Allmendinger misses big finish on NASCAR return in Richmond

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AJ Allmendinger just missed a top finish in his last scheduled NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start in Richmond, before he ramps up preparation for his Indianapolis 500 debut for the month of May.

Allmendinger, who last raced in NASCAR at Auto Club Speedway more than a month ago, once again made something out of almost nothing in the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet.

Had it not been for the late caution that jumbled the field, brought most of the field to pit road for fresher tires and bunched the field together for a green-white-checkered finish, Allmendinger could have cracked the top five.

Instead, he posted a 14th-place result from 24th on the grid. Allmendinger has finished between 11th and 16th in each of his four starts for Phoenix this year, respectable if underwhelming by his own wishes.

“I suck in qualifying this year. Need to work on it. Drive hard tomorrow,” Allmendinger tweeted after qualifying on Friday.

Come the race on Saturday: “Hard fought day by my guys @stevo511 @PhoenixRacing51 proud of their effort as always. Not sure why we struggled so bad on last green run. Great call by CC Nick Harrison to stay out on GWC finish. Did all I could with old tires. Wish I could have gotten the team a better finish.”

Allmendinger’s focus shifts back to IndyCar with Team Penske after a frustrating Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, where his gearbox broke in Turn 5. Rookie orientation for the 500 occurs May 11-12, on opening weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.