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Former NASCAR national series competitor Colin Braun led his CORE Autosport team to victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona's Prototype Challenge class, after starting the No. 54 ORECA FLM09 on the pole. The car – with Braun, Jon Bennett, James Gue and Mark Wilkins the drivers – finished ninth overall.

Braun has 84 NASCAR starts, 31 in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and 53 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, with one victory, in the truck series at Michigan International Speedway in 2009. Braun was the truck series' 2009 Sunoco Rookie of the Year. He also has one previous Daytona victory – a 2006 overall win in the old summertime sports car race, the Brumos Sports Car 250.

The CORE car was dominant in PC – a spec prototype class – from the moment it hit the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway road course.

"I think it really all comes down to our preparation over the winter," Braun said. "Then we got here and just executed our plan. Quickest in both practices ... qualifying on the pole ... leading the most laps in the race. It's nice when a race goes that way. Just a perfect race for us. And it's really cool to win at Daytona, which is obviously a special place."

Record-breaking on hold for Pruett

Scott Pruett and his teammates started the Rolex 24 At Daytona as the favorites.

They ended it as the 43rd-place finishers overall and 11th in the headlining Prototype class after retiring with 90 minutes remaining in the 24-hour endurance classic.

What happened? A lot of stuff.

An early-race pit-road miscue.

A night-time accident in the chicane.

Race-long, steadily worsening engine problems.

It all combined to ruin Pruett's chance of becoming the alltime leader in Rolex 24 victories. Last year he tied Hurley Haywood's record of five victories.

It was an uncharacteristic finish for the top Chip Ganassiowned entry, the No. 01 Ford EcoBoost/Riley, and it featured some uncharacteristic experiences for Pruett.

On Saturday, approximately 90 minutes into the event, he left the pits too early, taking a hose along for the several-yard ride and clipped a crewman in the process. That resulted in a crippling stop-plus-20-second penalty that put the No. 01 a lap down. Early Sunday morning, he crashed in the chicane.

Pruett was part of an all-star driving lineup assembled by Ganassi. In the No. 01 he was joined by longtime sports car codriver Memo Rojas, former Daytona 500 champion Jamie McMurray and reigning Indy Lights champion Sage Karam. The No. 02 car was co-driven by reigning IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan, former American Le Mans Series great Marino Franchitti and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie Kyle Larson.

The footnote to Pruett's story: the No. 02 went behind the wall during the race's final hour, and ended 15th overall, eighth in the Prototype class.

Said Pruett, "So it's on to 2015, right?"

Grand marshal Hobbs lauds union of sports car series

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- "No downside."

That's how former driver David Hobbs, grand marshal for the 52nd Rolex 24 At Daytona, views the merger that produced the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.

"I think now that we've got the two factions together again in sports car racing, we could be entering another golden era of racing here; I really do," Hobbs said of the merger that united the GRAND-AM Rolex Series and the American Le Mans Series under the IMSA sanction. "As you can see, there's a heck of a lot of cars out there and a heck of a lot of drivers who obviously want to take part in it.

"So I really think it heralds a new era in sports car racing, which it needs. It really does, because sports car racing was languishing a little bit, and I think it will be great for it."

Hobbs, 74, speaks from a position of authority. As a driver, he competed in what is considered the first version of the Rolex 24, a three-hour race in 1962. The former Formula One competitor also distinguished himself as a television analyst.

"Sports car racing couldn't have been any worse than it was before, when you've got the two different sanctioning bodies and completely different rules and regulations, and the drivers didn't know which one to do," Hobbs said Saturday after the start of the race. "So I think combining the two can do nothing but good for sports car racing."

To Hobbs, the proof was in the grandstand.

"I was very impressed with the crowd here today," he said. "I've never seen so many people in the grandstand. And the infield … [Daytona International Speedway President] Joie Chitwood was telling us the other day there's not a spare inch of space out there.

"When I went around in the pace car at the beginning of the race, that infield is packed. So I hope it's a good competitive race which will attract those people to come back and see more of it. I really can't see any downside [to the merger] at all.

"I know it's taken them a long time to get the rules and regulations together, and there'll be some more fettling and a bit of changing, I'm sure. But overall, sports car racing is a very small slice of the pie anyway, and if you're going to cut it in half, to make two slices of an even smaller size, that's the trouble with what it was. That's what happened to open-wheel racing."

NASCAR announces sweeping changes to qualifying

NASCAR drivers won't be flying solo anymore.

Sweeping changes to the time-trial formats in NASCAR's top three touring series will eliminate single-car qualifying in all but two cases -- the Daytona 500 and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on dirt at Eldora Speedway.

All other events in the NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will feature timed sessions of knockout qualifying, with the number of sessions depending on the length of the track, NASCAR announced Wednesday.

Here's how the new formats work:

On speedways measuring 1.25 miles and longer, the starting order will be set in three sessions, the first lasting 25 minutes, the second 10 minutes and the third five minutes. All cars or trucks will participate as a group and post speeds in the first session, after which the field will be cut to the fastest 24.

The fastest 12 cars in the 10-minute second session will compete for the top 12 starting spots in the five-minute third session, with the fastest car or truck in that session winning the Coors Light (NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide) or Keystone Light (NCWTS) pole award.

There will be a five-minute break between sessions.

On tracks shorter than 1.25 miles, qualifying will be limited to two sessions, the first lasting 30 minutes. After a 10- minute break, the top 12 cars or trucks from the first session will compete for the pole.

NASCAR made the changes to create a more compact qualifying system designed to heighten the enjoyment of spectators and television viewers.

"We evaluate a lot of things over time, and this is one where the timing is right for us, and we believe that the fans will be receptive to this," NASCAR Vice President of Competition and Racing Development Robin Pemberton said in announcing the changes during a teleconference with reporters.

"All the ones that we've talked to so far think it's a great idea. The competitors think it's a great idea. It gives us an opportunity to get two or three rounds of qualifying in per event. I've got to believe it's better for the any of the sponsors, it's better for Coors and Keystone, and it's going to be a better show for TV. And the people at home will have a better opportunity to watch these guys qualify. I think any time you can add content, it's better for the tracks."

Driver Clint Bowyer was one of the first to react.

"Heck, I'm all for anything that makes it fun, not only for the fans but the drivers and teams, too," Bowyer said in a statement released by Michael Waltrip Racing. "This is really going shake things up on Fridays -- in a good way. I'm all for it."

Cars that are eliminated after the early rounds will start the race according to their respective speeds in the session in which they are cut, with provisional starting spots available to positions 37-43 according to the rules in effect in 2013. In other words, at the larger track, positions 25 through 43 will be set after the first session according to speed. By the same token, positions 13-24 will be set in order of speed after the second session. Because teams are limited to one set of tires for qualifying, there's a possibility that speeds could fall off as the sessions progress, Pemberton said.

During the breaks between sessions, teams will be allowed to make standard adjustments to their cars, such as wedge, track bar and air pressure, but will not be allowed to go under the hood or make major setup changes.

Drivers will be allowed set qualifying speeds by drafting at superspeedways, but the embargo against tandem drafting announced earlier this month during Preseason Thunder at Daytona will remain in effect.

Pemberton indicated that considerable thought and consultation with stakeholders went into the decision to make substantive changes in the qualifying procedures.

"We work with all of our key partners on a lot of these things," he said. "This isn't a decision that was made in a short period of time. It took a lot of work and effort in a lot of areas, whether it be broadcasters or competitors or sponsors here at NASCAR.

"So there were a lot of people, a lot of groups that weighed in on all of this. Like everything else that we do, it's important that everybody's engaged and we get everybody's take on the ups and downs of some of these things."

Danica Patrick intrigued by prospect of 16-driver Chase

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The notion of a 16-driver field in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and a possible "winand- you're-in" format certainly got Danica Patrick's attention.

And it crystallized the game plan of her crew chief, Tony Gibson.

No, NASCAR hasn't announced the specifics of possible changes to the 10-race playoff format, but the unquenchable rumor – based in part on the sanctioning body's preliminary conversations with its stakeholders – is that major change is coming.

Most of the speculation has centered around a 16-driver Chase, with race wins as the path to qualification for the playoff.

"I think that the more drivers in it, the more opportunity," Patrick said Monday during the opening session of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway. "And for me, as a new driver in the Sprint Cup Series, that definitely plays into my hand.

"And having some of the qualifications being to win [races], to me, I've been decent on the (restrictor-plate) speedways. Those are also 'anything-can-happen' kind of tracks. So that's exciting. That puts a little bit more of a realistic perspective on it."

For Gibson, it means honing in on the plate tracks. Patrick won the pole for last year's Daytona 500 and was fast during Preseason Thunder testing at the 2.5-mile superspeedway in mid-January.

"She's already proven she can damn sure win one of these restrictor-plate races," Gibson said. "If she can do that and get in this Chase, that's huge. That'd be huge for our sport. We focus hard on every race, but I'm focusing really, really hard on these restrictor-plate races. That's where I feel like I'm going to have my best shot to make the Chase.

"Last year, we knew there was no shot in hell we were going to make the Chase, but now we've got a shot at it. You show me a little bit of a crumb, and I want the rest of the cookie."

Gibson said Patrick was nervous at Daytona as a rookie last year, but this year he expects her to have plenty of drafting partners, including fellow Stewart-Haas Racing drivers Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch.

"I know that we've got four people that like her right now, and I know the Hendrick guys, they like her, too. We were third coming down to get the checkered [flag last year], and we just made one wrong move. If we'd have moved left instead of right, we'd have won the Daytona 500.

"She knows that now. She's logged that in her memory banks. She's going to have more confidence, and she's going to know who will draft with her and who won't draft with her. And when it comes down to those situations again, she's going to push the issue, because, she knows, too, 'This is my shot to get in the Chase.'"

Written by Reid Spencer NASCAR Wire Service


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