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17799That's how Scott Pruett described the unexpected surprise last lap of the Brumos Porsche 250, the Grand Am Rolex Series' second 2008 visit to the Daytona International Speedway. Or, as <A HREF="">Lenny Kravitz</A> sang it, <A HREF="">It ain't over 'til it's over.</A> Opera and sports fans will remind you that <A HREF="">"it ain't over 'til the fat lady sings".</A> But we're getting waaaay ahead of ourselves here. Let's review the eighth race of the 2008 Grand Am Rolex Series' Daytona Prototype season chronologically, the way it developed.

Qualifying saw Scott Pruett's co-driver, Memo Rojas place the #01 TELMEX/Chip Ganassi Racing with Félix Sabatés Lexus/Riley racer fourth on the starting grid, with a lap of 1:41.927 seconds at 125.737 mph, while the #3 Southard Motorsports Lexus/Riley co-driven by Shane Lewis and Bill Lester would start the race from 12th position.

Fortunately, unlike the previous rain-soaked <A HREF="">EMCO Gears Classic Daytona Prototype race</A>, the rains that threatened the start of the Brumos Porsche 250 never materialized, allowing the first 38 laps to be run caution-free. By Lap 9, Memo Rojas had brought the #01 TELMEX Lexus into second place, and, on Lap 14 Shane Lewis brought the #3 Southard Lexus into fourth place. Lewis then tangled with Mark Patterson in the #60 Michael Shank Racing Ford/Riley, which Patterson described as an exciting "five or six lap duel with Shane Lewis, back and forth, nose in, blocking, pass, repass, then two wide through Turn 3 where he eventually got me for good. Never even traded a scratch of paint." Lewis prevailed on Lap 17, just as Memo Rojas brought the #01 TELMEX Lexus into the pits for a splash of gas and a driver change.

17801A strategic decision by the Southard team to hold off a bit on that first early pit stop and driver change gave Shane Lewis and the #3 Lexus/Riley the overall race lead on Lap 19. A Grand-Am Daytona Prototype rule requiring that the first pit stop be made no later than 45 minutes into the race, however, meant that Lewis wouldn't be able to stay out much longer, and, on Lap 21, the Southard Lexus entered the pits, with Bill Lester emerging at the helm.

By Lap 30, Scott Pruett in the #01 TELMEX Lexus was in third place. Lap 37 saw him enter the pits for fuel and tires, but during the next lap he actually gained one position, to second place. The lap after that, unfortunately, saw the interruption of what was, to that point, 38 laps of sheer racing with the emergence of the first of four full-course yellow flags. The end of the second caution period, on Lap 50, saw Scott Pruett and race leader Alex Gurney in the #99 GAINSCO Pontiac/Riley make slight contact, then Pruett taking the lead from Gurney on the frontstraight. Eight laps later, however, Gurney outbraked and reclaimed the lead from Pruett on the backstraight.

On Lap 67, the #3 Southard Lexus, which, up to that point seemed headed for its first top-10 finish of the season, made contact with the #69 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 GT racer driven by Jeff Segal. Despite Lester's best efforts to move higher to avoid contact at the "Bus Stop" chicane, the Southard entry first hit the wall with right-side of the car and then the GT car into the left side as it continued up into Lester. The meeting of the two cars spun the GT car in front of Lester causing the nose damage. Meanwhile, the angle at which the GT car sat on the track and with the #3 Lexus pushing it caused the #69 Mazda to become airborne during which it did one flip before coming to rest on its wheels. Fortunately, Segal emerged unhurt from his flying RX-8. This incident brought on the fourth and final caution of the race.

Fortunately, fears of a race ending under caution were unfounded, as the green flag flew for a final, NASCAResque one-lap shootout. Race leader Alex Gurney got off to a great (re)start, but Scott Pruett wasn't going down so easily. As Travis Braun of AutoWeek so eloquently put it, "Two weeks after competing in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series at Infineon Raceway, Scott Pruett used a NASCAR move on the high banks of Daytona International Speedway to win his fifth Grand-Am race of the season by the closest margin in series history on Thursday night. Gurney, the most recent series race winner, quickly pulled ahead of Pruett on the final lap. But Pruett caught Gurney in the circuit’s famous bus-stop chicane and used the momentum and his Lexus power to draft past for a 0.081-second victory." This author's eloquence was limited to jumping out of his chair, screaming at the TV and pumping his fists in the air. Let's just say it was an unhealthy finish for cardiac patients...

17800After this encore at Daytona International Speedway, Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas further increased their Driver's Championship lead over Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty to 40 points, and Lexus' Manufacturer's Championship lead over Pontiac increased to 6 points. Meanwhile, the #3 Southard Motorsports Lexus/Riley finished in 12th place after that painful accident with the #69 Mazda.

Post-Race Quotes:

Scott Pruett, #01 TELMEX Lexus: “It’s never over until it’s over. We were definitely quicker on the straightaway and [Gurney] was quicker in the infield. I held my breath through the bus stop. I had just enough to get by Alex at the start/finish line. I've got to put it to Grand-Am for putting on a great show.

This is pretty big for us because we've never won this specific race in Daytona. Memo did a great job and the crew did a great job. Lexus gave us a good engine package and we got the most out of it. I really didn't think we'd see green after that crash - and it was a horrific crash. I really have to applaud Grand-Am because we, as a group I think, owe it to the fans to see it finish under green. Every restart, that's the only move I had. The #99 was certainly quicker in the infield. After about 2 or 3 laps, my rear tires just wouldn't hold on. I pulled a Hail Mary through the bus stop and tried to carry a lot of speed to get them before the start/finish line."

Memo Rojas, #01 TELMEX Lexus: "My part of the race was very boring until the end. It was really just staying out of trouble. Very early, teams took different strategies but we were all in different sequences. So I was basically running by myself. The 99 had the lead in front of me, so I knew it was going to be keeping a good pace and staying out of trouble was important as I handed the car to Scott. Congratulations to Scott, because he did awesome job."

Chip Ganassi, Team Owner: “That Pruett’s the man. This track rewards great drivers, and it did that tonight. Winning felt good here in January, but if felt even better tonight.”

Shane Lewis, #3 Southard Motorsports Lexus: "It's been a long time coming to lead a race again. We have had some good success in the Series with fastest race laps, podiums and led laps before and it is good to be back in that position again. The Southard guys have all been working so hard that strong runs like this are really gratifying. We know we can do it and now we just need to keep stepping up like we did this week!"

Steve Southard, Team Owner: "You never know what to expect when you race at Daytona and this time was no exception. There were as many strategies as there were cars running and once you made a commitment to yours you were stuck with it. The race played into our strategy. If it weren't for the accident at the end we probably would have had our best finish of the year. Shane did a great job in his stint and turned the car over to Bill who never put a wheel wrong in his stint. It's unfortunate that the driver of the GT car didn't see Bill passing him at the end of the race but at least no one was hurt. This was a very good race for us. Shane and Bill did an excellent job, the crew had three great pit stops, especially that stop to repair the nose, and our strategy worked out. We still have work to do but we are moving in the right direction."

Our thanks to <A HREF="">the official Grand-Am racing website</A>, <A HREF="">Travis Braun of AutoWeek</A> and John Procida for Lexus/Toyota Motorsports for this information.


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