Johnson hungry for Rolex 24 win

Jimmie Johnson owns five consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships and the Harley J. Earl trophy as the 2006 Daytona 500 champion.

One title though is still missing from his resume — Rolex 24 At Daytona champion.

Johnson, who took part in the second day of testing during the Roar Before the Rolex 24, is hoping to join Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt as the only drivers to win both the Daytona 500 and the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

For the fourth straight year, he will co-drive the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings entry with Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty in the Rolex 24 on Jan. 29-30, the season-opening event to the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16.

“I’m excited for the race," Johnson said. “I certainly hope to make three guys that won the 500 that have gone on to win the Rolex 24. We have been awfully close. This year, the team has worked awfully hard again to get us in position and hopefully we learn some more this afternoon and tomorrow and come back buttoned up and ready to go."

Johnson has experienced his near misses at the Rolex 24 crown. He finished second in 2005 and 2008.

Johnson says he enjoys competing in the prestigious twice-around-the-clock challenge and believes that racing in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series has made him a better driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

“I do feel driving this (Daytona Prototype) does help me grow as a driver," Johnson said. “I think running with Bob (Stallings) and these guys the last few years has made me a better road course racer and I was finally able to get my first road course win out in Sonoma.

“Growing up, I raced all types of vehicles, and in my Cup career, this is the first time that I have been in one vehicle for so long. I like to mix it up and I like to feel different things. The adjustments that are made on these cars are different than a Cup car and I think it opens my mind up to another way of looking at things and maybe where our (NASCAR) cars could end up someday."

The sports car test session has also given Johnson his first look at the new racing surface of the Daytona International Speedway.

He’ll begin his pursuit of a sixth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title with the 53rd running of the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 20.

“I think this Daytona 500 will be the best one that we’ve had that I’ve been a part of as driver," Johnson said. “What is fun about the Daytona 500 (is that) we all look at it as a single event. With it being our biggest race of the year, a fresh surface, the fact the we can run three wide and I’m sure we will try four wide around here and as smooth as it is, it’s going to be one exciting race. I think everybody is going to get their money’s worth. It’s going to be an awesome show."

Dempsey geared up for fourth Rolex 24: Actor/racer Patrick Dempsey unveiled a bright yellow Visit Florida on his No. 40 Mazda RX-8 and a special Dempsey Racing ticket package on Saturday. Dempsey is looking to make his fourth Rolex 24 start, co-driving with Joe Foster, Charles Espenlaub and Tom Long.

In last year’s Rolex 24, he finished 13th overall and sixth in the competitive GT class.

“To come back to Daytona is always phenomenal," Dempsey said. “It’s the greatest race for us. Hopefully we will have a good run this year. You never know what’s going to happen. I love being a part of this series. I love racing with these guys.

“We’ve got really good energy this year. We’re a little more relaxed but yet very focused and very professional."

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