Several NASCAR Sprint Cup teams descended upon Loudon, N.H., this week to conduct test sessions at New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s 1.058-mile oval to get a leg up on the competition before the unfurling of the green flag for the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 July 14.
With both NHMS Cup dates positioned as pivot points on the 36-race schedule — the July race in the middle of the Race to the Chase and September’s Sylvania 300, the second event in the 10-race Chase for the Championship — it behooves teams to try to gain valuable test time and data to sort out the new Generation 6 car at the Magic Mile.
All three Stewart-Haas Racing drivers — Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, and Danica Patrick — spent considerable time on the track, along with Penske Racing drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano as well as Roush Fenway Racing pilots Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
“Right now, it seems like we’re better on the mile and a half than we are on the shorter tracks, and this is kind of a shorter track,’’ said Logano, explaining his team’s decision to utilize one of the few NASCAR-approved testing dates at NHMS. “So we’re trying to find a good balance when you come to tracks like this.
“Also, it’s a big race here to get into the Chase, so you’ve got to run good here. Then, in the Chase, it’s also a big one.
“The races are fairly close to each other. The amount of things that change, they change pretty quick, so if you can test somewhere and race here twice in a pretty short span of time, it becomes a pretty good advantage.’’
A fan of A.J.’s
Nationwide Series driver Trevor Bayne, who came to NHMS Tuesday in search of some front-end grip during his test session, was pleased to see A.J. Allmendinger get back into Victory Lane last weekend in a Nationwide race at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.
The victory was a huge step for Allmendinger, formerly the driver of the Penske Racing No. 22 Pennzoil car, whose career took a wrong turn a year ago at Kentucky Speedway when he tested positive for a banned substance, was placed on indefinite suspension, and lost his Sprint Cup ride with Penske.
“Anytime you see somebody bounce back and be motivated and fired up and want to make themselves better and go for it, it’s cool,’’ Bayne said.
Allmendinger will return behind the wheel of a Sprint Cup car Saturday night in the No. 47 fielded by JTG Daugherty Racing, for the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway — the place where his career veered off path. Now, it seems, Allmendinger is back on track.
Allmendinger’s road back began with his reinstatement following his completion of a NASCAR-affiliated recovery program. But it also included a return to his Indy car roots, as he was retained by Roger Penske to drive for the legendary car owner in the Indianapolis 500. Allmendinger started fifth and finished seventh in his Indy 500 debut.
“A.J. Allmendinger’s obviously a great race car driver — ovals, road courses,’’ said Bayne, who started 11th and finished 30th in the Johnsonville Sausage 200 at Road America. “Most of the time he’s a wild man, so I didn’t know what to expect at Road America, but he did a great job.
“I felt like there were so many times during the race where I’d let somebody go to the inside and they’d wipe out the four cars in front of me. But I didn’t see that from A.J. He was calm and smooth all day and that’s how he got the win.’’
“It was a great race and I’m glad to see him back.’’
NASCAR five-time champion Jimmie Johnson hosted a Champions Luncheon Thursday at Cask ’n Flagon, bringing together athletes from Boston’s title teams for a panel discussion moderated by ESPN’s Allen Bestwick.
“It’s about the people,’’ said Johnson, when asked about the common thread among championship teams. “We’re all only as good as our weakest link. We’re a team and no one person is successful alone.’’
Joining Johnson in the panel discussion were: Jo Jo White of the Celtics, Johnny Bucyk of the Bruins, Tim Wakefield of the Red Sox, and Joe Andruzzi of the Patriots, all of whom got the opportunity to race against Johnson on simulators provided by iRacing.com.
Andruzzi was awarded the checkered flag after Johnson was penalized for having too much local knowledge of the NHMS track on which the competitors held their virtual race.
Wakefield, who watched Johnson at work when he attended the Daytona 500 in 2005, said he had a special appreciation for Johnson’s ability to tune out all distractions while behind the wheel.
“You look at what his team has done to give him a great racecar, but they still need him to drive it,’’ said Wakefield. “What he’s done to win five championships — in a row — is really impressive.’’
Johnson and Boston’s sports champions took time to honor honored the real champions in the room, the survivors and first responders of the Boston Marathon bombings, among them MBTA transit officer Richard Donohue, who was wounded in the Watertown shootout with the bombing suspects.
Jerry Gappens, NHMS executive vice president and general manager, said the track and its corporate partners teamed up to provide tickets for first responders from all over the New England region. In addition, the track will sell “Boston Strong’’ T-shirts, with the proceeds going to the OneFund.
“Our champion responders always go the extra mile without giving a second thought to what might happen to them,’’ Gappens said. “Our race this summer is the 301, going the extra mile in honor of our heroes.’’Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.