Drivers are trying to catch up with their new surroundings

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A.J. Allmendinger begins three days of open tests for drivers today at Daytona International Speedway for his new team, Penske Racing.  FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
A.J. Allmendinger begins three days of open tests for drivers today at Daytona International Speedway for his new team, Penske Racing.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — There’s a long checklist of things for A.J. Allmendinger to get done this week at Daytona International Speedway.

While getting his Penske Racing Dodge up to speed is the primary reason to test three days in preparation for February’s Daytona 500, there are other issues facing his team.

Allmendinger doesn’t have a lot of time to get used to a new team, a new car and a new crew chief. The open test that starts today will be an important step for everyone to get to know each other.

“It’s been a difficult process,” Allmendinger said. “I never expected when we left Homestead that everything that has happened to get to this point.

“I feel like it was so quick that it happened. I’m still trying to get my head wrapped around it.”

Kurt Busch was fired two weeks after the 2011 season ended after several run-ins with his team and the media.

Allmendinger’s hiring was just as surprising, especially since he had a ride at Richard Petty Motorsports for the upcoming season.

Petty replaced Allmendinger with Nationwide Series drive Aric Almirola. Other drivers working with new teams today include: Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin at Michael Waltrip Racing; Busch at Phoenix Racing; Kasey Kahne at Hendrick Motorsports; and Scott Speed at Leavine Family Racing.

Almirola had brief stops at Joe Gibbs Racing, Dale Earnhardt Inc. and JR Motorsports before getting his first full-time job in the Sprint Cup Series. That experience will help him get quickly adjusted at RPM, he said.

“The biggest thing for me is I’ve been fortunate to work with really high quality teams,” Almirola said.

The changes among crew chiefs were even more profound in the off-season. Allmendinger will work with Todd Gordon; defending series champion Darian Grubb is with Denny Hamlin; Steve Addington is with Tony Stewart; Todd Berrier is with Bobby Labonte; Brian Pattie is with Bowyer, Jason Ratcliff is with Joey Logano; Greg Zipadelli is with Danica Patrick; Drew Blickensderfer is with Jeff Burton; and Chris Heroy is with Juan Pablo Montoya.

Every team will also be working with a new rules package designed to break up the two-car tandems at Daytona.

Cars will have smaller two-gallon radiators, smaller overflow radiator tanks, smaller rear spoiler, softer springs and a larger restrictor plate.


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