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Ganassi quartet makes it look easy in winning Rolex 24-Hour

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Chip Ganassi's drivers weren't racing
to make money. They wanted to make history.

They succeeded Sunday when Juan Pablo Montoya teamed with Dario
Franchitti, Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas to give Ganassi an
unprecedented third victory in the Rolex 24-Hour race in as many
years.

"None of these guys is getting one extra dime for this,''
Ganassi said before the start of the race. "They all just want to
be here and be part of it.''

Montoya agreed.

"It's all about the win and the watches,'' the former
open-wheel star and last year's top NASCAR rookie said in referring
to the Rolex Daytona watches that go to each of the winners.

Ganassi had more on his mind after the hard-fought victory.

"My favorite win is always the most recent one,'' said Ganassi,
whose NASCAR team will be back at Daytona International Speedway in
two weeks hoping to win its first Daytona 500 with Montoya, stock
car rookie Franchitti and Reed Sorenson. "Obviously, this is a
huge accomplishment, but I'm not retiring any time soon. I'm still
trying to climb the mountain. There's still a lot of peaks to
conquer.''

Other than a minor handling problem for Pruett at the start of
the race Saturday afternoon, the team's No. 01 Lexus Riley Daytona
Prototype was virtually perfect, racing at or near the lead in the
race, which up until its waning hours was the most competitive in
the event's 46-year history.

At dawn on Sunday, with about six hours to go, there were five
other prototypes on the lead lap. But, as often happens in
endurance events, attrition suddenly took its toll.

The Ganassi car had been swapping leads with the Ford Riley
shared by NASCAR's A.J. Allmendinger, Ian James, Burt Frisselle and
John Pew. That car, driven by Frisselle, was just seconds behind
the leader when a tire blew, damaging the suspension midway through
the 21st hour and knocking it out of contention.

"Last year I felt we had a stronger car,'' said Montoya, who
combined with Pruett and Salvador Duran to win here in 2007,
leading 468 of 668 laps on the 3.56-mile road circuit. "That was a
car that you thought, whatever happens, we were fast enough to win.
This year, if it came down to it, I think it would have been a lot
harder.

"I pushed really hard every stint that I was in the car to make
sure that whichever car that was fast and tried to stay with us had
to work as hard as well. In a way it worked, because other cars had
problems.''

Montoya, who had taken the wheel near the end of the 18th hour,
suddenly found himself with a comfortable five-lap lead. His team
was able to cruise the rest of the way in a race that saw scattered
rain and a treacherous track through the evening and nighttime
hours and ended in dry conditions on a warm, sunny Sunday
afternoon.

"At that point, with that kind of lead, you just have to make
sure you don't touch anything or run over curbs too hard,'' he
said. "You just roll.''

The winning car was one of 10 prototypes that chose to pit
during the pace lap to change from rain tires to slicks as the
track dried. That meant Pruett, who started in the car, fell all
the way to 18th. But it didn't take long for the eventual winner to
get back into contention, running among the top five from the fifth
hour on.

Pruett took over from Montoya for the last two hours on the way
to becoming the winningest sports car driver at Daytona with his
eighth victory -- three overall wins and five others in lower
classes.

"It's such a challenge to do this,'' said Pruett, who also has
class victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. "This is the
hardest endurance race in the world and this one was really tough.

"There were a lot of fast cars and the conditions were pretty
treacherous. It was dry, it was wet. You just never knew which
tires to stay with, wets or slicks. But this is great. We're just
going to keep doing it as long as we can.''

Franchitti, who won the IndyCar Series title last year, and
Rojas both won here for the first time. Franchitti also won the
Indianapolis 500 and a class victory in the 12-hour race at Sebring
in 2007.

"It's just been one hell of a year,'' the Scotsman said. "But
the preparation the team puts into these cars made this one
possible.''

Ganassi, who also won a record four straight championships in
the CART open-wheel series in the late '90s, got his first win here
in 2006 with IndyCar stars Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon combining
with NASCAR's Casey Mears for a win in his No. 02 entry.

No other team has won three years in a row, but the late Peter
Gregg owned and drove the cars that won three straight races from
1973 to 1976. The 1974 race was canceled because of a national gas
crisis.

The latest edition of the 24-hour grind was very competitive
most of the way.

Fifteen different cars led, breaking the record of 11, set last
year. Overall, there were 60 lead changes, 16 more than the record
of 44 set in 2005.

In the end, the winning car led a race-high 252 of 695 laps,
completing 2,460 miles, for a two-lap victory over the runner-up
Pontiac Riley driven by two-time defending NASCAR champion Jimmie
Johnson, former CART champion Jimmy Vasser and 2007 Rolex Grand-Am
Series prototype champions Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney. Johnson,
who has raced in this event four times, also finished second in
2005.

Four more laps back in third was the Pontiac Riley driven by
NASCAR champion Kurt Busch, two-time Indy 500 winner Helio
Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe.

For Ganassi, the only disappointment was the performance of the
No. 02, shared by Dixon, Wheldon, Duran and Alex Lloyd.

"It seemed like that car caused half the caution flags out
there,'' Ganassi said.

Duran had the fastest lap early in the race, but damaged the car
when he went into the grass to avoid two of the slower GT class
cars. He spun again later in the race and Lloyd was at the wheel
when the badly damaged car spun a third time and retired late in
the 18th hour.