The Latest: Rising star Cindric ups racing resume in Rolex

Cars line pit road before the start of the IMSA 24-hour auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Austin Cindric's meteoric rise in auto racing now includes a strong debut in the Rolex 24 at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — The Latest on the Rolex 24 at Daytona (all times local):

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7:15 p.m.

Austin Cindric's meteoric rise in auto racing now includes a strong debut in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

The 18-year-old racer started the event for 3GT Racing and did a triple stint to open Saturday's twice-round-the-clock endurance race at Daytona International Speedway. It was the most track time he's ever had in the Lexus RCF GT3.

Cindric was thrilled that the team not only allowed him to start the race, but qualify the car in the GT Daytona class and run a triple stint.

"They trusted me to stay out of trouble, and I'm very grateful for that opportunity," he said. "I feel like I represented myself well."

His father, Penske Racing president Tim Cindric, expressed his feelings via Twitter from the sold-out infield.

"Never thought I'd be watching him race the Daytona 24 at 18, especially the first 3 hrs of his first one. Great experience and opportunity," Tim Cindric wrote.

Austin Cindric has been steadily getting seat time in various series and recently landed a full-time ride driving in NASCAR's Truck Series this season for Brad Keselowski Racing. He'll also run the four endurance races for 3GT, and is working on adding other events to his schedule.

"I drive everything. Anything I can get my hands on, I try to get behind the wheel and try to have some success," he said. "As long as I can keep a parallel path between sports cars and stock cars, it's what I want to do because I am really passionate about racing. I want to be a race car driver. I don't want to be specialized.

"I want to be Jeff Gordon. I want to be the guy who wins a bunch of championships and then comes to do the 24 hours just for the fun of it."

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6:15 p.m.

Jeff Gordon's first driving stint in the Rolex 24 was far from ideal.

Gordon got in the No. 10 Cadillac with the lead in the early stages of the 24-hour endurance race Saturday and almost immediately gave it away.

"I just don't have enough experience in these cars on restarts," Gordon said. "I didn't know which way to go."

The four-time NASCAR champion went wide and "that was the wrong move." He got passed by two other Cadillacs and then spent of the rest of his double stint trying to get a feel for the Wayne Taylor Racing entry.

"I wish I had more laps coming into this, but I totally understand how the team has to balance it out among three other drivers," Gordon said. "It's just good to get comfortable and get some good laps in and work traffic and the rest of the way it was really smooth and clean. I was having a blast, especially that second stint. I had a great time."

Gordon's teammate, Ricky Taylor, set a frantic pace after taking the green flag, in hopes of building a big lead that would take some pressure off Gordon. Instead, Gordon took over under caution and was in the car for a restart.

"Everyone was telling me, 'Build a gap, build a gap,'" Taylor said. "I didn't want to be the one to crash the car and then Jeff Gordon doesn't get to get in the car. That would be the worst. ... The plan was to give Jeff the car with a little bit of a gap. That wasn't how it ended up working out."

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5:45 p.m.

Scott Pruett's shot at an 11th victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona ended when he crashed in his new Lexus.

Pruett is tied with Hurley Haywood for five overall victories, but he was unlikely to get another overall win because he's helped launch the new Lexus program in the lower GT Daytona class. A victory would have been a stellar debut for Lexus and earned Pruett an 11th Rolex watch.

He wasn't sure what caused him to wreck in his first stint Saturday.

"We were just putting in the hours, you know?" he said. "It felt like I got just a little nudge from behind. It could have been just the air taken off the rear wing 'cause we were in a pack or something, but it snapped pretty hard, pretty quick down in turn one and unfortunately it got into the fence on the left hand side."

Pruett was disappointed for his Lexus-backed team.

"This is not how you want to start," he said.

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4:20 p.m.

Ricky Taylor took the lead in the early going of the Rolex 24 at Daytona and then turned the No. 10 Cadillac over to four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon.

Taylor and the other two Cadillacs quickly proved to be the class of the 55-car field. They were running 1-2-3 in the first two hours at Daytona International Speedway and built a big lead over everyone else.

Ricky, younger brother Jordan and veteran Max Angelelli have enjoyed podium finishes in each of the last four years. Gordon joined the team this year and had planned to drive a double stint in the Wayne Taylor Racing entry. Gordon is making his first appearance in the prestigious road-course race in a decade. He finished third with Wayne Taylor in 2007.

In the GT Le Mans class, Ford had one of its entries out front as the manufacturer seeks to fill a hole in its racing resume after last year's banner debut season. Joey Hand had the Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT atop the class, and Hand was part of Ford's historic victory at Le Mans last year.

Dane Cameron ran the first stint for Action Express and was the first Cadillac driver out of the car. He turned it over to Seb Morris in third as the Cadillac teams had put all but one car in the prototype class at least a lap down.

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2:30 p.m.

The 55th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona is underway, with pole-sitter Joao Barbosa leading the 55-car field to the green flag.

The twice-around-the-clock endurance race began under cool temperatures and cloudy skies, with a threat of steady rain predicted for later Saturday.

Four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon started the race in the pits, with Wayne Taylor Racing teammate Ricky Taylor opening behind the wheel of the No. 10 Cadillac.

"Dancing with the Stars" runner-up and IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe, four-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay also are in the field.

Chip Ganassi Racing, which has dominated the Rolex in recent years, has two entries. One of them includes Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais, who won their class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans last year.

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More AP auto racing: www.racing.ap.org

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