Action Express Racing, vying to defend its Rolex 24 at Daytona title, climbed from an early hole to set up a stirring finish against a pair of Chip Ganassi Racing cars and Wayne Taylor Racing.
Action Express went down three laps about nine hours into the endurance event when it lost fuel pressure at Daytona International Speedway. But the team recovered by daybreak and was leading until Joao Barbosa made contact with Jordan Taylor as they entered the pits with about four hours remaining in the twice-round-the-clock race.
Barbosa and Taylor were running 1-2 when both headed to pit road, with Barbosa on the outside and needing to get around Taylor to make it to his stall. The cars touched, and Taylor was able to resume the lead after the stops.
The Ganassi cars switched drivers during that sequence. Sprint Cup Series rookie of the year Kyle Larson jumped in the No. 02 "star car" and Sage Karam got behind the wheel of the No. 01.
Larson drove an impressive graveyard shift in which he set the fastest lap of the No. 02 drivers — three-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan and Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray.
Larson chased Taylor for much of his stint, which spanned three-plus hours, as the two matched personal best lap times. Larson was down on his himself following his performance in last year's debut, but after climbing out of the car at roughly 3 a.m., he said he was much more comfortable with how he ran Sunday morning.
"Winning this race would be the most prestigious on my resume," said Larson, who then confused Jordan Taylor with older brother Ricky.
"I was mostly just following the 10 car around. They told me it was Ricky Taylor. To be honest, I don't know who that is, but he was fast. I'm just the fourth-string driver on this team, so I just don't want to make any mistakes."
The Taylor brothers are two of the best young American sports car racers, and teamed with Max Angelelli they were trying to end a run of two consecutive second-place finish for their father's team. Wayne Taylor Racing last won the race in 2005, when Wayne Taylor was still driving.
The No. 10 Corvette overcame early electronic issues to stake a claim at the victory. But it was setting up to be a four-car race to the finish, as both Ganassi entries bided their time.
Kanaan said after turning the car over to Larson around 10 a.m. that he watched Jordan Taylor and Barbosa race each other hard and settled in at his own pace rather than risk making a mistake with so much racing remaining.
"I didn't want to get in the middle of that, they were racing pretty hard," Kanaan said.
Same for five-time winner Scott Pruett, lead driver in the No. 01 Ford, after he turned the car over to Karam. Pruett, who is trying to break a tie with Hurley Haywood for most Rolex wins, then saw Larson run Karam through the bus stop to take over third.
Pruett didn't mind the 19-year-old Karam's defensive maneuver.
"At the bus stop, if you can't make it, you go straight because you'll tear up the race car otherwise," Pruett said. "The Ganassi boys are doing a great job. Both cars are running strong. We'll just see if we have enough to lead at the end."
The driver rotations were setting up for a race to the finish featuring Jordan Taylor, Sebastien Bourdais of Action Express, Dixon in the star car and Joey Hand, the 2011 winner when he made a guest appearance for Ganassi, in the No. 01 in his new role as full-time co-driver. Dixon is planning to drive the final 3 ½ hours.
Not in contention was Michael Shank Racing, which was five laps down late in a race they were considered a favorite. The team fell behind when John Pew went through the horseshoe and made contact with a tire barrier at about 3 a.m. Pew had to pit to replace the damaged front clip.
Right before AJ Allmendinger turned the car over to 16-year-old Matt McMurry, Allmendinger posted the fastest lap of the race.
"We'll never give up," said Allmendinger, part of Shank's 2012 winning team. "That's what's great about this race team."