Allmendinger’s car owner explains why team will skip Sprint Unlimited

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AJ Allmendinger will not compete in next weekend’s Sprint Unlimited because his team was unable to find sponsorship for the exhibition event.

JTG Daugherty Racing co-owner Tad Geschickter told MotorsportsTalk that NASCAR’s late decision to include all 16 Chase drivers in the Sprint Unlimited left his organization with little time to find a sponsor.

NASCAR announced Dec. 15 it was expanding the field for the Feb. 14 non-points race.

“It was nowhere on our radar until they changed the rules on it,’’ Geschickter said Monday of competing in the Sprint Unlimited. “If we had won a pole during the season and knew we were in it, I’m sure we would have been well prepared for it. We appreciate being grandfathered in, but, obviously, have to manage our resources to deliver the best year-end points finish we can for our sponsors.’’

Allmendinger finished 13th in the points for the team last year, earning a Chase bid with his win at Watkins Glen.

Geschickter said he’s not worried about missing additional track time at Daytona International Speedway by skipping the race. JTG Daugherty enters its second year as part of an alliance with Richard Childress Racing and will be able to get information and notes from other RCR alliance cars in that race.

Geschickter says the team has three superspeedway cars ready for the season.

“Obviously, if you go tear one up before the season starts, that’s a big hit to a budget,’’ Geschickter said.

As for sponsorship this season, Geschickter says the team has only three races to sell. Those races are in the second half of the year.

Also, a Richard Childress Racing spokesperson confirmed that Brian Scott will not compete in the 75-lap Sprint Unlimited. Scott was eligible by winning the pole at Talladega last spring.

Brian Vickers also was eligible but will not compete in the exhibition race. He will miss the first two races of the season as he completes his recovery from offseason corrective heart surgery.

NASCAR stated in December that the Sprint Unlimited would have a minimum 25 cars. The event is open to all Chase drivers from last season, pole winners from last year, former Sprint Unlimited winners, and former Daytona 500 pole winners who competed full time in 2014. If any of the 25 spots remain, then those highest in the points not yet eligible would qualify.

NASCAR confirmed that the top four drivers not automatically in the Sprint Unlimited but who would be eligible if others fell out: Clint Bowyer (19th in points last year), Paul Menard (21st), Casey Mears (26th) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (27th).

A spokesperson for Michael Waltrip Racing confirmed that Bowyer would compete in the event. A spokesperson for RCR confirmed that Menard would race in the Sprint Unlimited.

 

April 5 in Motorsports History: Alex Zanardi’s amazing Long Beach rally

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Alex Zanardi entered the Long Beach Grand Prix on April 5, 1998 as the race’s defending champion and the series’ defending champion.

But the Italian didn’t seem a serious contender for much of the 105-lap event. Zanardi started 11th position and lost a lap early when he was involved in a multicar spin in the hairpin.

Alex Zanardi celebrates after winning the 1998 Grand Prix of Long Beach. Photo: Getty Images

But the race was still young, and despite emerging from the incident in 18th place, Zanardi slowly progressed through the field while battling radio problems that made communication difficult with his team.

With five laps remaining, Zanardi passed Dario Franchitti on the backstretch for second place and then focused in on leader Bryan Herta.

With two laps remaining, Zanardi made his move, making a daring pass on the inside of Herta in the Queen’s Hairpin (which no longer exists as the track layout was changed the following year).

The move was reminiscent of Zanardi’s famous last-lap move on the inside of Laguna Seca’s famed Corkscrew in 1996, which deprived Herta of his first CART victory.

Franchitti passed Herta as well, and Zanardi went on to clinch his first victory of the season.

“On a day when everything went wrong, we came back and won,” Zanardi said following the race. “I can’t explain it. It wasn’t until I saw Bryan ahead of me that I ever thought I had a shot at winning. It was amazing. I have no words to describe it.”

Following Long Beach, Zanadri won six more times in 1998 en route to his second and final CART championship.

Also on this date:

1992: Bobby Rahal led from start to finish to win the Valvoline 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. The win was the first of four victories for Rahal during his championship season.

2009: Ryan Briscoe won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first of three victories for the Aussie in 2009. The race was also the first IndyCar Series on Versus, which was rebranded as NBC Sports Network in 2012.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994