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NASCAR’s Busch, Allmendinger split on Indy 500 return

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The two most recent drivers from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to have crossed over to the Indianapolis 500 are at odds over whether they’ll race it again.

Kurt Busch hasn’t said no to a 2016 Indy 500 appearance, while AJ Allmendinger definitively has on Tuesday during NASCAR’s Daytona 500 Media Day.

Busch, the 2014 Indianapolis 500 rookie-of-the-year, finished sixth in the first leg of what was supposed to be an 1,100-mile double between Indianapolis and the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte.

He said he’ll know more by March, once NASCAR heads West to Phoenix, Las Vegas and Auto Club Speedway, whether he’ll be making an encore appearance.

“We’re at Daytona and we’re all focused on Daytona,” Busch told reporters during Daytona 500 Media Day in Daytona.

“I think once we get through Atlanta and that ‘NASCAR Goes West’ tour, that will give a better indication on if I’m going to run Indy this year.”

Busch ran the Indianapolis 500 with Andretti Autosport in 2014.

Andretti traditionally adds at least one car to its Indianapolis 500 roster and Busch was the fifth car for the team that year, along with Andretti’s then-full season quartet of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Carlos Munoz and James Hinchcliffe.

It was a rare occasion where although Busch drives a Chevrolet in Sprint Cup for Stewart-Haas Racing, he drove a Honda for Andretti at the Indianapolis 500.

Allmendinger returned to open-wheel in 2013 with Team Penske after a seven-year hiatus, and led laps and finished seventh in the Indianapolis 500.

But he said Tuesday he is categorically against any return to open-wheel until the cars adopt some sort of closed cockpit protection, canopy or otherwise.

Asked whether he’d want to race to race the ‘500 again, Allmendinger told assembled reporters, “No. The moment Justin Wilson passed away is the moment I said, never again.

“The only way I’d do it is if they put a closed cockpit over the car, and tested it, and thought that was a good direction for safety. But, no.”

Further comments from Allmendinger are linked here, via Motorsport.com.

Wilson, 37, was killed last August at Pocono Raceway during IndyCar’s most recent 500-mile race. He was IndyCar’s first fatality since Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas in October, 2011.

 

Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?