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Ganassi car ducks puddles early

DAYTONA BEACH — Chip Ganassi Racing dominated the first quarter of the 24 Hours of Daytona, with Juan Pablo Montoya leading more than six hours into the sportscar endurance race Saturday night.

Montoya passed Lucas Luhr on the outside of the slippery track after a restart on Lap 169. He deftly guided the No. 02 BMW Riley Daytona Prototype car with clean moves on Daytona International Speedway's infield twists that had been pelted with rain early, causing problems.

Montoya shared driving duties with fellow Indianapolis 500 champions Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, plus NASCAR's Jamie McMurray. Their Ganassi team won the event three years in a row before finishing second last year.

"The track is quite tricky, especially getting up to speed with cold tires," Franchitti said between stints. "And then once you do get up to speed, you have to be really careful because it's only one lane out there in a lot of parts."

Alex Gurney was in second when he handed off to teammate and four-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson for Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing after about three hours. Jimmy Vasser eventually pushed their No. 99 car into the lead for three laps before pitting. Vasser was in seventh after six hours.

Some drivers tested the wet track too early. At the start, with rain still falling, the field started under a caution flag before the green was waved five laps into the race. Ricardo Zonta held a brief lead until he hit a turn too fast, braked too hard and spun into the tire wall.

"The first three laps were extremely difficult. It was very hard to put the power down and have any kind of hope to keep the grip," said actor, team co-owner and driver Patrick Dempsey, whose No. 40 car contended in the GT class. "It was certainly great television and fun to watch."

The 3.56-mile road course that encompasses about three-fourths of the NASCAR oval dried for a while, then a quick shower sprinkled the track again about five hours into the race. The flat infield portion still had a few puddles, and DP cars still had to weave around slower GTs.

"On some of those restarts," Gurney said, "guys weren't starting like it was 24 hours."

FAST FACTS

24 Hours

of Daytona

When: Started Saturday, finishes 3:30 p.m. today

Where: Daytona International Speedway

Classes: Daytona Prototype (purpose-built racing cars) and Grand Touring (production cars)

TV: Speed, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Ganassi car ducks puddles early 01/30/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 30, 2010 11:15pm]
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