Improved qualifying boosts Allmendinger

AJ Allmendinger uring practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 16, 2016 in Bristol, Tennessee.

AJ Allmendinger uring practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 16, 2016 in Bristol, Tennessee.

BRISTOL, Tenn. – The numbers tell the story.

AJ Allmendinger finished 22nd in the final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings last year. Through the first seven races this season, the driver of the No. 47 JTG/Daugherty Racing Chevrolet is 15th.

Part of the improvement can be attributed to the burgeoning simpatico between Allmendinger and new crew chief Randall Burnett. But much of the credit also goes to an improved qualifying program.

Over 36 races last year, Allmendinger posted an average starting position of 21.6. With his ninth-place qualifying effort on Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway, this year’s average improved to 16.9.

Since Daytona, in each of the seven knockout qualifying sessions, Allmendinger has advanced at least to the second round, and on three occasions, including Friday’s time trials, he has made it to the final round, ensuring a top-12 starting spot.

At Bristol, that’s particularly important, given the speed of the track and how quickly back markers tend to get lapped.

“It’s a real big deal around here,” Allmendinger agreed. “Especially, if early in the race it can go green for a while – If it does and the leader puts down a lot of lapped cars, it kind of just ruins the rest of your race. Starting up front is a big deal.

“We’ve got to get the car a little bit more comfortable in race trim to make sure we stay up there, but anytime, especially, on these short tracks you can start up front, it just makes that first half of the race a lot easier. It’s like, if you get through the first three quarters on the lead lap, it just seems like, even if you’re only half-decent, you can still get a really good finish out of it, especially around here.”

Allmendinger was 20th fastest in Saturday’s first practice session but improved to 16th during Happy Hour.

SHORT STROKES

Seeking his third straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, Kyle Busch made a statement during Saturday’s first practice at Bristol.

Not only did Busch run the fastest lap in the session (126.370 mph), covering the .533-mile distance in 15.184 seconds. He also posted the best 10-lap average speed, 125.569 mph, indicating he’ll likely be a contender for the win in Sunday’s Food City 500.

Pole winner Carl Edwards, Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, was second in 10-lap average at 124.762 mph. Busch was fifth on the speed chart in Happy Hour behind Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr. and Edwards.

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