NASCAR Sprint Cup driver, A.J. ALLMENDINGER of Los Gatos CA was the fastest and maybe coldest driver for Grand-Am Rolex Series Night Practice at Daytona International Speedway. Allmendinger was driving No.6 Michael Shank Racing Ford/Riley Daytona Prototype at the annual test for the Rolex 24 of Daytona, called this year ‘Roar Before The 24.’ He was fast the last half hour of the 90-minute session, at 1:41.448/126.331 mph/203.310 kph – just a shade slower than his teammate, MICHAEL VALIENTE, was in the preceding session. Overall for the weekend so far, the fastest time still belongs to MAX ANGELELLI/No.10 Sun Trust Racing Ford/Dallara DP at 1:40.466 set in Friday’s first.
Dempsey Racing, owned by actor PATRICK DEMPSEY, had the fastest GT car in Night Practice. Grand-Am’s live Timing & Scoring showed DON KITCH of WA in No.41 Mazda RX-8 in the car, turning 1:49.214/117.348/188.853 kph. However, later, the Grand-Am release identified the driver as 2009 Grand-Am GT champion LEH KEEN. Oh well. Either way, Dempsey can take pride in his car and drivers.
It wouldn’t be the first time this weekend that a driver was using another’s transponder. In the first Saturday afternoon session, NASCAR Sprint Cup driver, BOBBY LABONTE/No.71 TRG Porsche GT3 was using the transponder of his team owner – KEVIN BUCKLER.
Allmendinger said after the session that this was the coldest he’d ever been (in racing). “It was like ice out there.” Earlier in the day Allmendinger said his team sat out the first afternoon session because of weather. “We all have rain experience so there’s no reason to take chances of hurting the car. It’s still too cold to learn anything. We’ll wait it out.”
But the road-racer turned stock car driver loves coming to the Rolex 24. This is his fifth straight run at it with MSR, and he’s led laps at most of them and nearly won his first year. AJ admits to being a real racing nut and getting antsy when he’s not racing something. One of the many reasons he likes the Rolex 24 is getting to see, meet, and rub shoulders with some of the finest drivers from all over the world, from all different kinds of venues. “Like a giant IROC race, (referencing the International Race of Champions.) It’s a great way to jump start the season, especially now that the pre-season testing isn’t allowed in NASCAR. I like the competition, racing against them. It raises the bar for me. The cars here now are so equal and the lineups so competitive. I pride myself in being an all-around driver, and like doing well in this environment.”
Earlier, A.J. talked about his struggles in NASCAR and how he’s improved with Ford in the last three 2009 races, feeling good about finishing 24th in the standings and feeling that 2010 will be the best chance he’s had in NASCAR.
Talk about stealth. Wearing a V.I.R. baseball cap, NASCAR’s JIM FRANCE strolled into the Media Center near the end of Night Practice and casually chatted pleasantly to some of the late folks; and then, just as easily, ambled away, wishing all a good night.
I was told by the local motorsports journo that the vice chairman of NASCAR’s Board of Directors, executive Vice President of NASCAR and former CEO of International Speedway Corporation doesn’t come out in public often. It was a pleasant interlude.