Analysis: AJ Allmendinger, Austin Cindric can impact Road America results


A.J. Allmendinger and Austin Cindric are statistically suited to combat NASCAR Cup Series regulars in today’s race at Road America (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

The idea of road course ringers has long been greater than their impact. In recent seasons, one-off or part-time drivers didn’t typically receive good equipment for efforts in Cup Series road races; thus, they had no real shot of contending for a win or influencing the result.

But the 2021 season — one in which the Cup Series schedule sees seven road races, including six in the regular season — has beckoned two Xfinity Series full-timers, each with fast cars and winning reputations. Kaulig Racing’s Allmendinger and Team Penske’s Cindric each have legitimate opportunities to disrupt the result, with the potential to claim spots in the finishing order that’d otherwise dole out a sizable points outlay coveted by full-time teams.

Both have wins at Road America on their résumé:

A.J. Allmendinger

Allmendinger’s Kaulig ride ranks eighth in average median lap time on Cup Series road courses this season and fares better in average best lap time — capturing the average ranking of a team’s best lap in each race — ranking fifth. The latter would become more impactful with clean air.

He started 34th on the Daytona road course, the lineup decided by metric qualifying, which directly affected his time at or near the front of the field. He spent nearly 60% of the race outside the top 15, but ultimately finished seventh. On the day, he amassed an adjusted pass differential 54 positions better than his statistical expectation, the best surplus differential of any driver.

Traditional qualifying is on the docket today, which should help eliminate the need for Allmendinger to do so much heavy lifting. Regardless, his bases appear covered: He ranks first in surplus passing value among all drivers in Cup Series road course races this season. Additionally, his relentless maneuvering has been well assisted by crew chief Matt Swiderski, who’s pitted the 39-year-old at every chance under green-flag conditions when faced with toss-up situations where stage points hang in the balance.

Points, though, are inconsequential to Allmendinger, only the result mattering. Eschewing the need to stop during a stage break allows the team to inherit better positioning on the ensuing restart, which works to the driver’s advantage. He earned four positions on two restart attempts from inside the first seven rows at Daytona and presently ranks as one of the Xfinity Series’ top five restarters based on his 73.17% retention rate.

At Road America, talent tends to win out on the short runs, as the restart rows are relatively even compared to other tracks, including Sonoma, that feature more severe disparity in retention probability:

He might lack for elite speed — an eighth-place median lap ranking by itself won’t easily dispatch Hendrick Motorsports or Joe Gibbs Racing — but outside of that, there isn’t an obvious reason (or potential excuse) as to why Allmendinger can’t contend for the win or a top result today at Road America.

Austin Cindric

Like Allmendinger, Cindric’s designation as an interloper is advantageous to his chances of winning the race outright. It’s important to know that there is but one clear strategic path, because otherwise it’d be easy to become skeptical of crew chief Miles Stanley’s ability to call a race. He’s retained Cindric’s running position on just 23.08% of green-flag pit cycles this season, giving up 40 positions on the racetrack across five starts, a dubious stat line if stages mattered to them at all.

But Stanley has let Cindric be Cindric, an unbridled charger whose eclectic upbringing in motorsports has provided him a mastery of certain road courses. He’s competed in just one Cup road race this season, at COTA, where he led four laps on slick tires in rainy conditions.

While his COTA performance is a highlight of his season and his road racing bona fides precede him — five of his 13 victories at NASCAR’s national level came on road courses — he’s worked to build his reputation as an efficient passer regardless of track type. At Atlanta, Richmond and Kansas, Cindric secured positive surplus pass differentials, nearly 61 positions above his statistical expectation; curiously, COTA was the one Cup race this season in which he failed to meet his expected differential (+7.03 based on his average running whereabouts), turning in a differential of -2.

Any reservations about his chances at pulling down a good finish at Road America may be alleviated by the speed potential of his car, displayed at COTA. Per its best lap time, his Penske Ford ranks as the fourth-fastest car on road courses this season, trailing only those of Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson. It’s a different story for Cindric once clean air eludes him; his machine ranks 18th in median lap time, 17th fastest specifically in its lone road course race.

The ability to qualify creates an opportunity for Cindric, who time-trialed third at COTA. An improving passer and position defender in a car that, at its best, is among the fastest in the series allows for staying power at the front of the field. Strong initial track position offers any driver a better chance at dictating the race, but for Cindric, with no other intent but to score the best possible finish, it makes him an especially dangerous “ringer.”

Both Allmendinger and Cindric have realistic shots at punching back on a Cup Series field that’s bought into NASCAR’s brave new world of road racing, with cars and teams not previously made available to part-time road course specialists.

Charlotte Cup race postponed to Monday by weather


CONCORD, N.C. — All-day rain Sunday forced the postponement of the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Cup Series race to Monday.

The postponement means that Charlotte Motor Speedway is scheduled to host 900 miles of stock car racing Monday. A 300-mile Xfinity Series race, originally scheduled Saturday and first postponed to noon Monday, has been rescheduled for 11 a.m. ET Monday (FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The Cup race is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. (Fox, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Sunday’s Cup race was scheduled to start at 6:21 p.m. ET, but light rain was still falling at that time in the speedway area near Charlotte. Rain intensified a few minutes later and, despite an evening forecast that showed slight improvement, officials decided at 6:30 p.m. to postpone the race.

Monday’s forecast calls for a 34% chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity race and a 30% chance at the start of the Cup race.

William Byron will start the race from the pole after qualifying was washed out Saturday night.

RFK Racing gains sponsorship from submarine recruiting group


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR racing and submarines? Yes.

RFK Racing announced Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that it has entered a partnership with BlueForge Alliance, which is involved in securing workers for the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Industrial Base (SIB) program. will be a primary sponsor for RFK drivers Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher in 10 Cup Series races this year and in 18 races per season beginning in 2024.

The sponsorship will showcase the careers related to the submarine-building program across the nation.

MORE: Jimmie Johnson on his NASCAR team and his approach to Le Mans

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns from injury

“I’m proud to support a cause of such vital significance to our country with this new partnership,” Keselowski said. “The synergies between a NASCAR team and our military’s needs to stay on track fast are countless. We hope to inspire the workforce of the next generation across the country when they see RFK race and hear our message.”

The sponsorship will support the mission to recruit, hire, train, develop and retain the SIB workforce that will build the Navy’s next generation of submarines, the team said.

“We are excited and grateful to be teaming with RFK Racing to drive awareness of the thousands of steady, well-paying manufacturing jobs available across the nation. Innovation, working with purpose and service to others are hallmarks of both of our organizations,” said Kiley Wren, BlueForge chief executive. “Together, we aim to inspire NASCAR fans and all Americans to pursue career opportunities that will support our national defense.”

Kyle Larson visits Indianapolis Motor Speedway to survey the scene


Former NASCAR champion Kyle Larson, who is scheduled to run the Indianapolis 500 in 2024 as part of an Indy-Charlotte “double,” visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage area Sunday on Indianapolis 500 race day.

Larson said he wanted to familiarize himself with the Indy race-day landscape before he becomes immersed in the process next year.

MORE: Jimmie Johnson is building a team and pointing to Le Mans

Larson later returned to Charlotte, where was scheduled to drive in the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night. Next year, he’s scheduled to run both races.

“I love racing,” Larson told NBC Sports. “I love competing in the biggest races. In my opinion, this is the biggest race in the world. I wanted to be a part of it for a long time, and I finally feel like the timing is right. It’s pretty cool to have a dream come true.

“I wanted to come here and kind of experience it again and get to experience how crazy it is again before I’m in the middle of it next year. I kind of want as little surprise as possible next year.”

In the 2024 500, Larson will be one of four drivers with the Arrow McLaren team.

Earlier this month, Larson and Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon attended an Indy 500 practice day.

Larson said Sunday he hasn’t tested an Indy car.

“I don’t know exactly when I’ll get in the car,” he said. “I’ve had no sim (simulator) time yet. I’ve kind of stayed back. I didn’t want to ask too many questions and take any focus on what they have going on for these couple of weeks. I’m sure that will pick up after today.

“I look forward to the challenge. No matter how this experience goes, I’m going to come out of it a better race car driver.”




Jimmie Johnson: Building a team and pointing toward Le Mans


CONCORD, N.C. — These are busy days in the life of former NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson is a co-owner of Legacy Motor Club, the Cup Series team that has struggled through a difficult first half of the season while it also is preparing for a switch from Chevrolet to Toyota next year.

Johnson is driving a very limited schedule for Legacy as he seeks to not only satisfy his passion for racing but also to gain knowledge as he tries to lift Legacy to another level. As part of that endeavor, he’ll race in the Coca-Cola 600 in Legacy’s No. 84 car, making his third appearance of the season.

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns to track

MORE: Dr. Diandra: 600 tests man more than machine

And, perhaps the biggest immediate to-do item on Johnson’s list: He’ll race June 10-11 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s biggest endurance race and another of the bucket list races the 47-year-old Johnson will check off his list.

“I’m excited, invigorated, exhausted — all of it,” Johnson said. “It has been a really exciting adventure that I’ve embarked on here — to learn from (Legacy co-owner) Maury Gallagher, to be a part of this great team and learn from everyone that I’m surrounded by. I’m in a whole new element here and it’s very exciting to be in a new element.

“At the same time, there are some foundational pieces coming together, decisions that we’re making, that will really help the team grow in the future. And then we have our job at hand – the situation and environment that we have at hand to deal with in the 2023 season. Depends on the hat that I’m wearing, in some respects. There’s been a lot of work, but a lot of excitement and a lot of fun. I truly feel like I’m a part of something that’s really going to be a force in the future of NASCAR.”

Johnson is scheduled to fly to Paris Monday or Tuesday to continue preparations for the Le Mans race. He, Jenson Button and Mike Rockenfeller will be driving a Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Chevrolet as part of Le Mans’ Garage 56 program, which is designed to offer a Le Mans starting spot for a team testing new technologies.

“For me, it’s really been about identifying marquee races around the world and trying to figure out how to run in them,” Johnson said. “Le Mans is a great example of that. Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 — these are the marquee events.”

He said his biggest concerns approaching the 24-hour race are being overtaken by faster prototypes in corners and racing at night  while dealing with the very bright lights of cars approaching in his rear view mirrors.

At Legacy, Johnson has work to do. Erik Jones has a top finish of sixth (and one other top 10) this season, and Noah Gragson is still looking for his first top-10 run. He has a best finish of 12th – at Atlanta.

“I think Erik (Jones) continues to show me just how good he is,” Johnson said. “He’s been in some challenging circumstances this year and keeps his head on — focuses, executes and gets the job done. I’ve really been impressed with his ability to stay calm and execute and just how good he is.

“With Noah, from watching him before, I wasn’t sure how serious he took his job in the sport. I knew that he was fast, and I knew that he liked to have fun. I can say in the short time that I’ve really worked with him closely, he still has those two elements, but his desire to be as good as he can in this sport has really impressed me. So I guess ultimately, his commitment to his craft is what’s impressed me the most.”