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

Rolex 24 Jimmie Johnson

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - JANUARY 29: Jimmie Johnson driver of the #48 Ally Cadillac Racing Cadillac DPi, looks on before the start of the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on January 29, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

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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.

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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.

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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.