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NASCAR drivers spent the first half of the week speaking with the media about the 2018 season. Among the drivers who held court was AJ Allmendinger, but the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wasn’t the only thing on his mind.
Allmendinger was focused on racing, but it was sports cars — not stock cars — that had his immediate attention.
Directly after leaving Charlotte, the 37-year-old was headed to Daytona Beach, Fla., for this weekend’s Rolex 24 — the 24-hour race that kicks off the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Allmendinger will team with Trent Hindman, Katherine Legge and Àlvaro Parente, driving an Acura NSX GT3 for Michael Shank Racing in the GT Daytona class.
As the lone full-time Cup driver competing in the endurance sports car race on the road course at Daytona International Speedway, Allmendinger has long been regarded as one of NASCAR’s best road-course racers. And the Rolex, which he has raced every year since 2006, except last year, has become one of his favorite events.
“I love that race,” Allmendinger said Tuesday. “I love working with Mike Shank and that whole team.”
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Allmendinger said this year’s race will be very different for him, and he’s still getting up to speed after Shank switched from the front-running Prototype class to the GT Daytona class last year.
“I’ve always run the Prototype class,” he said. “But it’s a different way of racing, you know? Being a Prototype, you’re the aggressor. You’re the one making the moves. With the GT cars there’s a challenge to allowing cars to get around you and not losing a lot of time, and that’s where the best GT drivers are so good at it.
“The ABS brakes (system) is way different than anything I’ve ever driven. It took me a while to learn. And I can’t say I’ve really got a full understanding of it yet.”
That hasn’t dampened his appreciation for the race or IMSA in general. He can imagine a time that he takes up sports car racing full time when his NASCAR career comes to a close.