A.J. Allmendinger

Here are your NBCSN TV times, weekend coverage plan for IndyCar’s Sonoma season finale

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The weekend coverage plans for the Verizon IndyCar Series on NBCSN from Sonoma Raceway are below. Here is the press release, distributed via the NBC Sports Group Press Box website. A full weekend preview is linked here.

The 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series will crown its champion this weekend on NBCSN, as Juan Pablo Montoya looks for his first IndyCar season championship at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET. NBCSN’s coverage will also include IndyCar’s tributes to driver Justin Wilson, who passed away Monday after succumbing to injuries suffered in Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway.

This weekend’s race at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., is worth double points, meaning a potential 100-point swing in the standings. Montoya (Team Penske) currently holds a 34-point lead over Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan). Four other drivers still have a mathematical chance to win the title, including former series champions Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi) and Will Power (Team Penske), Helio Castroneves (Team Penske) and Josef Newgarden (CFH Racing).

Montoya will win the title if he finishes third or higher and Rahal does not win the race. Click here for full championship possible outcomes.

VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES POINTS STANDINGS
Rank Driver (Team) Points Behind Wins Top 10
1 Juan Pablo Montoya (Penske) 500 2 12
2 Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan) 466 34 2 10
3 Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi) 453 47 2 11
4 Will Power (Penske) 439 61 1 9
5 Helio Castroneves (Penske) 423 77 0 9
6 Josef Newgarden (CFH Racing) 413 87 2 9

Live IndyCar coverage on NBCSN begins Saturday at 1:30 p.m. ET with practice, followed by qualifying at 6 p.m. ET. Race coverage from Sonoma begins Sunday at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Lead IndyCar play-by-play voice Leigh Diffey will call the Grand Prix of Sonoma, alongside analyst and current driver Townsend Bell, and analyst and former IndyCar driver Paul Tracy. Robin Miller, Marty Snider, Jon Beekhuis, Kevin Lee and Katie Hargitt will patrol the pits.

RACING COMMUNITY MOURNS LOSS OF INDYCAR DRIVER JUSTIN WILSON

The IndyCar community and racing fans from around the world are mourning the loss of Andretti Autosport driver Justin Wilson, who passed away on Monday after succumbing to injuries suffered in Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway. Tributes to Wilson will be part of NBCSN’s coverage on Sunday.

This week’s episodes of NASCAR America included a tribute narrated by Leigh Diffey, as well interviews with IndyCar drivers Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves, NASCAR driver A.J. Allmendinger, and NBC Sports Group motorsports analyst Jon Beekhuis. Click here to watch those full interviews.

Following are excerpts from NASCAR America interviews on Wilson:

Allmendinger: “He was one of the most kind, most gentle, nicest people I had the pleasure to be around…to call a teammate, more importantly to call a friend…I always put him as one of the best race car drivers I’d ever seen or been around.”

Castroneves: “He was such a polite and nice guy that we chose him to be a spokesperson for the Drivers’ Association. We knew if anyone tried to attack the drivers, he’d be the best person to defend us in the nicest way…you talk to anybody in the paddock…you don’t hear anything negative.”

Kanaan: “It’s always been time to talk about safety. I want people to be aware that we are not talking about closing cockpits now – we’ve been talking about this for years. This has been an issue with the FIA and open-wheel racing forever…safety was Justin’s priority. His biggest concern was stuff flying into the stands to protect the fans.”

Diffey: “He was always one of the easiest guys to talk to, and you knew you were going to get a very genuine answer. One of the most beautiful things about Justin is that he had time for everybody…whether it was for media people or fans.”

Beekhuis: “Justin and I had a chance to travel a lot together. We were both based in Colorado… we would end up on a lot of the same flights…he was incredibly talented behind the wheel.”

In addition, click here to read a feature penned by MotorsportsTalk’s Tony DiZinno highlighting Wilson’s career on and off the track.

Date Program Time (ET) Network
Sat., August 29 IndyCar Grand Prix of Sonoma – Practice 1:30 p.m. NBCSN
  IndyCar Grand Prix of Sonoma – Qualifying 6 p.m. NBCSN
  IndyCar Chronicles 7:30 p.m. NBCSN
Sun., August 30 IndyCar Chronicles 3 p.m. NBCSN
  IndyCar Chronicles 3:30 p.m. NBCSN
IndyCar Grand Prix of Sonoma 4 p.m. NBCSN

JDX Racing, Justin Wilson announce Formula Lites team

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IMSA team JDX Racing has announced it is partnering with IndyCar veteran Justin Wilson to field four cars to compete in the first full season of the Formula Lites series, which was founded in 2014.

Wilson, an 11-year veteran of IndyCar, will serve as a mentor and coach for the team’s eventual drivers over the course of the series’ 12 race, six-weekend schedule.

“I’m really proud to partner with JDX Racing. I have a history of 10 plus years with the guys at JDX, and am excited to help mentor and develop the young driving talent the FL15 will attract,” Wilson said in a release. “I plan to attend as many tests and races as my 2015 schedule will allow, helping to coach and groom our drivers.”

Wilson is competing in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring this weekend with Michael Shank Racing.

JDX Racing was founded in 2008 by Jeremy Dale and Harrison Brix and is based out of Denver. The four-car team will race Hondas powered by the FL-15 built by Crawford Composites.

“Having Justin Wilson, who is a 12-year IndyCar veteran, will help take the JDX program to a different level,” said Brix. “Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of that?”

“I’m really proud that JDX is taking on the Formula Lites program because open wheel racing is close to my racing roots, as is my experience in helping train and work with young drivers,” said Dale. Dale once worked as managing director of the Barber­ Dodge Pro Series, where he worked with defending Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-­Reay, A.J. Allmendinger, Jon Fogarty and Michael Valiante.

The Formula Lites series, sanctioned by SCCA Pro Racing, begins its season May 29 at Thomson Speedway in Thompson, Conn.

Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty seek better consistency, leadership in 2015

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For the first time in four years, AJ Allmendinger is coming into the new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season with a carryover from the previous season, and is brimming with newfound confidence.

The 2011 season marked his third and last with Richard Petty Motorsports, but since then it’s been something of a career odyssey and transformation for the 33-year-old from Los Gatos, Calif.

Allmendinger’s opportunity with Team Penske in 2012 went away midseason after a failed drug test. The following year Penske kept faith in him to run a selected IndyCar schedule, while also participating in select Sprint Cup races.

While he was named to the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet full-time in 2014, it came after the roller coaster two seasons before that.

As he enters this season, he armed with the same program year-on-year and the majority of the crew intact, Allmendinger is poised to build on what he and the No. 47 team did a year ago. Even though they won a race and made the Chase, Allmendinger said they were a 20th-22nd place team masquerading as a top-15 team.

“I look at last season two ways,” Allmendinger said during NASCAR media tour. “Winning was enormous. That provided so much confidence for the race team.

“But we weren’t as consistent as we wanted to be. We fell behind and that’s when it really hurt us where we were at. We never got the momentum going. The win helped, but it wasn’t until the last seven races we got to where we wanted to be.

“The new rules will be a guess package. But we’re so much further ahead as a race team. These first seven-eight races can really dictate our season. We’ll be ready to go.”

The “ready to go” line indicates a single-car team that is more prepared, and less behind, than it was at this point 12 months ago.

JTG Daugherty formed a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing, and the open book, exchange of information serves as a benefit for both parties.

This year though, Allmendinger wants to be beating RCR’s full-time trio on a regular basis. He didn’t indicate that as a slight, but meant that if RCR technical partner teams were on a same, close-to-championship-level caliber, it would help both organizations.

“It’s big to go into the second year together,” he said. “We were always sharing information. But RCR itself was figuring out what direction to go. When they had four cars, it was all different setups, and we still had to pick and choose and figure out what I wanted. (Ryan Newman) making a championship run helped make us all better together.

“We still want to beat everybody. I’d be dumb to say we don’t want to beat the RCR cars. As the 47 team… it’s my goal is to say we’re the best RCR car every weekend. I don’t want a one-sided relationship to be picking from them, and they don’t need anything from us.

“If we’re beating them, we’re doing something right and learning from us. We have to work together to beat those teams.”

Allmendinger also challenged both himself and crew chief Brian Burns, who signed a two-year contract extension during the offseason, to be better leaders.

“Brian is a relatively new crew chief,” Allmendinger explained. “He took over the end of 2012, when Todd Berrier left. The team was really just trying to get itself together. We were never on equal footing.

“So last year for Brian and I to work together, now we have to be better. We have to be better team leaders. Our relationship has developed. For him to get a new two-year deal, now he has the confidence for the leadership. He’s the man at the shop for all the guys. We have to work well together to take team to another level.”

Burns echoed the sentiment.

“I believe its better to be part of an alliance than have a four-car team in our shop,” he said. “They treat us like a teammate. We go up to their meetings during the week. Can walk right up to each person.

“I feel this year we’re way ahead of the ball. I’m happy with the direction we’ve taken. We’re feeding off a well-organized group that is set in stone.”

Lastly for Allmendinger, who is already beginning his ninth season in Sprint Cup this year, having the stigma of being a “winless driver” is now erased thanks to his own confidence-boosting, popular win at Watkins Glen last year.

“I’ve always looked at this sport and it’s really weird,” he said. “You can run up front, but if you don’t have a win you’re looked at differently. But get the one win, and your name is talked about so differently.

“It’s a strange thing. Just one win, and suddenly your name isn’t in that topic of ‘he’ll never win.’

“We’re a family and we’ve won a race now. I think we can win more, and we’ve gotten better in the offseason.”

WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA with Jimmie Johnson and A.J. Allmendinger at 5 p.m. ET

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NASCAR AMERICA’s series of 1-on-1 driver interviews continues today with sit-downs for six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup contender A.J. Allmendinger.

You can catch their interviews this afternoon at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN. If you can’t tune in, you can stream today’s show online and on your mobile device through NBC Sports Live Extra.

It’s hard to classify a four-win season as sub-par, but by the standards of Johnson and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team, 2014 was indeed a down year. We’ll hear from Johnson on how he plans to return to form and challenge for a record-tying seventh Cup crown.

As for Allmendinger, he seeks to build off the accomplishment of putting his single-car JTG Daugherty Racing team into the Chase last year. We’ll see what he has to say about his No. 47 camp’s bid to continue the momentum in 2015.

Plus, we’ll give you the schedule for next month’s Daytona Speedweeks and talk about the new Sprint Unlimited format that was revealed earlier today.

If you plan to stream, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified. Once you plug those pieces of information in, you’ll have access to the stream.

Again, CLICK HERE at 5 p.m. ET to watch NASCAR AMERICA.

NASCAR: Fans to help crew chiefs set Sprint Unlimited starting lineup, pit positions

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Select fans will be paired with each crew chief for a random drawing to determine the starting lineup and pit road positions in NASCAR’s Sprint Unlimited exhibition race on Feb. 14 at Daytona International Speedway.

NASCAR says that fan drawings will be held Feb. 13 at the main stage of the Sprint Fanzone at DIS, starting at 3:30 p.m. ET.

“Anticipation for the start of the NASCAR season is at an all-time high among fans and drivers,” NASCAR executive vice president/chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said in a release. “Fans have a unique opportunity to participate in key elements of the event, making this year’s Sprint Unlimited even more exciting.”

Last year, fans were allowed to vote on the length of the race segments, which was won by Denny Hamlin.

As for this year’s race, NASCAR will use a two-segment format of 25 laps and then 50 laps. A competition caution will be waved at Lap 25.

In December, NASCAR expanded the Unlimited field to include all 16 Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers. The 25-driver field will also include 2014 Sprint Cup pole winners, former Unlimited race winners, and former Daytona 500 pole winners that competed full-time in 2014.

Three eligible competitors – 2014 Chaser A.J. Allmendinger and 2014 Cup pole winners Brian Scott and Brian Vickers – will not compete in the Unlimited for various reasons. Allmendinger and Scott’s teams are not fielding cars for the event, and Vickers is recovering from December heart surgery (he will return to racing at Las Vegas in March).

All open positions for the Unlimited will be filled based on 2014 driver championship points. As of now, the top four provisional drivers respectively are Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard, Casey Mears, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Team representatives have already confirmed that Bowyer and Menard will compete in the Unlimited.