Jimmie Johnson joined GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing team-mates Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and Jimmy Vasser ahead of schedule as he got his 2009 Rolex 24 bid underway on Sunday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway.
The three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion was quickly up to speed too, setting good times during the afternoon's final practice in the #99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley as he attempted to make up for lost time. Gurney's time of 1min 42.230secs ranked fourth fastest in the session and put the GAINSCO team back within range of the fastest times.
Fogarty, Gurney and Vasser shared the car for the first half of the test and Johnson is expected to do the majority of the driving on the third and final day of the test today [Monday].
"I had a few laps today, and I will be back in the car again tomorrow," he confirmed, "The guys were nice enough to get me a few laps this afternoon to give me something to sleep on tonight. I'm not in these cars too often, so it's nice to do a few laps, look at some data and come back tomorrow and be ready.
"It took about three or four laps and then I was like "okay, got it'. I can get within a second, but getting that last bit is the hardest in any sport. It is one thing to get close, but to be competitive is the hard thing. Reference points I have down as far as where the braking zones are, but the track has changed a little bit with some of the kerbs through the 'bus stop', so it is just going to take some more laps."
Johnson is preparing for his fifth Rolex 24 at Daytona and knows how difficult but rewarding the race can be.
"Man, it's so worth the pain," he enthused, "It is so much fun to do this event. I have been second twice and it is so sweet to finish the race, but I can only imagine what it would be like to win. I would love to add that credential to my resume, along with the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400. It would be awesome."
Johnson and Vasser joined regular #99 drivers Gurney and Fogarty in finishing second in last year's Rolex 24, and GAINSCO is one of the few teams to return with the same driver line-up in 2009. While he is looking for an unprecedented fourth consecutive NASCAR crown in 2009, Johnson also wants to win the Rolex 24 for the first time, having also claimed second place in 2005 at the wheel of a Howard-Boss Pontiac Crawford.
"I'm here to win - that's what we're all here for," said Johnson, "I've been on the second step twice now, and it's such an accomplishment just to finish this race, so to be there in Gatorade Victory Lane and be part of the ceremonies is great. But second in anything is first loser. It's fun, but it's not the most fun."