Thursday, Dec 02
When AJ Allmendinger began his career with JTG-Daugherty Racing back in 2013, the driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet only made nine starts. Since 2014, Allmendinger has completed the full 36-race schedule for the race team in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
The 2016 season was a winless one for the California native. But while he didn’t make a trip to Victory Lane, Allmendinger earned two top-five finishes and nine top 10’s as well as 24 top-20 placings throughout the year. He also led a total of 29 laps in five races.
His best finish of the season came during the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway where he finished second to Kyle Busch, who led a dominating 352 laps. Despite the runner-up finish, Allmendinger was still excited after the 500-lap event. “Man, I hope the fans enjoyed that,” he said after the race in a post-race Team Chevy transcript. “I passed Jimmie Johnson (finished ninth) like five times at Martinsville. That is pretty cool. I just can’t thank this team enough.”
With 12 laps to go, Allmendinger made a move. “I had to get aggressive,” he said. “I thought with 12 to go, we might have a new clock in the shop. Came up a little bit short, it’s pretty cool to be racing Kyle Busch for the win here though.”
Allmendinger also performed well at the two road courses on the schedule. After a 14th-place finish at Sonoma Raceway in June in the Toyota/Save Mart 250, he finished fourth at Watkins Glen International in the Cheez-It 355, a race he won in 2014.
During the regular season, he accumulated top-10 finishes in the Auto Club 400 at Fontana in March and GoBowling.com 400 at Kansas in May. Fontana was no walk in the park after he had to start at the rear of the field when his crew found a burnt gear. “It was a good catch by our crew to see the burnt gear,” Allmendinger said after the California race the Team Chevy transcript. “They caught it and saved our day. “It was tough starting back there, but I didn’t realize I had driven through half the field so quick. The car was fast.”
Although he got into the wall at Kansas, Allmendinger still managed to score an eighth-place finish. “We just kept digging. I caught the wall and we had the fender rubbing the tire,” he said in the Team Chevy post-race report. Despite the issue, he was still able to get back on the lead lap. He gave praise to his pit crew. “The guys did a good job,” he said. “We got lucky it kind of cycled back around and got back on the lead lap. Overall, just a hard-fought night to get a top 10 out of it.”
Allmendinger failed to make the Chase but still ran solid during the final half of the grueling Cup season. Other than a crash during the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway which resulted in a 37th-place finish, the No. 47 Chevrolet driver never finished lower than 17th in the other nine races. His return to Kansas in October netted him another top-eight finish. He felt much better about this run. “It felt like the best 1.5-mile race we put together there,” he said in the Team Chevy post-race report. “I felt like we had about a fifth or sixth place car and we finished eighth with it. Just a solid day.”
Allmendinger went on to pick up top-10 finishes in three of the final five races of the season, including another eighth place at Homestead. He ended the year 19th in the driver standings with 830 points.
JTG-Daugherty Racing will become a two-car organization for the 2017 Cup season. Last year’s Pennsylvania 400 (Pocono, August) winner Chris Buescher will join the team using a charter leased from the No. 16 Roush-Fenway Racing Ford recently vacated by Greg Biffle.  While Allmendinger will return to the No. 47 machine and be looking for top finishes and race victories, Buescher will pilot the new No. 37. After making it as far as the ‘Round of 16’ in the Chase a year ago, the 2015 NASCAR XFINITY champion will be looking for improvement and solid runs. He is also scheduled to kick off the new season in the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona next month.

For the past 11 years, AJ Allmendinger would make his way in the middle of January to Daytona International Speedway for the Rolex 24 with Michael Shank Racing. However, this yearly tradition comes to a halt in 2017 as Allmendinger will not be making the trip to Daytona at the end of this week.

Allmendinger took to the stage at the 2017 NASCAR Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway to explain the decision.

Allmendinger stated that the main reason he would not make the trip to Daytona was because Michael Shank Racing received a deal from Honda. Because Honda is also a manufacturer in IndyCar, they preferred to have their drivers in the race. This was a pretty special deal for Michael Shank Racing because they have been “working kind of by themselves”

“Part of doing the Rolex each year is doing it with Michael Shank for the last 10 years,” said Allmendinger. He admitted that he did not try to find another ride because he “didn’t really look hard for anything else” and that it “would have been strange being there and not running with him.

Allmendinger joked that he would miss racing in the Rolex 24, but would not miss the “knock on the door at four to wake up and get in the race car is pretty tough.”

Despite not being at the track, Allmendinger will watch on TV and be there in spirit.

Early in Happy Hour on Saturday afternoon, Austin Dillon put a speed up of 194.301 mph, a half-tenth of a second quicker than second place. 

Michigan is Dillon's "favorite racetrack." The last time the Cup Series sped around the 2.0-mile oval, the No. 3 car was out front for 19 laps after starting in the back and picking up a fourth-place finish. 

Brad Keselowski, hometown driver, was second on the leader board in the final  session at 194.013 mph. He has never recorded a victory at his home track. 

Jimmie Johnson was third on the board at 193.851 mph. Trevor Bayne led Roush Fenway Racing in fourth at 193.778 mph and Pocono winner, Kurt Busch completed the top five at 193.741 mph. 

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Martin Truex, Jr. Kyle Larson, pole-sitter Joey Logano and AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top 10. 

Ryan Blaney was the fastest rookie on Saturday, while his nemesis, Chase Elliott was 21st on speed, running 47 laps, the most of all drivers. The 20-year-old got into the wall with about 10 minutes remaining, scuffing up the right rear of the car. The No. 24 car got back out on track to complete more laps. 

After posting the fastest time in opening practice Saturday morning, Carl Edwards was mired down in 17th at 192.947 mph. 3All four of the Joe Gibbs Racing cars were outside the top 10 with Denny Hamlin leading the train of drivers in 11th. 

38 cars took time in Happy Hour. Truex led the way on best 10 lap averages at 191.991 mph. He had a pair of third-place finishes last season at Michigan.

The 400-mile race is scheduled to begin shortly after 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday. Last year, Busch was victorious in a rain-shortened event.

After getting just 20 minutes of practice on Friday, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was able to go the full distance in final practice on Saturday at Pocono Raceway. 

The session was led by Kyle Busch at 176.901 mph. Completing 21 laps, the No. 18 team focused strictly on race runs. The No. 18 will begin the 400-mile event from the outside of the sixth row, a place that he is searching for his first career victory at the "Tricky Triangle."

"With the way our cars at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) have been overall, I’m very optimistic that we could score a victory there this weekend or, if not, when we come back later in the summer," Busch said.   

Kurt Busch was second on the leader board in the practice session. He laid down a lap of 176.800 mph, which was less than a half-tenth off his brother's time. The former Pocono winner will start from ninth on Sunday. 

Jimmie Johnson was third on the board with a lap at 176.710 mph, Martin Truex, Jr. was fourth at 176.291 and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five at 176.125 mph. 

Pole-sitter, Brad Keselowski was sixth on the board. The No. 2 car ran 27 laps on the racetrack and the team was happy with the car they have on track. 

"I think were decent, it's hard to say," Keselowski said. "We need to look at some data, but I don't think were far off. Starting up front gives you a lot of confidence for sure."

Keselowski's Team Penske teammate Joey Logano was seventh, with Matt Kenseth eighth, rookie Ryan Blaney was ninth and AJ Allmendinger fulfilled the top 10. 

The younger Busch brother had the best 10 consecutive laps, while Harvick ran 34 laps, the most of all drivers. 


The Can-Am Duels at Daytona did not disappoint this year. Throughout the majority of both races, there was action packed racing, two and even three-wide at some points. Like always, there were some cars that stood out and others that finished better than what they ran. That’s restrictor plate racing.

Duel One:

In the opening Duel race, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. proved that he will have one of the cars to beat on Sunday in the 58th Annual Daytona 500.

It didn’t take long for the restrictor plate veteran to prove that he had the best car in the first Can-Am Duel. It took him just two laps to take the top spot away from Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Chase Elliott. He held the lead until his pit stop until Lap 40.

The No. 88 car dominated the first Duel as he led 43 of the races 60 laps, but had to overcome adversity in the late stages. With just a handful of laps to go, Earnhardt was shuffled back to sixth while Denny Hamlin as on point.

With just over one lap to go, Earnhardt had to hold off a charging Joey Logano will help from Ryan Blaney from the Wood Brothers, an affiliate of Team Penske. Even with the two drivers pairing up they were unable to pass the No. 88 team.

In his post-race press conference Earnhardt eluded to his car as special and knowing that he has one of the cars to beat.

“That was crazy,” Earnhardt said on the race. “I was so nervous today about tearing the car up because I know how good it is versus what we have. What we have is a capable car in the trailer, but this thing is special. So I’m really excited.”

The defending Daytona 500 winner, Logano, finished second after getting shuffled back after his green flag pit stop. The No. 22 car was aggressive and made dicey moves in-and-out of traffic, much like his teammate Brad Keselowski who finished in a disappointing 13th.

Blaney is headlining into his second career Daytona 500, and as a rookie he stated his case as to why teams should work with him in the actual race. Last season the No. 21 car had one top-five finish coming at Talladega, the other plate track.

“We had a really fast racecar,” Blaney said. “We had a couple of problems early in the race which got us a lap down. Luckily we got a caution at the right point that got us on the lead lap so we could go racing for it.”

One lap prior to the halfway point, Blaney had a loose left-rear tire that the team accidently left loose prior to the 150-mile event. Evidently, the team overcame the bad luck and got a top-five finish.

Kevin Harvick finished fourth after starting in the rear and had a real shot the win while running second with four laps to go. The Sprint Unlimited winner Hamlin rounded out the top five and led 13 laps in the process.

With Blaney finishing in third and a 13th-place finish Michael McDowell came out on top in the race within the race, the race just to make the Daytona 500. On Lap 42, Cole Whitt had a big run on the No. 95 car that when he went to make a move to pass McDowell he overcorrected and spun out, ending his chance at competing in the Great American Race.

The other driver that McDowell had to beat was Josh Wise and he finished in 17th.

“It’s definitely a big thing for our team, Circle Sport-Levin Family Racing, we’re going to have two cars in the Daytona 500 especially for a small team” McDowell said on making the Daytona 500. “To really start out the year well, it’s very important. This is such a huge race.”

Duel Two:

The latter of the two 150-mile races was very tame until the last couple of laps. As Kyle Busch went on to dominate the event, a multi-car pileup on the last lap cost many of top drivers’ valuable starting positions for the Daytona 500.

It all started to go downhill with two laps to go when Casey Mears was running the second position and ran out of gas. The No. 13 car had just been placed into the second position and then ran out of gas, while trying to make a move on Busch.

As the lead pack of 11 cars darted in to Turn 1 on the last lap, Jamie McMurray made a move to try and win the race when he looked to the inside of the No. 18 car. While coming back up the track he clipped the front end of Jimmie Johnson’s Chevrolet, causing a five car crash, including Matt Kenseth who was scheduled to start on the outside of Row 1 on Sunday.

Also getting in the crash were A.J. Allmendinger, Danica Patrick and Martin Truex Jr.

With Kenseth likely going to a backup car, it will move Busch to the outside of the front row, alongside 20-year-old rookie Chase Elliott.

“I think I get to start on the front row,” Busch said. “I didn’t win this race to qualify myself for the fourth starting position, but with our teammate having trouble there at the end of the race, they’ll have to go a backup car, it looks. Well get the chance to start on the front row. That’s pretty cool.”

The accident looked to be the cause of all drivers going for it and getting the best starting position that they could. However, the end result was that three of the 500 favorites will now start in the rear.

“I was behind it to see it so I couldn’t really tell why the No. 48 went up the racetrack,” Kenseth said. “I was actually just in the process to get out of there and go to the back. I thought we had the best car and we led a lot of laps.”

Kenseth mentioned that this will be the No. 20 team’s third car of Speedweeks as he also crashed in the Sprint Unlimited last Saturday.

In this Duel it was Robert Richardson, Jr. who was able to fall back on his qualifying speed from last Sunday as his teammate Matt DiBenedetto finished the highest out of the cars that needed to race their way in. David Gilliland and Reed Sorenson will miss the 500-mile spectacle.

 “Two weeks ago when I got the call to run this race, I was mowing the hay pastures,” Richardson said. “I’m just very blessed to be here.”

There are three practice sessions for teams to tune up their primary or backup cars to try and win the biggest race in motorsports. The team that is able to adapt to the conditions of the race and keep up with the pace being set will find themselves the winner of the Daytona 500.

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