NASCAR America: AJ Allmendinger breaks down the Charlotte Roval

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“It’s crazy. It’s unique. It’s gonna put on a hell of a show, one way or another.”

That is how AJ Allmendinger describes the Charlotte Roval now.

It’s not much different than what he thought in January, when he was the first driver to make laps at the infield course of Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Allmendinger’s background prior to NASCAR included time in open-wheel Champ Cars, and it is generally accepted that he has better than average skill on this type of track. That is why he was part of the initial test of the Roval in January.

At the time, he said “the track has definitely got potential. … It’s a perfect mix for a race team to set up, whether you go for a full oval setup or somewhat of a road course setup. It’ll definitely be a big challenge for the teams.”

More: Goodyear to reassess Charlotte Roval tire after two open tests, chunking issue 
More: William Byron wrecks during Charlotte road course test 
More: What drivers had to say after first Roval open test 

Since then, Charlotte has made a lot of changes to the track, so NASCAR America’s Marty Snider caught up with Allmendinger on Tuesday after an open test and asked where he thought the biggest challenges would come from now.

“They put these weird chicanes on both sides of the straightaway. I didn’t have those (in January) and I was running – I think – about 195 (mph) into turn 3. So it’s definitely a little bit different. Obviously with a lot more cars running than the first time here.”

The infield is as challenging now as it was then.

“It’s still slick in the infield. But the first time here it was like running on an ice rink. … It’s still narrow and it’s still slick. It’s interesting. … it’s gonna be tight. It’s gonna be like a Sonoma in a sense where you’re gonna be having to be bouncing off one another to be two wide.

“It kind of reminds me like a Champ Car days, like I’m on a street course driving through the infield there because it’s so narrow.”

Allmendinger notes that there will be multiple trouble spots around the track.

“Turn 1, go into a tunnel there. So, you get into there side-by-side it’s gonna be interesting. But really the interesting thing are the two chicanes. … The backstretch chicane, you’re flying through there.”

For more, watch the video above.

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Turns 3, 4 proves treacherous during Charlotte road course test

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CONCORD, N.C. – A second batch of drivers got to shake down the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course Tuesday, a week after the first open test on the 17-turn, 2.28-mile road course that will host its first Cup race on Sept. 30.

This test was more eventful than the first, with multiple incidents over the course of its eight-hour run.

The session had three incidents in the morning. Alex Bowman spun in Turns 3 and 4 of the infield road course – a sweeping right hander – and hit a tire barrier. His No. 88 Chevrolet received minor damage and the team replaced his splitter.

“It looks fast in a Legend Car but in a Cup car you’re barely on the throttle for most of the infield,” Bowman said. “It’s just different.”

Ryan Blaney went to a backup car after he wrecked in the same turn, damaging his left rear when he hit the tire barrier.

Erik Jones also spun in the same turns, but didn’t hit anything.

Joey Logano described the sequence of turns as “sketchy.”

“It’s an off-camber, downhill entry to Turn 3 and it’s pretty tough,” Logano said. “I was actually here last week doing something for Snap-On and had an old Cobra here running around. I went into Turn 3 and chased it up the race track in that thing. I said, ‘This is pretty loose corner. I wonder if we’re going to fight that in our cars?’ Pretty quickly I realized, ‘Yes, we are going to fight that quite a bit.’ The corner itself, you’re turning right, no banking and you’re going downhill and the car’s super, super loose there.”

Clint Bowyer echoed Logano in calling Turn 3 “sketchy.”

“I think I would use sketchy,” Bowyer told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “Scary? I won’t go any further than that. It’s just sketchy. From the time you get on the race track to the time you’re getting off it, you’re just tip-toeing. There’s no room for error at all. The grip level, you get to sliding. Like in (Turn) 3, you get into sliding a little bit getting in there and you’re looking over at them tires and there’s no room.

“If that thing comes out from underneath of you … you’re going to hit hard. It’s not something you’re going to limp away from and finish the race. Your day is done. Game over. It’s the same for everybody. We’re kind of inching on it more and more.  …
“It’s going to wad up a lot of cars. There’s just not a lot of room to get out-of-the-way.”

The biggest wreck of the day came an hour into the afternoon session when William Byron lost brake pressure and plowed into the tire barriers located in Turn 1. Unlike Blaney, Byron did not have a backup car for the test and was done for the day.

The test was briefly stopped in the morning in order to remove a set of rumble strips from Turn 8, which exits from the infield section onto the oval’s Turn 1.

The strip was in place to help define the turn, but drivers ran over them as if there weren’t there, just like last week with the chicane on the backstretch.

“I think those rumble strips probably weren’t doing any favors to the tire, anyway,” Logano said. “Getting those out is probably good. It probably gives Goodyear a margin to work with, which is a good thing. We’re going to run the same line anyway.”

Also part of the test was AJ Allmendinger. The JTG Daugherty Racing driver was the first to experience the Roval in its earliest form in January 2017.

A year-and-a-half later, the former open-wheel and sports car driver said “I have no advantage here” due to every team getting the opportunity to test on the road course.

Allmendinger expects a race filled with contact.

“Through the infield, it’s fairly narrow,” Allmendinger said. “Maybe once you get all the cars here, whether it’s Xfinity, Cup, (it will) kind of clean up both lines through the infield, because right now if you just miss your apex a little bit, you slide all the way through the corners. … But in general, through the infield I think there’s going to be a lot of contact.”

Allmendinger wasn’t the only driver getting a second taste of the road course.

Roush Fenway Racing’s Trevor Bayne took part after being in a test back in March.

“From that test to today they’ve added a lot of high-risk situations to the race track,” Bayne told NASCAR.com. “You’ve got a (tire) barrier back there between the chicane and what’s the oval Turn 3 and 4. That barrier is pretty risky. Used to, when you went through the chicane too fast you kind of just went off the curb, went straight, no big deal and you actually found you could make speed doing that.”

Bayne said the road course “does not provide a lot of opportunity to catch your breath, get your switches right or talk on the radio. Every part of the race track has some kind of a spot that can bite you pretty fast, so you have to be careful.”

TOP TIMES FROM TUESDAY’S TEST

1:16.9 – Kyle Busch

1:17.1 – Joey Logano

1:17.4 – AJ Allmendinger

1:17.4 – Ryan Blaney

1:17.4 – Clint Bowyer

Cup teams to test Charlotte road course today

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The second half of Cup tests on Charlotte’s road course will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET today. It is open to the public.

Testing today are: Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Alex Bowman, William Byron, Austin Dillon, AJ Allmendinger, Trevor Bayne and Ty Dillon. Chris Buescher is in a Chevy wheelforce car.

Last week, several Cup drivers tested on the course for a day. Bubba Wallace crashed early and left the test because his team did not have a backup car.

Jimmie Johnson had the fastest lap in last week’s session, according to NASCAR timing and scoring. Johnson had a lap at 1 minute, 17.4 seconds. Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin each had a lap at 1:17.5 last week.

 

 

 

What drivers said after Daytona

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Erik Jones — Winner: “What a day. I didn’t think we were going to have a shot to win this one about halfway. Got ourselves back into contention and our guys did a great job getting this thing fixed up and getting the buyatoyota.com into Victory Lane. I’ve never been that good on superspeedways and never thought this was our shot to win. But to get here tonight, that’s pretty awesome. It’s our first win and not much that has felt better than this one.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 2nd: “Man, they destroyed some cars tonight. That was insane. Cool to get to the end. I wish I could have done a better job for my team. We had a fast car. I’ve got to get better at the blocking. It’s never been my strong suit, without a question. I struggle a little bit seeing the runs coming and me and my spotter are trying to figure it out together.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished 3rd: “I think it was a destruction derby out there instead of a Cup race, but first of all congrats to Erik (Jones) and that whole team. I know what it’s like to get that first win, so he well deserves it, congrats to him. Yeah, see it from the left side of the car here it’s like sometimes you try to figure out what the plan is. We tried to run in the back and still got wrecked running in the back. So, you know it was just about survival and I thought the Kroger Clicklist Chevy was pretty good. Just had a lot of drag on it so I thought our chance to win was going to be tough, but I tried to make the right decision there. I missed about seven wrecks it felt like. Anytime you can walk out of here with a decent finish and to have a top five especially both cars in the top five, so great for our whole organization. It’s one of those things you would like to go get the win, it was close, but top three it was a good day.”

Kasey Kahne — Finished 4th: “Well, get back to the lead from the time I lost the lead I needed to get back to the lead and I never got there. I just about cleared Martin (Truex, Jr.) off of (Turn) 2. But he just barely hung on my left-rear and pulled me back a bunch. From that point I needed to block the No. 20. I tried to slow him up, but he was coming fast. The gap was pretty big and he was coming fast and I didn’t do a good enough job of stopping him.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 5th: “Yeah, it was a wild night overall. Just proud of everybody on our Kleenex Wet Wipes Camaro ZL1. We fought hard today and stayed out of trouble and were there at the end with our teammate AJ (Allmendinger). We got a good run on the outside, we were able to give (Erik) Jones a good shove down the back there and got him clear. We just couldn’t quite clear with him. So, congrats to him on his first win. Proud of our operation and what we were able to accomplish today. Wish we could have lined up and tried to get it, but that’s always easy to say after Daytona you go back and would love to replay it, but a good day for us.”

Matt DiBenedetto — Finished 7th: “I guess that was probably one of the craziest races I’ve ever taken part in. I’m glad we survived and we seem to always position ourselves in a spot to be up front and competing for the win at the end of these speedway races at Daytona quite often. We’ve got that down pat and I’m really, really glad we got a good run for Zynga Poker. They’re a huge part of our team. They’ve stepped up and helped us a ton this year, so I’m pretty proud of that.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 10th: “Yeah, that early damage definitely didn’t help things. It kind of made the car a parachute out front, but we tried all night. I made some bad calls and got put in the wrong spot a couple of times, but just kind of couldn’t put it together there at the end. Little bit of a bummer, wish we would have ended up a little better, but not a terrible day.”

Jeffrey Earnhardt — Finished 11th: “Just proud of all these guys. Nine Line Foundation, Black Rifle Coffee, Xtreme Concepts – they are the reason I am here with the cause that they are trying to push and its just an honor to get to be a part of it. It’s an incredible company and they support our country, our military and all of our veterans. I am so happy I got them a good run. Everyone kept asking me what it means to come here with the Earnhardt name at Daytona, and it does mean a lot, don’t get me wrong. But to show support to our veterans and be a part of what the foundation is doing…..that meant more to me than anything tonight. Proud of all the guys at Premium in giving me a good car tonight and keeping the car in one piece. Its my best career finish in the Cup series, so hopefully this will lead to some more sponsorship and get me back out here on the track more often.”

David Ragan — Finished 15th: “I felt like we were involved in about all the wrecks out there. It was a long night, but I can’t say enough about our pit crew. They just never gave up and kept fighting and to come out of here with a top 15 is really like a win. We very well could have been in the garage with a 35th-place finish, but they kept working on the car and patching it up. We dodged the other wrecks, so I’m grateful for them and the Shriners for coming out and having some fun.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 17th: “It was fun for a while. I was frustrated with myself causing crashes like that. You don’t ever really want to do that. For us, my car was a lot of fun to drive. Everybody else had a lot of handling issues and my car drove really good and had really good speed, so hat’s off to Jimmy Fennig and those guys and Doug Yates. We just didn’t finish it off.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 19th: “The night was crazy. The restart was really poorly executed and then teammates wound up side-by-side again trying to get everything situated and we crashed into each other. I just hate it for all my Jimmy John’s guys. I don’t really know what I could have done any different on the last restart.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 26th: “It’s just plate racing. We lost a little bit of track position and that just put us in the back there and everybody is fighting hard for the same real estate at the end. But I’m really proud of everyone at Front Row Motorsports because we had a really fast car. I was able to push Ricky to both the first stage and second stage wins and finished second in the second stage. We overcame a lot and got within a few laps of being in position and just didn’t execute.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 29th: “I think I cut a tire. It just spun out on me when I turned into (Turn) 3. A little bit unlucky there for Ricky (Stenhouse, Jr.) for me to be… he had just blended on the track and then I drive around him and just unlucky timing on both of our parts I guess there. I am not sure how much damage he has, but I hate that for him. Just kind of a frustrating race for us. I was just patient all race long and got caught up in that first wreck down the backstretch a little bit. Got some damage and was just kind of riding around again there are a ton of torn up cars, so I was going to be able to salvage a pretty decent day, I thought. Yeah, just had a random tire issue there. When we made our green flag stop I didn’t wave off to the guys behind me because I just assumed everybody was pitting and whoever was behind me got my rear bumper and I guess it sounded like we had a little bit of right-rear damage there, so it must have gotten to the tire when we came back out and ultimately cut our tire.”

William Byron — Finished 32nd: “The No. 17 car (Stenhouse) just kind of I guess hooked the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) into me. It seemed like he was being really aggressive and that is the second time we have kind of been on the wrong end of something with him. Unfortunate for us, but we had a good race going. We needed to really have a really good day because of the points position we are in, but that is just part of speedway racing I guess, but it stinks to be on that side of it. But at least we led some laps so that was good.”

KYLE BUSCH — Finished 33rd: “Disappointing to get crashed out by the same guy that caused the first crash. Our Interstate Batteries Camry showed some good speed and patience there in that first stage. We were able to come home second and grab some points there. You always come to Daytona waiting to crash and figure out when or where, and hope you can walk away from it. That’s really frustrating and disappointing to have to race these races like that on the fence or line of when are you going to wreck. But we’ll move on to next week.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 34th: “Yeah, I don’t know. I was watching the most recent wreck, we are not going to have anybody left before it’s over with. But, yeah, I don’t know, I think the best I can remember Brad (Keselowski) had a pretty big run on William (Byron) and I don’t think William was clear, but he didn’t know he wasn’t clear and then Brad tried to get on the brakes really hard to stop for him. We were getting really close to the corner so he couldn’t enter on the apron and whoever was behind him hit him and turned him up the track. Not really a whole lot you can do about that.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 35th: “I think that I didn’t get to race any. The first stage I had to start in the back to repair my car from qualifying and I was just riding in the back because we lost the draft and finally in the second stage we were able to get some track position back and I felt like we could pass enough race cars to drive to the front and that was exactly what I was doing. Just raced for two laps. Just a shame. Just not very smart for Lap 55 or so. Still a long ways to go. I don’t know. I mean half of the field is out so, it’s a real shame.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 36th: “Ricky was doing the best he could to give me a good push and had a great run to take the lead and the car in front of me just threw a late, bad block. I made the mistake of lifting instead of just driving through him and that’s my fault. I know better than that. I’ve got to wreck more people and then they’ll stop blocking me late and behind like that. That’s my fault. I’ll take the credit for my team and we’ll go to Talladega and we’ll wreck everybody that throws a bad block like that.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 37th: “I was running in the high lane and I just have to giggle, there’s no safe spot. I thought being in the top two or three is pretty safe, but we just got clipped from behind. Usually, there’s that danger zone that everybody knows about from third to 12th and we didn’t get strung out enough to get away from some of the action. It’s a bummer night for Monster Energy Ford. It was fast. We put her on the bottom at the end of stage one to gain some points, but now we’ve got nothing. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I do have to giggle. There’s no safe spot out there.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 38th: “The 17 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) turned the 2 (Brad Keselowski) and then that was it. Once cars get sideways on the backstretch, everyone just battles to try to get through the wreck. You know most of the strong contenders in front, they got taken out in that one, so we’re going to have a crapshoot from here on out.”

Joey Logano — Finished 39th: “It looks like they crashed a lot of cars. I was in the middle of it and I got hit from every corner really quick and it just seemed like they kept coming. I was like, ‘Stop, everyone.’ It was just so hard to stop when you’re going so fast out there, but it’s part of the game here. Sometimes you’re in the half of the field that finishes and sometimes you’re in half of the field that doesn’t finish it and we were in the bad 50 percent this time. That’s part of the game and we’ll come back to Talladega at the next superspeedway and hopefully do what we did there in the spring and get our Shell/Pennzoil Ford in Victory Lane.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 40th: “I don’t know what happened. By the time I looked up and started checking up I was already in it. I haven’t seen the replay, so I can’t really talk about it. It’s just one of those deals. When you come here everyone is really close and racing hard and sometimes you’re the bug as opposed to the windshield.”

Wild night at Daytona ends in superlatives for some drivers, teams

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A night that saw half the 40-car field eliminated by crashes, presented opportunities for other drivers Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.

The result was a list of superlatives for drivers and team that often aren’t in the spotlight.

The highlights for those teams and drivers:

# Kasey Kahne matched the career-best finish for Leavine Family Racing with his fourth-place performance

# Both JTG Daugherty Racing cars finished in the top five for the first time. AJ Allmendinger placed third and Chris Buescher was fifth. Allmendinger’s result was his fourth consecutive top-10 finish at Daytona, the longest active streak.

# Ty Dillon placed sixth, earning his first career top-10 finish and was the first top-10 result for Germain Racing since Casey Mears finished sixth in the 2015 Daytona 500.

# Matt DiBenedetto’s seventh-place finish was his fourth career top 10 in 122 starts.

# Jeffrey Earnhardt finished a career-best 11th.

# DJ Kennington finished a career-best 13th.

DiBenedetto’s best finish this season before Saturday was 16th. He scored the top 10 despite being collected in the 26-car crash that brought out the caution on Lap 55.

“I guess that was probably one of the craziest races I’ve ever taken part in,” he said. “I’m glad we survived and we seem to always position ourselves in a spot to be up front and competing for the win at the end of these speedway races at Daytona quite often.”

Kahne was thrilled with his run. His best finish this year before Saturday’s race was 17th.

“It was a strong car, really strong car,” he said. “The guys did a great job and we were able to avoid wrecks. I knew in the second stage we had a car capable to win if things went right. We were there from that point on.”

On the final restart, Kahne didn’t have anyone pushing him but the cars in front were stalled out as they ran side by side and Kahne got a run on Martin Truex Jr.

“I got past him and he just hung on my left rear corner off of Turn 2 and side drafted me, sucked me back down half the straightaway,” Kahne said. “We had such a gap on (winner Erik Jones) that he had a huge run on us at that point. I tried to block a little but he was going where I wasn’t and got by.”

Allmendinger had to overcome challenges throughout the race.

“You know, tonight was strange,” said Allmendinger, whose best finish this season before Saturday was eighth at Martinsville. “Tried to ride at the back early on, and still got wrecked and had a lot of damage on the left rear of the race car, so my guys did a good job to fix it good enough. Heck, I probably missed another seven wrecks after that.  It was just kind of chaos out there.

“You know, it was a little bit of survival, and there at the end it was just trying to make the right moves. With that damage on the left side of the race car, it put a lot of drag in it, so I didn’t really know if we had a great shot to win it. I knew my only shot was going to be off of Turn 4 and try to make the right move. Going down into (Turn) 3, Martin was battling with Erik there and made a move and tried to push Martin and obviously get as much as I could, and we salvaged a great result out of it.”

Buescher, his teammate, also was in contention on the last restart.

“Glad we were able to push Erik out there and at least help him get his first Cup win, that’s pretty cool,” said Buescher, whose result matched his season-high of fifth in the Daytona 500. “Pretty wild race. It was a good points night for us. Pit crew did excellent. We put all the puzzle pieces together and stayed out of trouble. That was a big part of it.”

Earnhardt was excited about his night.

“Just proud of all these guys,” he said. “Nine Line Foundation, Black Rifle Coffee, Extreme Concepts – they are the reason I am here with the cause that they are trying to push and its just an honor to get to be a part of it. It’s an incredible company and they support our country, our military and all of our veterans. I am so happy I got them a good run.

“Everyone kept asking me what it means to come here with the Earnhardt name at Daytona, and it does mean a lot, don’t get me wrong. But to show support to our veterans and be a part of what the foundation is doing … that meant more to me than anything tonight.  Proud of all the guys at Premium in giving me a good car tonight and keeping the car in one piece.  It’s my best career finish in the Cup series, so hopefully this will lead to some more sponsorship and get me back out here on the track more often.”

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