Dixon takes early lead in 24 Hours of Daytona

 Chip Ganassi Racing drivers, from left, Juan Pablo Montoya, of Colombia; Jamie McMurray; Scott Dixon, of New Zealand; Memo Rojas, of Mexico; Scott Pr...

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Chip Ganassi Racing drivers, from left, Juan Pablo Montoya, of Colombia; Jamie McMurray; Scott Dixon, of New Zealand; Memo Rojas, of Mexico; Scott Pr...

Chip Ganassi Racing was on its way to reclaiming the 24 Hours of Daytona title, with Scott Dixon in the lead after three hours in the sports car endurance race on Saturday.
Dixon was ahead by almost a full lap, deftly guiding the No. 02 BMW Riley on a slick Daytona International Speedway that had been pelted with rain, causing cautions and skid outs. Ganassi's No. 01 car had the top spot two hours into the race with Scott Pruett behind the wheel, but dropped back after a slow pit stop.
Alex Gurney was in second and looking to hand off to teammate and four-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson for Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing. That was a big move for the No. 99 car, which started last among the Daytona Prototypes after Johnson crashed the car in practice and the team missed qualifying.
"We're actually in great shape," Gurney said. "We started last and ended up in second."
Several others weren't far behind. But it was Ganassi making all the noise again.
Chip Ganassi Racing had three straight wins in the prestigious endurance race until finishing second last year in the closest race in the event's history. It wasn't taking any chances early.
Dixon broke away from the pack with some tight zigging and zagging on the narrow infield of the road course. He avoided spinouts _ unlike some drivers _ when the track was still soaked, and he wasn't losing ground on the straightaways to other Daytona Prototypes like Ganassi did a year ago.
Fellow Indianapolis 500 winners Juan Pablo Montoya and Dario Franchitti, and NASCAR's Jamie McMurray were getting set to take over for Dixon. While still early in the race, the star-studded lineup was only getting stronger as the rain subsided.
Other drivers tested the track too early.
There were four cautions, including at the start with rain still falling, before the green flag was waved five laps into the race. Ricardo Zonta held a brief lead until he hit a turn too fast, braked too hard trying to recover and spun out into the tire wall like so many others in the back.
"The first three laps were extremely difficult. It was very hard to put the power down and have any kind of hope to keep the grip," said actor Patrick Dempsey, who had the No. 40 car in the pack of the other GTs. "It was certainly great television and fun to watch."
But there still was plenty of time to catch up.
That alone was enough for the 44-car field _ that included 29 of the slower GT class cars _ to keep hope alive. The 3.5-mile (5.7-kilometer) road course that encompasses about three-fourths of the NASCAR oval was drying but some water hadn't receded.
The flat infield course had a few puddles and was perhaps the most difficult to navigate at the start, especially with Daytona Prototypes trying to weave around the GT cars.
"On some of those restarts," Gurney said, "guys weren't starting like it was 24 hours."

Updated : 2021-03-03 20:40 GMT+08:00