhythm.”

Making his eighth Rolex 24 start but his first in a decade, Johnson is here as much to win his first Rolex as to rack up laps in a high-downforce car as he makes the transition to a part-time IndyCar career.

“It’s a balance of obviously taking care of the car and trying to hit a lap time,” he said. “And I’m finding that this field is so stacked with drivers that it’s much like what I’ll experience in the IndyCar Series this year. And I’m trying to get (within a second) or even closer to a half a second off the pace of the others so that’s kind of where my head is.”

One of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history admittedly is the least accomplished sports cars racer of a lineup that includes 2019 Indy 500 winner Pagenaud (who started as a champion sports car driver and has raced the 24 Hours of Le Mans), two-time defending Rolex 24 winner Kamui Kobayashi and Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller.

The No. 48 Cadillac on track as the sun begins to set at Daytona International Speedway (David Tucker/USA TODAY Sports).

After leading Hendrick Motorsports’ four-driver stable for most of his 19-year career in Cup, Johnson, 45, can handle being ranked fourth on this team if it means his first Rolex 24 victory.

“I know the world that I’m stepping into, and I know what I walked away from and the comfort that I had there,” he said. “And I’m very aware of how uncomfortable stepping into this new arena is, and it makes me feel alive. I’m so excited to be uncomfortable. And so excited to learn something new, so excited to drive these cars and really kind of grow as a driver and have a bunch of new experiences in life.”

Continuing a theme of the past two weeks at Daytona International Speedway, Cadillacs held four of the top five spots through six hours. Sebastien Bourdais was leading in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac, followed by six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon in the No. 01 Cadillac of Chip Ganassi Racing. Helio Castroneves was the highest-ranked Acura in third, followed by Rockenfeller in fourth and Derani in fifth.

In other classes, the No. 11 WIN Autosport led LMP2; the No. 4 Corvette was tops in GTLM; the No. 74 Riley Motorsports was first in LMP3; and the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche led GTD.

Other notable developments during the first six hours:

–The race got off to an eventful start with a wreck on the opening lap when the No. 79 Porsche collided with a BMW in the GTLM class.

–Turner Motorsport said that a team member and Bill Auberlen, the all-time winningest driver in IMSA, would be able to continue after both were splashed with fuel when a hose came loose on a pit stop for the No. 96 BMW.

–Among the IndyCar and NASCAR crossovers in the race, 2020 NTT IndyCar Series rookie of the year Rinus Veekay had a short Rolex 24 debut as the No. 52 DragonSpeed entry (the two-time defending LMP2 class winner) retired in the first three hours.

–There also was a late driver change because of a positive COVID-19 test as Michael de Quesada was replaced by Alegra Motorsports shortly before the green flag.

The No. 48 Ally Cadillac of Jimmie Johnson, Kamui Kobayashi, Simon Pagenaud and Mike Rockenfeller (Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports).

Jett Lawrence wins Pro Motocross opener, remains perfect at Fox Raceway; Hunter wins in 250s

How they finished in the 450 Overall at Fox Raceway
Align Media

PALA, California – In his 450 bike debut, Jett Lawrence scored a perfect round at Fox Raceway in Pala, California to win Pro Motocross Round 1. He posted the fastest time in both qualification sessions, won the holeshot in both motos, and scored a pair of wins to take the overall victory and the early points’ lead.

Chase Sexton stalked Jett Lawrence throughout Moto 2, but could not find his way past. – Align Media

No one seriously questioned Lawrence’s opportunity to make noise in the 450 class. Few would have been surprised to see him podium in his Pro Motocross National, but Lawrence outperformed all expectations by dominating Moto 1. He entered the weekend with zero points and his eye on 20th in the standings so he would receive an automatic invitation to the inaugural SuperMotocross World Championship (SMX).

He well surpassed expectations.

“It’s awesome,” Lawrence told NBC Sports’ Jason Thomas. “I can finally smile. I’ve been trying to stay serious and not get too excited with emotions coming up – and now I can finally let loose. The second one was a little harder, I couldn’t hear him but I’d look back and I’d still see the red bike. It was like a chess match.”

By the end of the race, Lawrence made up 30 percent of the points he needed to claim 20th and served notice that he will be one of the favorites to win the championship. He closed the gap even further in Moto 2, but the two races had entirely different storylines.

While Lawrence was able to run away from the field in the first race and win with a 10-second advantage, Honda teammate and defending Monster Energy Supercross champion Chase Sexton pressured him for the entire 30 minutes plus two laps that made up Moto 2.

Lawrence is the 16th rider to win in his first Pro Motocross race, the 10th to do so in an opener and second youngest, (behind Rick Johnson, 17 when he won at Hangtown in 1982).

Sexton was within two seconds of Lawrence for the entire moto. He rode a patient race with the realistic expectation that the 450 rookie Lawrence might make a mistake. Lawrence bounced from rut to rut in this race, but would not be forced into losing his focus.

“Toward the finish line area I had some decent lines, I thought maybe, if I could get close enough, I could make a move,” Sexton said. “I tried my hardest; I got close. I made a bit of an attempt with maybe 10 minutes to go and messed up. Jett was obviously riding really good. We were pushing the pace and it was a fun moto. It felt a little like last year.”

With his 1-1 finish and the overall victory, Lawrence remains perfect at Fox Raceway after sweeping Victory Lane in five rounds his 250 career.

Dylan Ferrandis returned to the track after suffering a concussion in the Supercross season in Round 4 in Houston. He attempted to return for the Daytona Supercross race, but another hard crash on Media Day set him on the sideline.

“Earlier this week I was pretty far from a podium position, so got together with the team and we made it happen,” Ferrandis said. “It was very hard. [Aaron Plessinger] was pushing me and I had to dig very deep.”

RESULTS: How they finished in the 450 Overall at Fox Raceway

In a pre-race news conference, he indicated that the best course of action was to get up to speed before he fully sent his bike into the turns. But adrenalin is a wonderful factor and once he got into the pace of the race, he held off charges from Cooper Webb in Moto 1 and Plessinger in Moto 2. Ferrandis’ 3-3 finishes in the two races earned 40 points and puts him back in the conversation to be among the top 20 in the combined SuperMotocross standings.

Plessinger and Webb each ended the day with 34 points. Plessinger won the tiebreaker for fifth overall in the standings. But it was an adventurous afternoon for Plessinger who had to overcome a pair of falls in the first Moto to finish fifth.

Round 1 of the Pro Motocross season marked the return of Webb after he suffered a Supercross series ending concussion in a heat race at Nashville.

“This was a last minute decision,” Webb said. “I sat out last summer and I didn’t want to do that again. Once I got cleared from the doctor, it was game on.”

The battle between Lawrence and Sexton gave Honda a 1-2 finish in this race for the second straight year, but perhaps most importantly, it provided a glimpse of what can be expected during the opening rounds.

I think there is more to come from Chase,” Lawrence said. “He had that crash in practice so it rung his head a bit, but I know it’s going to be a war in the outdoor season. I know there’s going to be times when I’m behind Chase and can’t get around him. It’s going to be an awesome season and I can’t wait to race my teammate.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Jett wasn’t the only Lawrence to win Fox Raceway Motocross. Hunter’s win in the 250 class marked the first time in history that brothers won a Motocross National on the same day.

The reigning 250 East Supercross champion scored the overall victory with a third in Moto 1 and a victory in Moto 2. A poor start in the first race forced Lawrence to mount a charge from behind. Riding with discomfort, Lawrence was out of his rhythm early. A spirited battle with Jo Shimoda and Justin Cooper for third through fifth forced him to push through the pain of an injury suffered at the start of the week.

“The start was crucial,” Lawrence said. “I had a massive crash Monday and could barely ride press day for three laps, I was in so much pain. This one goes out to Dr. [Rey Gubernick]. He has magic hands.”

Lawrence’s strong start to Moto 2 put him in a better zone and he pulled an eight-second advantage over the second-place rider.

Haiden Deegan got a taste of the Motocross series last year, but that was all it was: a nibble.

Deegan failed to crack the top 10 in either of two starts and had some questions for himself before the race began. Deegan did not believe there were high expectations placed on him for this race, which is precisely how he described his first Supercross attempt. In that inaugural SX race, he finished fourth and was as surprised as anyone in the field.

Again: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Deegan surprised himself again by finishing second in only his third Motocross National. He finished sixth in Moto 1 and second in Moto 2, giving him a second-place finish overall.

“I’m actually a little surprised,” Deegan said. “A lot of people said I wouldn’t even be close to this. I guess we’re proving people wrong and that’s what we’ve got to do Second place in my first full season. I’m hyped.”

Deegan is closing in on his first 250 win.

Click here for 250 overall results

RJ Hampshire had to overcome a pair of falls in Moto 2 to score the final podium position in the overall standings. – Align Media

RJ Hampshire made a statement in Moto 1. An entirely new discipline allowed Hampshire to grab an early advantage. But then a poor start to Moto 2 provided an entirely different challenge. Two falls on Lap 1 dropped Hampshire to 39th in the running order.

“I didn’t have a great start and got mayhem in that second corner and went down,” Hampshire said. “Picked [myself] up in last and made some really good passes and then going uphill on the [backstretch], someone got out of whack – took me out and I was dead last again. I didn’t really know if I had a shot at the podium, but I was digging really deep.”

It took half of the race to get back into the points in 20th, but Hampshire kept digging. Passing riders one at a time, he climbed to 11th in Moto 2 and salvaged enough points to give him the third position overall.

Maximus Vohland made a statement of his own by holding off a determined Lawrence on the last two laps. Lawrence was able to pressure Vohland when they were slowed by a lapped rider who fell in front of the battle.

Tom Vialle was in a position to take the final overall podium spot with a solid third-place finish in the second moto. He did everything he could, but Hampshire’s determined charge from the back of the pack was capped off with a two-position advance on the final lap to slide onto the final step of the box.

2023 Supercross Race Recaps

Salt Lake City: Chase Sexton ends the season with win
Denver: Chase Sexton wins, takes points’ lead with Eli Tomac injury
Nashville: Chase Sexton keeps hope alive; Cooper Webb out
New Jersey: Justin Barcia wins muddy race; first in two years
Atlanta: Chase Sexton is back in the championship picture
Glendale: Eli Tomac wins 51st, breaks tie with James Stewart
Seattle: Eli Tomac wins and ties Webb for first
Detroit: Chase Sexton inherits win after Aaron Plessinger falls
Indianapolis: Ken Roczen gets first win in more than a year
Daytona: Eli Tomac extends Daytona record with seventh win
Arlington: Cooper Webb wins for second time, closes to two of Tomac
Oakland: Eli Tomac ties Ricky Carmichael with 48 wins
Tampa: Cooper Webb gets first 2023 win
Houston: Eli Tomac bounces back from A2 crash to win third race of 2023
Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Eli Tomac wins opener for the first time

More SuperMotocross coverage

Record Supercross attendance reported in 2023
450 Champion Chase Sexton takes back what he gave away
250 West Supercross champion Jett Lawrence ends dream career
250 East Supercross champion Hunter Lawrence overcomes doubt and injury
Cooper Webb returns to action at Pala
Caden Braswell joins Troy Lee Design
SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Supercross finale