Jimmie Johnson’s bid to win first Rolex 24 at Daytona over after incident

Rolex 24 Jimmie Johnson
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DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – Jimmie Johnson will have to wait at least another year to win his first Rolex 24 at Daytona after falling out of contention early Sunday morning.

The No. 48 Ally Cadillac needed lengthy repairs during the event’s 60th running after an incident with the seven-time NASCAR champion behind the wheel.

After spinning because of a tire puncture during his second time in the car, Johnson then collided with the No. 15 Mercedes being driven by Dirk Muller in Turn 3 just past 2 a.m. ET and the halfway mark of the race.

The damage necessitated a lengthy stop in the Daytona International Speedway garage to repair a broken right rear suspension on the No. 48.

INFORMATION FOR THE 60TH ROLEX 24Schedules, start times, entry lists

HOW TO WATCH ON NBC SPORTSAll the information for 24 hours of viewing

The No. 48 finished 22 laps down in 11th overall, fifth among DPi cars.

“All in all, we had a reasonable Ally Cadillac and a reasonable opportunity to win,” Johnson said in a postrace release. “I was overtaking a (GT) car into the night. My right rear tapped his front going into the Esses in Turn 2, and with that touch, it broke the rear suspension and sent me off spinning into the grass.

“That is where we lost all of our laps. I went through there 50 or 60 times through the course of the weekend and that one time I tapped another car and broke the Ally Cadillac. Every lap matters for us. We are not regulars. For Action Express and Hendrick Motorsports the more reps we get behind the wheel the better we will be.”

This was the ninth bid to win the Rolex 24 for Johnson after the No. 48 had finished second last year.

It already had been an eventful race for the Action Express team, which had been leading with Kamui Kobayashi at the eight-hour mark.

The No. 48 Ally team had to replace the front and rear of the car in the pits after Jose Maria Lopez, making his Rolex 24 debut, had been hit by Sebastien Bourdais’ No. 01 Cadillac.

‘LESS OF A WEAK LINK’: Improved Jimmie Johnson says it’s his best shot at Rolex 24

The repairs happened under yellow while Johnson was in the car, and when he returned to the track just ahead of the restart, he was caught in a gaggle of GT cars. He had to take evasive action through the grass to avoid a crash just ahead.

“When the track went green, I had a couple of hairy moments down the front straightaway trying to sneak by on the wall,” Johnson said. “Once we came out of Turn 1, there was dirt and dust everywhere, and I could see some taillights. I turned right to miss the taillights, then realized I was out in the grass.”

The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion couldn’t recall the last time he’d been off course during his previous eight Rolex 24 starts.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “It probably was one of the few times I’ve been in the dirt. Couldn’t believe how much dirt the nose shoveled up over the front of the car and how bad my visibility was. Plus, being behind other cars out there.

“It drove decent in the dirt. I expected to go spinning and didn’t with how cold it is and being moisture in the grass, it would have been slick but drove through OK.”

During a stint that ran more than 90 minutes, Johnson, who was making his fifth IMSA endurance start in the past year, felt vindicated about his improvement from last year’s Rolex 24. Shortly after he handed off again to Kobayashi, the No. 48 was back in the lead.

“For sure, each rep I get in these cars,” he said. “You really don’t get seat time until race time, and if you’re not on pace, you get pulled early because it’s so competitive in the DPi class. Last year I wasn’t close enough to earn more drive time. Just got to hit the minimum and get out. This year, I seemed be on pace. I think (the season finale at Petit) was the first time they asked me to stay in the car longer.”

With six hours remaining in the race, four of the seven DPi cars remained in contention for the overall victory. Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 01 and 02 Cadillacs suffered problems that left each more than 25 laps down.

The Acuras of Meyer Shank Racing and Wayne Taylor Racing, which is seeking a record fourth consecutive Rolex 24 victory, were running 1-2 with six hours remaining on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. Both cars overcame early tire punctures that had dropped them off the lead lap.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.