Alabama Gang rides again with Justin Allison at Talladega

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The latest generation of NASCAR’s fabled Alabama Gang rode again in its debut Tuesday and Wednesday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Justin Allison, grandson of Donnie Allison and grandnephew of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison, both original members of the Alabama Gang, took part in a two-day test of ARCA drivers at NASCAR’s largest oval track.

The test on the 2.66-mile track was in preparation for the International Motorsports Hall of Fame 200 at Talladega on Saturday, May 3.

While Justin Allison struggled to find speed Tuesday, he found it Wednesday, recording the second-fastest speed of drivers at 181.257 mph, just a hair under the day’s fastest speed of 181.987 mph by Tim Hessert, who also was fastest in Tuesday’s session.

“It has always been a dream of mine to race at Talladega,” Justin Allison said of his ‘Dega debut in the BCR Ford, which carries the same No. 88 his grandfather drove in the 1970s. “It’s my family’s hometown track and a very special place for all of my family.

“Being on the track for the first time yesterday I saw first-hand that it is a special place. I had a lot of fun the past couple days. We have a good car and we’re capable of winning the race. A victory here would mean a lot to not only me, but to my entire family.”

Winning is in the family genes, for sure. Grand uncle Bobby is a four-time winner there, grandpa Donnie a two-time winner. The late Davey Allison, Bobby’s son, won four ARCA races and three Winston Cup races at Talladega, as well.

“My goal is to win it,” the 21-year-old Justin Allison said of the May 3 event. “We have to run the whole race to accomplish that, and I know I’ve got a lot to learn out there. I’m really looking forward to the experience, but if we’re there at the end, our goal should be nothing short of winning it. That’s why we do this.”

Allison has two ARCA races under his belt. He finished 11th at Kansas last fall, but had an auspicious debut at the beginning of this season at Daytona International Speedway.

Although he qualified 12th, Allison was involved in a multi-car wreck and ultimately finished a disappointing 36th in the season-opening ARCA race at Daytona in February.

He was also slated to compete in the second race of the season at Mobile, Ala., but withdrew from the event.

Grandpa Allision liked what he saw from his grandson.

“He’s got a knack,” said Donnie, who won at Talladega in 1971 and 1977.  “He’s never driven around Talladega in his life.  He went out and ran (Wednesday), came in and I asked him a question about it.

“He told me exactly what he felt. I know he felt it, because I saw him do it. That’s a gift. That’s not taught.”

Here’s Thursday’s ARCA Practice Speeds at Talladega Superspeedway:

1.     Tom Hessert                   181.987

2.     Justin Allison                181.257

3.     Austin Wayne Self        181.213

4.     Kevin Powell                  181.134

5.     Michael Lira                   180.041

6.     Thomas Praytor             176.484

7.     Raul Orlandini               174.299

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Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”