Allmendinger settles in during Friday sessions

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AJ Allmendinger hasn’t hit the “crunch time” part of the weekend in his open-wheel racing return, but two top-10 efforts in the two practice sessions, three tenths within teammate and Friday pace setter Helio Castroneves and both times within one tenth of Will Power, was nothing to scoff at.

The Los Gatos, Calif. native’s first weekend laps in the No. 2 IZOD Team Penske Dallara-Chevrolet came on a green track, with rain having fallen Thursday and a different set of rubber down from GRAND-AM’s Continental Tires.

“I felt like the first session was real slick compared to during the test, with the GRAND-AM cars here and the Continental cars here, and obviously with the rain and no rubber really being down on the race track,” he said. “For me, it’s just a process. Just trying to learn how these weekends go and try to keep up with the race track as it changes.”

Allmendinger tempered his happiness because he knows tomorrow will see even faster times.

“So far it felt like the first day was good, I think we were ninth and eighth, so there’s still a lot of to beat. The cars are going to be fast, that’s the good thing about the Penske organization and especially around this place,” he said.

Going into qualifying, hitting a “magic lap” will be key – a solid effort would probably be advancing out of Q1 into the top 12 on the grid.

“I know the car is going to be fast and the setup is going to be very close and it’s just going to be me going out there and figuring it out, what I need in a race car, how I get the speed out of it,” he said. “I still left a lot out there on that lap that I did, so I think tomorrow the biggest and toughest thing for me is that qualifying lap. Going out there for the first time and not having any practice and you just gotta go get that lap.”

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry. Time just published a brief piece by Wallace saluting Hamilton as a trailblazer.

The idea of Hamilton attending the NASCAR season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it would seem right for Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — to spend some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).