Today’s question: Which INDYCAR competitor helped themselves the most with their performance at the Rolex 24 At Daytona?
Curt Cavin: Josef Newgarden didn’t need an overall win in the Rolex 24 to cement his place in motorsports history, but doing so certainly helps his standing. He became the 17th winner of the Indianapolis 500 to also reach victory lane in the Daytona endurance event, and that list includes A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Mario Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Al Unser Jr., Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves. Speaking of Dixon, no one argues his place as the most decorated driver of this generation but take notice that Newgarden is primed to one day enter the conversation. Maybe it’s fitting that Patrick Mahomes also earned another Super Bowl berth just hours after the checkers at Daytona. With four AFC titles in five years, Mahomes is ahead of Tom Brady’s record-setting pace in so many categories, and Newgarden is not far off Dixon’s at this point in their careers. Last month, Newgarden turned 33. When Dixon celebrated that same birthday, he had 37 series race wins, including one at Indy, and two season championships. Newgarden has a Baby Borg and two season titles, and he stands at 29 race wins. Who knows how far Newgarden travels from here, but he’s rock fit, employed by the most successful team in the history of the sport and is still looking at more than a decade of competitive driving. Having a Rolex just adds to credentials that get stronger by the year.
Eric Smith: I think Tom Blomqvist was a nice story. While he came into the Rolex 24 At Daytona as a two-time reigning race winner, what struck me was that the team he was driving for (Whelen Cadillac Racing) chose Blomqvist, a part-time driver in the series this season, to bring them to the checkered flag. Most teams would figure to have the final driver of the race be among their full-time participants. It’s rather noteworthy that they felt Blomqvist was more than capable enough to deliver them a win Sunday over the pair of full-time drivers who were each part of this 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship-winning team a season ago, too. Pipo Derani was a full-time championship winning participant with the team while Jack Aitken, who was elevated to a full-time driver this season, raced the four endurance rounds (Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen, Road Atlanta) a season ago. Instead of those two, Whelen Cadillac Racing kept Blomqvist in the No. 31 Cadillac for the final stints, and he nearly delivered. The high point came when Blomqvist posted the fastest race lap and fastest speed of the 24-hour race in his first race with a new team and new manufacturer. The last two years he drove for Meyer Shank Racing’s Acura program. This season, he remains with MSR but transitions to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES side. For a driver who struggled in his three-race role as a fill-in driver for MSR in 2023, to come out of the Homestead-Miami Speedway test in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES with strength and parlay that into a strong weekend in sports cars at Daytona could signify a better-than-expected INDYCAR SERIES rookie season for him.
Paul Kelly: The Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class is the baby sibling to the premier Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class in IMSA, so it doesn’t get as much attention because LMP2 cars don’t compete for the overall win. But the INDYCAR driver who helped himself the most left Daytona with a new Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph watch after his stunning final stint to the checkered flag in LMP2 – Christian Rasmussen. 2023 INDY NXT by Firestone champion Rasmussen was a beast in the final 30 minutes of the race after a final restart, pushing the No. 18 Era Motorsports ORECA LMP 2 07 to a 6.8-second victory over the No. 04 CrowdStrike Racing car. Rasmussen drove masterfully after the final restart, easing away from fellow Dane Malthe Jakobsen to the checkered flag. Rasmussen’s performance caught the eye of veteran Era teammate Ryan Dalziel, who won this race overall in 2010 and in the LMP2 class in 2021 and is a class winner at the Le Mans 24 Hours. Dalziel called Rasmussen a “stud” after the race. The impressive drive also will give Rasmussen momentum entering his rookie NTT INDYCAR SERIES season for Ed Carpenter Racing, during which he will drive in the road and street course events.