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Johnson Among Drivers in Second AXR Cadillac for Daytona

NASCAR legend Johnson among lineup for additional Action Express Rolex 24 DPi entry…

Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images/NASCAR

Action Express Racing will field a second Cadillac DPi-V.R in the Rolex 24 at Daytona for Jimmie Johnson, Kamui Kobayashi, Simon Pagenaud and Mike Rockenfeller.

Announced on Friday, the team’s additional No. 48 Ally-sponsored Cadillac DPi will run in partnership with 13-time NASCAR Cup Series championship-winning team Hendrick Motorsports.

The star-studded lineup brings together drivers with a host of championship titles and major race victories, while Kobayashi and Rockenfeller are both Daytona enduro winners.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Johnson, who retired from the series after the 2020 season, is set for his eighth appearance in the Rolex 24 and his first in a decade.

The 45-year-old last contested the event in 2011, driving a GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Riley-Chevrolet DP with Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney.

Johnson’s Rolex 24 return was brought to light last month when Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick revealed that his driver would be in the race on Jan. 30-31.

Hendrick also suggested that current NASCAR Cup champion Chase Elliott would have a spot in the field, but the 25-year-old has not been named as part of the No. 48 entry.

It’s believed Elliott could feature as the fourth driver in AXR’s season-long No 31 Whelen-sponsored Cadillac DPi.

“The Rolex 24 at Daytona is one of the marquee races in the world,” said Johnson.

“It’s such a challenging event for both team and driver and requires such a high level of concentration throughout.

“It’s just such a fun and unique race to compete in. This will be the first time I’ve raced with Action Express and have been very impressed with the team and its preparation.

“I’m also excited to have Ally on board and to be co-driving with Simon, Kamui, and Mike who are three world-class drivers with experience in this race and the DPi class.

“I’ve finished second in this event [in 2005 and 2008] so I’m looking forward to trying to get on the top step in 2021.”

Action Express will test the No. 48 Cadillac at Daytona International Speedway on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Its Rolex 24 commitment with the Hendrick-linked entry also means that the car will appear in the newly-introduced 100-minute qualifying race being held on Jan. 24.

Action Express has not yet nominated its two drivers for the non-championship race that will set the Rolex 24 grid.

The No. 48 machine will run alongside the team’s already-confirmed No. 31 Whelen Cadillac DPi featuring Pipo Derani, Felipe Nasr and Mike Conway.

Conway and Kobayashi recently won the FIA World Endurance Championship together alongside their Toyota Gazoo Racing teammate Jose Maria Lopez.

Kobayashi is also a double defending Rolex 24 winner having taken back-to-back victories with Wayne Taylor Racing on the last two occasions, while former Corvette Racing driver Rockenfeller triumphed for Action Express back in 2010.

Pagenaud, meanwhile, is set for his first appearance in a Cadillac DPi off the back of three seasons driving for Acura Team Penske in IMSA’s top-level prototype category.

The 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner, who is set for his seventh Rolex 24 start, has a history with Action Express in the form of two 2016 outings for the team driving a Corvette DP at Daytona and Motul Petit Le Mans.

Johnson’s longtime NASCAR crew chief, and now VP of competition at Hendrick, Chad Knaus, attended last month’s season-finale at Sebring.

“We’ve been talking to Jimmie about running with us for many months,” said Action Express team manager Gary Nelson.

“It all came together in November with the support of Hendrick Motorsports and their tremendous partner, Ally.

“Jimmie has a lot of experience at Daytona, not only on the oval, but turning into the infield as well.

“Simon brings a lot of endurance experience and Kamui adds a wealth of car set-up knowledge and speed to the car.

“We won the Rolex 24 with Mike in 2010, so he is familiar with how we operate. We’re looking at having a great ten days in Daytona starting with the Roar Before the 24.”

Action Express is looking to claim its fourth overall Rolex 24 victory, while its last win came in 2018.

The team is coming back to its familiar setup of running two Cadillacs in the DPi class at Daytona after it fielded just the full-season Whelen car this year.

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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