Getty Images

After one-year absence, A.J. Allmendinger back for 12th career Rolex 24

Leave a comment

A.J. Allmendinger will take part in his 12th edition of the Rolex 24 this weekend at Daytona International Speedway.

But in a way, Allmendinger feels almost like a rookie in his first time taking part in one of the world’s highest-profile endurance races.

“It’s going to be different,” Allmendinger said during Tuesday’s NASCAR Media Day in Charlotte, North Carolina. “I’ve always run the Prototype class and Shank’s (Michael Shank Racing) first year last year with the GTD class and the Acura NSX’s.

“They’ve really built a lot of speed. They won two races last year so the car’s got a lot of speed in it. But it’s a different way of racing, you know? Being a Prototype, you’re the aggressor. You’re the one making the moves.

“With the GT cars there’s a challenge to allowing cars to get around you and not losing a lot of time and that’s where the best GT drivers are so good at it. I got only about 30 laps probably at the Roar (the Roar Before the Rolex 24 three weeks ago, also at Daytona).

“ABS (system) brakes is way different than anything I’ve ever driven. It took me a while to learn. And I can’t say I’ve really got a full understanding of it yet but I love that race. I love working with Mike Shank and that whole team.”

Allmendinger is the only full-time NASCAR Cup driver taking part in this year’s Rolex 24, along with Xfinity Series part-time drivers Austin Cindric and Justin Marks.

Allmendinger likes the idea of competing with some of the world’s best drivers across various disciplines of racing.

Among big names in this year’s race: two-time F1 champ Fernando Alonso, Team Penske drivers Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya, as well as fellow IndyCar drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay, Spencer Pigot and Graham Rahal.

Allmendinger, who turned 36 on December 16, knows that one day he’ll race in his final Rolex 24, much like veteran Scott Pruett is doing in this weekend’s race, bringing an illustrious three-plus decade career to an end.

“At some point, I’m sure I’m going to have to give this up,” Allmendinger said. “I would love to (win again). I love what IMSA is doing. There’s going to be 20 brand new Prototypes, there’s 21 or 22 cars in the Prototype class, which is bigger than any other Prototype class in the world.

“The GT class and our class, there’s 21 or 22 cars as well. It’s such a competitive field; I think the top 15 at the test were separated by 7 or 8 tenths. What they’re doing is great. There’s so many different manufacturers in there now. And I would love to do it, for sure.”

As for Pruett’s final race, Allmendinger is highly complimentary and respectful of Pruett and his career.

“What Scott Pruett has done for the sport of just auto racing, not NASCAR or IMSA or anything like that, it’s what he’s done in general for the world of racing has been pretty special, he’s done it all,” Allmendinger said. “He’s raced everything (including) IndyCar, he’s run sports cars, he’s run NASCAR, and he’s been fast in everything that he’s done.

“More importantly, he’s always been such a great promoter of the sport and great to go talk to if you needed to ask questions. (He’s a) hard competitor. To see him go out on his own terms and to go out with the biggest race in their sport, I think we’d all like to be able to do that.”

Allmendinger will drive the Michael Shank Racing No. 86 Acura in the Rolex 24, teaming with Katherine Legge, Alvaro Parente and Trent Hindman.

And that’s where the rookie feeling comes in: In his previous 11 Rolex 24 starts, Allmendinger has competed behind the wheel of a Prototype. This year is different: it’s his first time piloting a ride in the GTD class.

Allmendinger has been part of the Shank team for every year since 2006. That includes winning the 2012 race, was third in 2013 and earned the pole in 2015.

But because Shank switched to Honda last season to be part of Acura’s factory program in the GTD class, Allmendinger was forced to watch from the sidelines to make room for several Honda drivers from other motorsports series.

But Allmendinger won’t be sidelined in 2018. He’s right back in the thick of things and intends on doing his best to win the 24 yet again.

“It’s definitely nice to be back again, for sure,” Allmendinger said.

And it would definitely be nice to be back again in victory lane, for sure, as well.

NHRA shocker in Houston: John Force fails to qualify for first time since 2008, snaps 221-race streak

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
Leave a comment

Sunday’s eliminations in the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston  just won’t be the same without John Force.

In one of the most stunning turn of events seen in the last decade-plus in NHRA drag racing, the legendary 16-time Funny Car champion and the sport’s all-time winningest driver on Saturday failed to qualify for Sunday’s main event of the race weekend.

It marks the first time Force, who turns 69 on May 4, failed to qualify for a race since Sept. 13, 2008 in Charlotte race, snapping a string of having made the eliminations in each of the subsequent 221 races until failing to do so Saturday.

“That is hard for me,” Force said after failing to go any faster than 222.29 mph in the four qualifying rounds for the race, two on Friday and the other two on Saturday. “You earn what you get. We didn’t put it in the show. We couldn’t get to half-track.

“We have had a lot of problems all year. At least I got my final shot to get in and I didn’t make it. I will be here tomorrow rooting on Robert, Courtney and Brittany (teammates Robert Hight and daughters Courtney and Brittany Force). I’ll be signing autographs for all the fans. I am sorry to all of you fans that I didn’t make it.”

Saturday’s failure to qualify marked only the 22nd time he’s DNQ’d in his 40-year professional drag racing career. He set a drag racing record by qualifying for 395 consecutive events from 1988 until April 2007.

“I am bummed that the boss didn’t get in. That was quite a streak he had going,” Hight said of hoss and father-in-law. “There is nobody better at rallying a team and leading a comeback than John Force.

“He loves the fight and he will do whatever it takes to get his team back on top. It really isn’t something to worry about because two of our Chevys are No.1 and No. 2 right now.

“We have good combinations and we just have to duplicate one of those set ups for John’s PEAK Funny car. He’ll be back next week in Charlotte.”

****************************************
As for the other classes (information courtesy NHRA Media Relations):Leah Pritchett set a new Top Fuel track record during the final qualifying session on Saturday to secure the top spot in Top Fuel heading into Sunday.Hight (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the fifth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Defending event champion Pritchett raced her Mopar Dodge dragster to a pass of 3.680-seconds at 326.00 mph. This is her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and eighth of her career.

“We’ve been developing our confidence the last couple of races,” Pritchett stated. “To be able to put it on the track is phenomenal. We know we need to be exceptional because our competition is exceptional.”

Pritchett will line up against Terry Brian in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Defending world champion Brittany Force locked-in the No. 2 spot after a 3.701 at 313.80 in her Monster Energy dragster. Tony Schumacher is seeded third and will face William Litton.

Hight’s final qualifying pass of 3.894 at 317.27 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro took him to the top of the Funny Car category. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season, second at Houston and 58th of his career.

“This is going to be a new ball game tomorrow,” Hight said. “With fresh asphalt and the sun being out; these cars are going to spin. It’s definitely going to be fun. Two of our Chevy’s are one and two (in Funny Car) which shows we have good combinations.”

Hight will face-off against Todd Simpson Sunday morning in the first round. Teammate Courtney Force sits in the No. 2 position with a pass of 3.911 at 295.14 in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro and two-time world champion Matt Hagan rounds out the top three.

Anderson, four-time Pro Stock world champion, remained atop the field Saturday with his pass of 6.492 at 213.00 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro from the first qualifying session on Friday. He notched his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier of the season and is seeking his first victory of the year.

“I haven’t had great Sunday’s yet,” Anderson stated. “I know I’m going to break through one of these days though. The weather is going to be great again tomorrow. I feel good about it, I’m excited and so far it’s just been a great weekend.”

Anderson will race Steve Graham in the first round of eliminations. Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified in the No. 2 position with a pass of 6.504 at 212.36 in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro and Tanner Gray is third.

Eliminations at the NHRA SpringNationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway.

****************************************
SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS FOR ELIMINATIONS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.680 seconds, 326.00 mph vs. 16. Terry Brian, 4.275, 284.62; 2. Brittany Force, 3.701, 320.20 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 4.081, 287.17; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.703, 322.73 vs. 14. Bill Litton, 3.927, 306.60; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.737, 317.87 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 3.819, 313.51; 5. Antron Brown, 3.740, 324.98 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.783, 314.31; 6. Clay Millican, 3.746, 315.78 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.766, 313.73; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.748, 320.05 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.766, 316.23; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.754, 318.17 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.759, 313.88. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Totten, 4.636, 216.34.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 317.27 vs. 16. Todd Simpson, Dodge Charger, 4.318, 288.33; 2. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.911, 313.58 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.151, 283.49; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.913, 311.85 vs. 14. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.077, 305.77; 4. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.918, 317.42 vs. 13. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.026, 308.99; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.918, 301.94 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.017, 307.51; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.925, 311.41 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.994, 311.34; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.926, 313.00 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.989, 313.37; 8. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.927, 316.52 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.938, 314.09. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 4.341, 273.05; 18. John Force, 4.625, 222.29.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.00 vs. 16. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.775, 205.60; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.504, 212.36 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.65; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.507, 211.99 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.592, 210.93; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.513, 212.29 vs. 13. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.548, 210.67; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 211.99 vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 210.50; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.79 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.532, 212.73; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.29 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 211.79; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.528, 211.93 vs. 9. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.530, 211.33.