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.

NASCAR has confirmed that, based on Allmendinger's previous racing experience, he qualifies to race on any NASCAR track, including Daytona and Talladega, often off-limits to rookies until they have proven themselves.

This weekend at NHIS, the trucks have about two hours of practice on Friday including rookie practice, in which Allmendinger will participate. Saturday, Allmendinger said he will show up, run two laps, including his qualifying lap, and hope that he makes the 36-truck field. Right now, he expects to be very nervous before qualifying.

As Allmendinger is running a fourth BDR truck which has no owner points, he will have to qualify on time, which is a new concept to him. With Champ Car, he qualifies but is always guaranteed a starting position. This weekend, one of the 37 drivers will be going home. Thirty are locked in with their owner points, and seven drivers, including AJ, are competing for the remaining six spots.

Allmendinger's crew will be gathered from various guys on BDR's Cup team, for the pit-stops. AJ is a little nervous about the pit-stops because they will be different from Champ Car. His crew chief will be RICKY VIERS, AKA 'Ricky Bobby'.

What makes Allmendinger the most nervous is visibility. He's getting used to how big is the truck. He's completely strapped in and he can't see much because he is so cocooned in the cockpit. AJ said he can't turn his head sideways and all he can see is what is up front through his windshield. So he will rely heavily on information from his spotter - whom he hasn't met yet. The lack of visibility and knowing where others are worries him more than racing in traffic with the trucks. For that, he will depend on his spotter. Racing side-by-side is great. Not knowing who is beside him is different.

Another concern for Allmendinger will be the drafting at Talladega Speedway, his other selected Truck race. While it is not a restrictor plate race for the Trucks, there still will be drafting. The trucks run smaller engines and they draft better because they punch a bigger hole in the air. Racing in Trucks is a completely different race atmosphere than the open-wheel environment to which he is accustomed.

Allmendinger is looking for a finish this weekend, and in the top 15. He said he is coming in with the right attitude, knowing it won't be easy. He will be competing with some of the best drivers in the world. AJ said he is learning as much as he can.

The two races he is running with BDR, NHIS and Talladega, were selected because they fit in with his Champ Car schedule. Running them doesn't mean that he won't be returning to Champ Cars next season. He is still focused on Champ Cars and he wants to do well in that series. His Forsythe contract is now for the remainder of the season, as he and the team want to see how well they are in everything. At this point, Allmendinger doesn't have a contract with anyone for next year. He is in talks now with team owner, GERRY FORSYTHE, and 'not really talking with any other teams'.

The Loudon track is 1:058-miles long with 12 turns. The track has been described as Martinsville on steroids. The track qualifying record is 128.819mph, set last year by MATT CRAFTON. Last year's race was won by RICK CRAWFORD' s#14 Circle Bar Ford.


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