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23860As we noted in <A HREF="">our article on the previous Grand-Am Rolex Series race at Daytona</A>, the driver standings were anxiously close going into the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama on Sunday 19 July 2009, with Chip Ganassi Racing with Félix Sabatés drivers Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas in their #01 Telmex Lexus/Riley racer maintaining a slender one-point lead over Max Angelelli and Brian Frisselle (199 to 198). And, also within striking distance are Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney with 196 points each. In a striking parallel, entry #5 in this author's previous Front Page story, <A HREF="">On 10 years of my.IS: 10 Most Fun Articles</A> reminded us of a similar scenario just ahead of the 2007 season finale, where Gurney and Fogarty were one point ahead of Pruett and three points ahead of Angelelli.

With the recent course laps videos by Shane Lewis curiously missing from the Barber event, the usually unremarkable practice sessions were notable for the damage they produced to two of the leading contenders, the #12 Penske Racing Porsche/Riley during the Friday afternoon session and the #99 GAINSCO Pontiac/Riley on Saturday. The latter bounced back quite strongly from this mishap, however, as Jon Fogarty qualified for pole position, followed by Memo Rojas in the #01 Telmex Lexus/Riley. For the #12 Penske Porsche, on the other hand, things went from bad to worse as a slight two-wheels-off-course incursion on the backstraight led to its losing a portion of the nose, and another off-course incident by Brian Frissell in the #10 SunTrust Racing Ford/Dallara led to the gravel trap and a full-course caution.

By Lap 17 the battle between the #99 GAINSCO Pontiac/Riley of Jon Fogarty and the #01 TELMEX Lexus/ Riley of Memo Rojas was intense, with only .505 seconds separating the two championship contenders. On Lap 21, Fogarty's decision to enter the pits handed the Lexus the lead for a couple of laps, at which point Rojas, too, pitted. At that point, Rojas noted that "The tire wear was actually better than we expected. Early on, the car was a little bit inconsistent. On the first lap, I just tucked underneath the #99 and decided to follow-him through. The #10 car banged us a little going into one, but I knew you couldn't pass on the outside there, so I just held the position and was able to get back the spot going into Turn 2."

At this point, the #58 Brumos Porsche/Riley of David Donohue claimed the lead until Lap 37, when Jon Fogarty in the #99 GAINSCO Pontiac/Riley regained the race's front-runner status. A frenzy of pit stops and driver changes on Laps 65 thru 68 led to numerous leader changes as lead position was furiously swapped from Fogarty to Antonio García in the #09 AMA Pro Racing Porsche/Coyote to Scott Pruett in the #01 TELMEX Lexus/Riley to Michael Valiante in the #6 Michael Shank Racing Ford/Riley to Mark Wilkins in the #61 AIM Autosport Ford/Riley. On Lap 69, however, the #99 GAINSCO Pontiac/Riley, now piloted by Alex Gurney, charged back into the lead, with Scott Pruett in hot pursuit. A late full-course caution brought the field closer together and ultimately led to a heated three-car battle royale between the #99 Pontiac, the #01 Lexus and the #6 Ford. In the end, Alex Gurney beat Scott Pruett by 0.759 seconds, the sixth time in eight races that the margin of victory was less than one second. Michael Valiante, who in the #6 Michael Shank Racing Ford/Riley made several futile attempts to pass Pruett, wound up in third place, 1.261 seconds back.

23861The 1-2 Bob Stallings Racing / Chip Ganassi Racing finish resulted in a 231 point tie in the overall standings for the teams and their respective drivers, with the SunTrust team 16 points behind. In an unexpected post-race turn of events, however, the Stallings and Ganassi/Sabatés teams and their #99 Pontiac/Riley and #01 Lexus/Riley racers were found to be in violation of the Grand-Am rulebook's Section 9-7 and each penalized 15 points and fined $15,000 for using illegally modified refueling equipment. The GT-class #86 Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche GT3 was also found to be in violation of this rule and was hit with the same points penalty but a more modest $7500 fine. The conspiracy theorists, of course, will see that this is a gift to the #10 SunTrust Ford/Dallara and as manipulation to further tighten things, as the Drivers' and Team Points Standings are now 216 for the GAINSCO and Ganassi teams versus 215 for the SunTrust team.

The next race is a return to Watkins Glen, New York for the short Crown Royal 200 at The Glen on Friday 7 August at 6:30 PM. Please note, however, that the SPEED TV telecast will be same-day tape-delayed until 8 PM Eastern Time.

Driver Quotes:

Scott Pruett, #01 Telmex Lexus: "We had problems with the air jacks on both stops and it cost me a lot of time in the pits unfortunately. The car was good. Michael (Valiante) ran real strong; I mean, the #6 car ran real great all day long. It's tough to pass here. I mean, even if you have a lot stronger car you've got to take some pretty big risks. Traffic was always (a problem). We got jammed up. I could get through and sometimes I'd get jammed up. It was kind of give and take. It was a great race. You had three cars that were virtually identical in speed or dang close to it and that's what Grand-Am racing's all about. It was fun; it was close and I think it was a great race for the fans."

To read more from Scott Pruett, see his entries for his Champion's Corner blog on the official Grand-Am racing site, the pre-race <A HREF="">Running at Barber</A> and the post-race <A HREF="">Championship Close After Barber</A>.

Memo Rojas, #01 Telmex Lexus: "Yeah, it was pretty good for us. We had that yellow flag and we just took care of the tires and stayed on the #99 car's rear bumper. We knew it was going to be a hard track to make passes. We did our best. We had some trouble with our air jacks and unfortunately that took some time on our pit stop. That problem really hurt us (with track position)."

Our thanks to <A HREF="">the official Grand-Am racing website</A> and <A HREF="">AutoWeek for this information.


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