The former Red Bull Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports and Penske Racing driver topped the opening day of “The Roar Before the Rolex 24” Friday, turning the fastest individual lap during Day One of the annual three-day test in preparation for the 51st Anniversary Rolex 24 At Daytona, Jan. 26-27.
Fifty-nine Rolex Sports Car Series machines including 17 Daytona Prototypes, 36 GT class entries and six GX class cars turned test laps on the 3.56-mile road course in advance of the annual twice-around-the-clock challenge. In the Continental Tire Sports Challenge, 56 cars were testing for the season-opening GRAND-AM 200 on Friday, Jan. 25.
Allmendinger began Michael Shank Racing’s Rolex 24 title defense with the fastest lap of the day at 124.526 mph in the No. 60 Ford Riley. “As soon as I got in, I was like, `this thing feels pretty good,’” said Allmendinger, who teamed with Ozz Negri, Justin Wilson and John Pew to claim the checkered flag a year ago. “Obviously, conditions are going to change and you’re going to have to stay up with the race track, but when you can go out there right away and be fast and not even push the car too hard, it is a good feeling.
“It’s exciting to come back and be defending champions,” said Allmendinger, “but it also inspires us to do it again, because we know what it was like to be in Victory Lane… and be able to celebrate with each other.”
While his Rolex 24 seat with Shank Racing is secure, Allmendinger’s 2013 NASCAR plans are less certain. He ran a pair of races for Phoenix Racing late last year after being reinstated by NASCAR, and while team owner James Finch has said Allmendinger will drive for the team again this season, it will apparently not be a full-time effort. Regan Smith is slated to steer the car in the season opener at Daytona, and reliable sources say that third-generation driver Austin Dillon will also run a handful of Sprint Cup Series races for Phoenix Racing.
"As of right now, (the Rolex 24) is the only race I've got planned," said Allmendinger to the Sporting News last week. "We know how this world works. It's crazy. I definitely want to be back in the Cup Series, because I have got a lot of unfinished business. I (don’t) want to go out like that. I'm open to all options; sports car racing, Indy Car racing, Cup, Nationwide, Trucks, whatever."