This week, another road racer is having a go at running in circles, as Champ Car driver AJ ALLMENDINGER runs the first of two scheduled NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races at New Hampshire International Speedway.
Allmendinger, named after AJ FOYT, will be running the #24 Bill Davis Racing Toyota in the Sylvania 200 Race Saturday afternoon.
The brash young American is currently second in the Champ Car standings behind current Champ Car champion SEBASTIAN BOURDAIS. AJ started out the season with RuSPORT, the team which gave him his start in the Toyota Atlantic Series, before moving with him up to Champ Cars. Over Memorial Day weekend, in his third year with RuSPORT, Allmendinger was let go. Shortly afterwards, Forsythe Championship Racing signed him, and he won his first Champ Car race several days later at Portland International Raceway. He has now won one pole and a total of four races in three months. So why race NASCAR? Why now?
Allmendinger said that, when he was fired, he put his name out for lots of options, and let people see he was interested in different forms of racing. He heard from others, in all kinds of racing. Allmendinger said he and Bill Davis Racing 'contacted each other'. Allmendinger is grateful that Forsythe Championship Racing is allowing him to have this opportunity.
Allmendinger's recent test with BDR at Richmond International Raceway went very well. One of BDR's other Truck racers, MIKE SKINNER, was on hand to help during the one full-day test and set the baseline. Allmendinger said Skinner was very nice and very helpful; and there were a lot of people at the test to help him. He was just there trying to learn. It took him a few laps to get acclimated in the Truck, after which he ran about 120 laps. If it hadn't been for some tyre problems, he would have run more. He said he compared fairly well with Skinner, about a tenth or two off the veteran's time.
Skinner, 49, was the first Truck champion in 1995 and is currently 15th in the standings. His BDR team-mate, JOHNNY BENSON, is currently second in the championship, behind leader TODD BODINE, also a Toyota driver. The third BDR driver, BILL LESTER, is 22nd in the standings.
Allmendinger said RIR was definitely a hard track to learn. He said it was almost never straight, and he was almost always turning. Before and after the RIR test, Allmendinger has been playing video games of NASCAR tracks. He downloaded some and got some commercial ones. Almost every track has a video now, and they are very sophisticated. They are so good he could get a good feel for the tracks, but Allmendinger knows that it will be a lot different this weekend racing against 36 other drivers.
Running RIR helped him for running NHIS. His team will start with the best RIR set-up and work on getting more comfortable with a NHIS set-up. The team already has a good baseline from which to start, and same for Skinner. All the laps they turned at RIR will help. AJ now thinks he has a feel for what will happen in the truck.
The Truck test constituted only the second time in a closed cockpit vehicle. The first time was this year's Grand American Road Racing Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in a Daytona Prototype. Allmendinger said it was an interesting contrast between the DP and the Toyota Tundra Truck. The DP had lots of technology like open-wheel race cars, and was also a lot like NASCAR with lots of body roll, which made the ride so soft and yet so heavy.