Allmendinger captures elusive Nationwide win at Road America

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Despite several green-white-checkered attempts to throw him off his game, AJ Allmendinger would not be denied an elusive first victory in NASCAR. Allmendinger repaid the faith of team boss Roger Penske with a win from pole in the No. 22 Discount Tire Ford Mustang in the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ Johnsonville Sausage 200 at Elkhart Lake’s Road America.

Allmendinger held off Turner Scott Motorsports’ Justin Allgaier and Kyle Busch Motorsports rookie Parker Kligerman on the race that took two extra GWCs to finish. It ran 55 laps instead of the scheduled 50; Allmendinger led 29 laps of the 4.048-mile circuit.

Owen Kelly and Sam Hornish Jr. each had fraught days and fell back outside the top-25, yet when all was said and done ended fourth and fifth. Unofficially, Hornish clawed back 28 points of his deficit of 58 to series leader Regan Smith, who finished 33rd.

A typical Road America NASCAR edition, then, if ever there was one – methodical and fast-paced the first 35 or so laps, before all hell broke loose in the last 15-plus.

There were only three cautions in the first 33 laps and in the last 22, there were five more via a collection of spins, off-course excursions and occasional fisticuffs.

Several drivers didn’t have results to maximize their runs. Among them, Billy Johnson of Roush Fenway Racing had a storming drive from the mid-30s after a pit road speeding penalty all the way back to the lead, before two incidents sent him to the back.

Johnson fell from the lead with 10 laps to go prior to the scheduled checkered flag outside the top-20 after an accordion effect incident at Turn 5, where he slipped into the gravel and had to drive out. Earlier in the race, Johnson made contact with Max Papis, and after the race the Italian reacted by slapping Johnson with his helmet still on.

Nationwide Series debutante and defending Pirelli World Challenge GT class champion Johnny O’Connell brought the No. 5 JR Motorsports Chevrolet home in 12th.

The Nationwide Series is back on a Sprint Cup weekend next weekend in Kentucky.

MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

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