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Ganassi Racing team off to strong start at Rolex 24 in Daytona

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The Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabetes TELMEX/Target BMW Riley driven by Scott Pruet, Memo Roja, Juan Pablo Montoya, Charlie Kimball and Scott Dixon races during the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, in Daytona Beach, Fla. Jerry Markland/Getty Images

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By The Associated Press
Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, 7:20 p.m.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Scott Pruett's chase for the Rolex record is off to a strong start.

Pruett and his Chip Ganassi Racing teammates were out front in the early stages of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Pruett started on the pole Saturday and pretty much stayed ahead of the field for the first three hours of the 24-hour endurance event. It was the perfect way for Pruett to begin his pursuit of Hurley Haywood's record of five Rolex victories.

Pruett, a five-time series champion, maneuvered the No. 01 BMW Riley around the 3.56-mile road course without any problems — something few drivers could say in the early going.

AJ Allmendinger, whose Michael Shank Racing team won the event last year, fell way behind in the first hour after breaking a tie rod on the No. 60 Ford Riley. The part affected steering and suspension, and left the car seven laps back.

Allmendinger was suspended by NASCAR last season for failing a random drug test and sent home hours before the July race at Daytona. He was hoping to make a triumphant return while defending his Rolex title.

Instead, Allmendinger and teammates Ozz Negri, Justin Wilson, John Pew and Marcos Ambrose could have a tough time catching up. Then again, anything can and often does happen in the twice-around-the-clock test that kicks off the racing season.

Allmendinger wasn't the only driver who ran into trouble early, either.

Fellow Daytona Prototype drivers Stephane Sarrazin, Ian James and Bruno Junqueira fell laps behind. Sarrazin had a transmission problem. James had a gearbox issue. Junqueira spun off the track.

So, four of the 17 cars in the DP class were seemingly out of it.

The six Corvettes in the field were so slow in qualifying that Grand-Am officials gave them an extra five horsepower. That decision followed a previous one that stripped the Chevrolets of power.

“It cost us dramatically,” said Alex Gurney of Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing. “Really, I don't understand why they did it. I mean, I think they felt that a lot of guys were sandbagging, and it turned out that they weren't.”

Pruett and his teammates could be the beneficiaries.

“The (car) is running really good,” Pruett said. “It's fun to drive. The car is really fun. You can carve your way through traffic. You need to be heads-up, as we see out there. It can be a little wild with some of the GT cars. They'll get racing four or five abreast, and you really have to pick your way through those guys. Short of that, it's been trouble free.”

Ganassi's other car, the No. 02, spent time in second place. But four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti lost several positions on a restart that left him trying to make up spots as the sun set on the famed speedway.

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