Rolex Series champions GAINSCO Racing battled back from a gearbox problem early on Sunday morning to secure a strong second place finish in the season opening Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Defending champions Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty were joined in the Bob Stallings Racing-run by Jimmie Johnson and Jimmy Vasser and could well have fought for victory had it not been for the gearbox change that cost the team ten valuable minutes on Sunday morning.
Fogarty was in the middle of his second stint of the race just before sunrise on Sunday when the gearbox woes began, and despite the fact he was closing in on race leader Memo Rojas, the problems started to get worse.
Soon after Vasser took over at 7:30am, the gearbox became even more difficult and the #99 Lowe's/GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley was taken to the garage under green flag conditions for the one and only time in the race.
Ten minutes later, Vasser was back on track six laps down in sixth place with the team then starting its charge back through the field, with Johnson back into second just before the 21st hour and Gurney then holding station to the flag as the gap to the race-winning Ganassi entry dropped to two laps by the finish.
"I am proud of everybody on the entire Lowe's and GAINSCO team," team owner Bob Stallings said. "We had a championship lineup of drivers and they did exactly what was asked of them all day long.
"Everybody on the team did an amazing job but unfortunately our gearbox didn't. My guess is that if we would have changed the gearbox under yellow instead of green, we probably would have won, but you make your best decisions and run with it.
"It was a little bit chaotic. We were all arguing for about 15 minutes on if we should stay out because Jon was in the car and was gaining on Rojas. We left him out there but then the problems started to get worse and we made the decision to switch."
Despite the narrow loss, the result was a vast improvement on twelve months ago when Gurney qualified on pole only for the team to hit a multitude of problems that left it with a seasons low finish of 22nd and with work to do for the remainder of gthe season.
It also helped the team bounce back from a challenging time in both pre-event testing and qualifying, with Fogarty admitting it had been a fine start to the title defence.
"We were a little discouraged from our test days and our qualifying efforts," he said. "We were all looking one another in the eye and telling each other a top-five finish would be great. We were convincing ourselves of that, but each and every one of us knew we were fooling one another and wanted to win this damn thing.
"It's good. This is a championship we are after and we're certainly in a good position for that."