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AJ Allmendinger uncertain when, where he’ll race next

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. — AJ Allmendinger, making his final start for JTG Daugherty Racing Sunday, says he is not sure when and where he’ll race again after this weekend.

“As of right now, I have zero races planned,” Allmendinger told NBC Sports. “I’ve got nothing. Maybe there are races that crop up over the course of the season. I’ll say for sure, let’s go 95 percent sure, that I definitely won’t be racing a full season in anything.”

The 36-year-old Allmendinger is being replaced by rookie Ryan Preece next season in the No. 47 car Chevrolet.

Allmendinger said he’d like to run the Xfinity and Cup road course races next year. His lone Cup win came in 2014 at Watkins Glen. His two Xinity wins also came on road courses – Road America in 2013, Mid-Ohio in 2013.

“If I could put together a deal to run all the road courses or most of the road courses in Xfinity and Cup, that would be fun,” Allmendinger said. “It’s me, so if there’s a chance to race anything I’ll go do it. We know the way the situation is in the sport, need sponsorship and everything happened pretty late so a lot of stuff was being filled up. Even the stuff that’s not announced we know is full.”

Sunday will be Allmendinger’s 371st career Cup start.

“I think mentally right now with zero races on board I have to prepare that it could be my last race,” Allmendinger said. “Do I expect it to be my last race ever? No, but as I stand right now to prepare for it mentally, I have to get ready for that. There’s a chance it might be.”

He debuted with Red Bull Racing in 2007. He drove for Team Penske in 2012 before losing that ride after 17 races when NASCAR suspended him for violating its Substance Abuse Policy. Allmendinger later said he was given a pill from a friend that he thought was an energy supplement but was the prescription drug Adderall. He later returned to Team Penske to win those Xfinity races. 

He also won the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona and finished third in the Champ Car Series in 2006, winning five races.

How does Allmendinger look back upon his career?

“There’s not a lot of people in this world who can say they’ve won a Cup race, Xfinity races, a Rolex race outright, they’ve won Champ car races and might have won an Indy 500 if my seat belt didn’t come off,” he said.

Jeff Gordon to compete in Rolex 24 in Daytona

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Jeff Gordon will drive for Wayne Taylor Racing in next month’s Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway, the team announced Thursday.

Gordon, a four-time NASCAR champion, drove for the team in the 2007 event and earned a podium finish. He’ll join Ricky and Jordan Taylor and Max Angelelli as co-drivers of the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R in the 2017 event, which will be held Jan. 28-29.

“I really enjoyed racing in the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2007 with Max, Wayne and Jan (Magnussen),” said Gordon, now an analyst during NASCAR on FOX broadcasts, in a statement from the team. “When I announced I would no longer be competing full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, my hope was that I would get an opportunity like this to compete again in such a prestigious event – with Konica Minolta and Wayne Taylor Racing – with the hopes of winning it this time. I know that Ricky and Jordan are super-fast, and I believe it will be a very strong combination.”

Said Wayne Taylor in a statement: “We are excited to have Jeff back in the lineup with us for the 2017 Rolex 24. He was with us when we started this race team back in 2007 and he helped us finish on the podium. We have kept in close touch ever since and have always been looking for another opportunity to have him join our driver lineup. That opportunity is finally here after his retirement from full-time competition in NASCAR and we are very much looking forward to working with him again.”

Said Jordan Taylor: “It’s really exciting to have Jeff Gordon coming on board with us for Daytona next year. It used to be common to have NASCAR guys joining teams for the Rolex but, over recent years, it’s become less and less frequent. Jeff Gordon is a name that everyone knows worldwide. He is one of the biggest names in motorsports. He drove with my dad and Max at the Rolex back in 2007, so it’ll be cool to have a 10-year reunion with him and the team. Sportscar racing offers a unique perspective for drivers, where we have to share the same car. I can’t wait to compare notes and feedback with such a legend of our sport. It’s going to be an experience of a lifetime.”

NASCAR reps falter in Rolex 24 at Daytona

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In 2015, NASCAR drivers Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson were part of the Chip Ganassi team that won the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

That wouldn’t be the case this past weekend when the two returned to compete with IndyCar’s Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan in the 54th running of the endurance race.

Just under three hours from the race’s conclusion, Larson was behind the wheel of the No. 02 Riley-Ford when he went off track and buried the car in a tire barrier.

The No. 02 finished the race 13th overall but seventh in the Prototype class. The car had to undergo a brake change in Hour 9 and already was many laps down.

Dixon led Laps 52-69, McMurray led Laps 82-95, 108-120 and Kanaan led Laps 179-183, 221-234, 237-240 and 250.

Sprint Cup veteran A.J. Allmendinger also raced in this year’s Rolex, but his team was sidelined before the 10-hour mark.

After starting from third, the No. 60 Honda-Ligier of Michael Shank Racing fell victim to an engine failure while leading. The No. 60 finished in 50th.

Allmendinger wasn’t behind the wheel at the time, but he did lead the race, which was the 11th straight Rolex 24 at Daytona that Allmendinger has led. It had been an emotional weekend for the team, which last year had Justin Wilson in its Rolex lineup. Wilson died after being hit by debris in an IndyCar crash at Pocono Raceway last August.

“It’s definitely the biggest heartbreak ever at the 24,” Allmendinger said in a team release. “My heart hurts for Michael Shank Racing, especially for Mike (Shank), Ozz (Negri), John (Pew) and Olivier (Pla). I love my teammates. It’s tough not having Justin (Wilson) here, I think everyone on the team was thinking of him this morning.”

Justin Marks, co-owner of HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks, drove the No. 16 Change Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3. Marks was running in second in the Daytona GT class when he crashed into another Lamborghini, driven by Bryce Miller, in the 11th hour in Turn 1.

Marks’ team finished 43rd.

The best result for a NASCAR driver was a podium finish in the PC class for Brendan Gaughan‘s team. The No. 20 ORECA FLM09 finished third and in 29th overall.

Denny Hamlin attending first Rolex 24 at Daytona

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The Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona is underway with many NASCAR and IndyCar drivers populating the field.

But not among them is Denny Hamlin. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver said at the NASCAR Media Tour he had a verbal agreement to compete in the endurance.

Unfortunately, his recovery from offseason knee surgery kept that from happening.

But it didn’t keep Hamlin from attending the race for the first time. Hamlin spoke to NASCAR.com prior to the race, which has Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson and AJ Allmendinger in the field.

“The atmosphere is awesome and reminds me of a NASCAR race really,” Hamlin said on the starting grid. “Just seeing the whole grid and multiple drivers and it’s really more about the team than one individual driver though.”

Hamlin said he would be watching the race and enjoying the weekend from his bus in the infield.

Revamped Daytona gets rave reviews from Ganassi and drivers

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While most other NASCAR drivers and teams won’t see the finished Daytona Rising project for another few weeks when they come down to Florida for Speedweeks, several of those competing in the Jan. 29-30 Rolex 24 got a sneak preview of the “new” Daytona International Speedway this week.

Not surprisingly, the reactions were all positive.

“It’s definitely taller and bigger for sure,’ ” driver Kyle Larson said Friday during a Rolex 24 media session. “When we come back in a couple weeks, and I have some time to spend in a day, I’d like to go up into the stands and see the breezeway and stuff like that.

“I’ve heard that’s really, really spectacular. Once I get on the other side of the racetrack other than being in the infield, I’ll see all the changes and how cool they are.’ ”

Larson and Sprint Cup teammate Jamie McMurray will team with 2015 IndyCar champ Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan in the No. 02 Ford for owner Chip Ganassi, which won last year’s Rolex 24.

McMurray was quite effusive at what he saw when he pulled into the DIS infield.

“When I was driving in, you can see how big the grandstands are,” McMurray told reporters. “I didn’t quite get how big that was going to be from (a photo he previously had seen of the completed project).

“Also, from just being here in July, the stands weren’t up yet. First thing you notice is there are no backstretch stands; which is odd. But when you look at how big the frontstretch is, it’s pretty cool.”

DIS President Joie Chitwood III has referred to the $400 million renovation — the biggest change in the track’s history since it first opened in 1959 — as creating the world’s first “motorsports stadium,” something McMurray concurs with.

“To go outside the track and look in, it doesn’t look like a racetrack, it looks like a stadium,” he said. “It’s really cool. They did an awesome job on that.”

Ganassi has seen quite a bit in his 30-plus years as a racer and team owner. It takes a lot to impress him. But suffice to say he’s definitely impressed with the new Daytona.

“When you first hear they spent $400 million, your initial reaction as a racer is, ‘Oh my goodness, surely they didn’t spend 400 million dollars,’ ” Ganassi said. “And then you see the work that’s been done, you’re looking at the grandstands and if you have a chance to see what’s behind the grandstand and what’s underneath it — it looks like they spent $800 million.

“It’s really something, really first-class, really, really done right. I think it’s going to take our sport to a new level in terms of amenities and what the fans can expect. It’s going to put pressure on the other tracks.

“This is going to be the Ritz-Carlton of race tracks in terms of amenities. It’s what you see at the finest NFL stadiums and NHL arenas. And it’s money spent for the fans. I couldn’t be happier for what it’s going to do for our fans and for our sport. People are going to be talking about their experience as a fan at Daytona.”

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