No. 99 team rebuilding car Johnson wrecked

UPDATE A repaired No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Chevrolet Riley took to Daytona International Speedway right on schedule for Friday morning practice after the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing crew worked until 4 a.m. last night to repair the team’s “Red Dragon" Daytona Prototype following a heavy accident on Thursday. The team’s hard work and perseverance paid off as the No. 99 was third fastest in both the morning session as well final practice for this weekend’s Rolex 24 At Daytona on Friday afternoon.

“I was in the pits until about midnight last night watching the guys put the engine in and the tranny in, and stuff, and just to see their spirits and their enthusiasm after I put them through such a tough day really brought my spirits up," said Johnson, who was uninjured in the Thursday incident. “These guys are top notch and I am fortunate to drive here at GAINSCO and look forward to a good race."

Johnson, Jon Fogarty and Jimmy Vasser all put the No. 99 through its paces on Friday. Vasser joined his teammates in being impressed by the GAINSCO crew’s incredible repair effort.

“It was a great job by all of the guys on the GAINSCO team," Vasser said. “It was a lot of work last night getting the car put back together but all of the wheels are pointing in the right direction and we had an opportunity to get in the car. The car is good enough for us to win the race and we just can’t beat ourselves. We just need to get it out there and keep it going."

Johnson is also confident in the car and team heading into this weekend’s race.

“I am very impressed with the car," Johnson said. “It drove very similar to yesterday. Unfortunately we lost the track time yesterday to really fine tune the car but I think it is well within the ballpark. We will be in good shape and it drove really well."

Gurney was the only GAINSCO driver not to drive Friday but he is scheduled to start the No. 99 when the green flag drops at 3:30 p.m. EST tomorrow.

“Everything seems to be running well," Gurney said. “Considering what position we were in during the middle of the day yesterday we are really happy. It is almost like it didn’t happen, at this point. Other than some sleep for the guys that they will get tonight, we are back in business. We are starting in the back but that is not really important in a 24-hour race."

01/28/10 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing is in the midst of a task as monumental as the Rolex 24 At Daytona itself Thursday night at Daytona International Speedway where the team is rebuilding the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Chevrolet Riley after the race car was heavily damaged in a morning practice crash with four-time reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson at the wheel.

“I put myself in a position with a GT car that I shouldn't and paid the price," said Johnson, who was uninjured in the incident. “I hate it that I tore up equipment and put the guys in this spot. It looks like we will get this fixed and hopefully everything will be good for tomorrow."

After Alex Gurney ran the opening laps of the weekend’s first practice session, Johnson took the wheel of the No. 99 “Red Dragon" and immediately began turning competitive times in his first on-track action of the year. Late in the run, Johnson was passing a slower GT entry that appeared to have given him the line in the fast run through the infield “kink" only to have the other car move over on the GAINSCO machine. Johnson spun off course and the No. 99 made heavy contact when it backed in to a safety barrier.

The initial inspection of the damaged No. 99 team revealed a severely bent rear bulkhead in the engine compartment area. The GAINSCO team was thought to be done for the weekend but the team later determined a repair was possible after consulting with personnel from chassis constructor Riley Technologies.

“After reviewing several options we made the decision to repair the car," said Team Owner Bob Stallings. “Our first plan was to bring our No. 98 back-up car from our shop in Texas but that would have required some all-night driving and then a marathon preparation session. The crew will still have to work most of this evening but ultimately repairing the No. 99 was the best choice."

The extensive repair will basically center on replacing the angular U-shaped bulkhead at the very back of the Riley. The damaged part of the car will be removed and the replacement chassis components and a jig that will be used in the installation were being flown from Riley Technologies headquarters in Charlotte to Daytona early Thursday evening on one of Johnson’s airplanes. After the new structure is in place, the GAINSCO team will then have about five hours of additional work ahead of them. If all goes to plan, they will be able to participate in Friday’s first scheduled practice session at 9 a.m.

“We should be fine," Gurney said. “It was a tough opening day, for sure, but we have been up against it before. I got to run a few laps in the morning and the car seemed pretty good. We have it the way we want to run it in the race and we should be OK, but it is going to be a long night for the guys. The crew is basically doing a 24 hour before the 24 hour but we are working on a way to get them some sleep early tomorrow afternoon. So they will get in a little bit and definitely it will be a long weekend for those guys, but hopefully we will be smiling at the end of it."

Jon Fogarty and Jimmy Vasser didn’t get a chance to drive Thursday as the team missed both qualifying and night practice but joined the rest of the GAINSCO team in staying optimistic.

“The Red Dragon lives," Vasser said. “GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing is a champion team and this just gives us a chance to prove it."

Live coverage of the 2010 Rolex 24 on SPEED begins on Saturday, January 30, at 3 p.m. EST/12 p.m. PST, prior to the race start at 3:30 p.m. local time. SPEED’s first round of programming lasts until 10 p.m. EST/7 p.m. PST and then resumes at 7 a.m. EST/4 a.m. PST on Sunday with coverage until the checkered flag and through the post-race ceremonies until 4 p.m. EST/1 p.m. PST.

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