Third-generation member of racing’s legendary Allison family to race at Pocono for first time in more than 20 years

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For the first time in more than two decades, a member of the famous Allison racing family – among the original members of NASCAR’s fabled “Alabama Gang” – will race at Pocono Raceway, a track that has been part of the family’s greatest achievements and terrible tragedies.

For the first time in his career, third-generation driver Justin Allison, grandson of Donnie Allison and grandnephew of three-time Pocono winner and NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allision, will compete in Saturday’s Pocono ARCA 200 race at the 2.5-mile tri-oval.

“Pocono is going to be so much different than any other track I’ll drive on, Justin Allison said in a team media release. “I’ve heard how fun and exciting it can be, but I also know there’s a lot to learn to be competitive. We’ll need to learn as much as we can in the test to be ready for the race.”

Pocono used to be granduncle Bobby’s domain, until he was nearly killed in a terrible crash in 1988 that ended his racing career.

“I don’t think the Allison history will have any factor into how we’ll perform at Pocono,” Justin Allison said. “Every track you go to, there’s a risk you’re taking and it’s not just at Pocono.”

The younger Allison, who turns 22 on June 25, wasn’t even born when granduncle Bobby had his horrific wreck there.

“It’s always helpful to know someone else who has the experience at the track, but that doesn’t mean I’ll perform exactly like them,” Justin said. “We’re in totally different equipment and with a new team. But you can’t help but think about the things that happened here.”

Allison comes into Pocono off his best season performance to date, a seventh-place showing at Toledo Speedway on May 18.

Allison is slated to run in about 10 ARCA races this season. He’s already run three so far: Daytona (finished 36th), Talladega (19th) and Toledo (seventh).

“There really is no way to prepare for this type of track other than figuring it out myself,” Allison said. “I don’t do any sort of simulator racing or watch videos like some drivers may.

“I think it’s best to just feel the track out myself. If something isn’t working, I’ll just go to my crew chief (Howard Bixman) or teammate, Grant Enfinger, for advice. They seem to always give me the best approach at what to do and not do.”

Enfinger is certainly a fountain of information: he continues to lead the series points standings, including starting the season with three consecutive wins.

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IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.