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AJ Allmendinger after podium finish at Rolex 24: ‘The most tired I’ve ever been’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver AJ Allmendinger took last year off from competing in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, but he resumed racing in the sports car season-opener this year in a different class with new teammates  — and showed himself in the same fine form that always makes him a favorite.

Allmendinger teamed with Katherine Legge, Alvaro Parente and Trent Hindman to finish second in the GTD class of the Rolex on Sunday — a very respectable 22nd  place overall. And the 21.511-second difference between them and third place in the class was one of the best battles of the endurance race on the 2.56-mile Daytona International Speedway road course. The No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini won the division.

It’s the fourth podium finish in 12 Rolex starts for Allmendinger, who won the race overall in 2012 driving a prototype.

His entry this weekend in the No. 86 Acura NSX GT3 was for his friend Michael Shank — the longtime IMSA team owner who fielded prototypes previously and the only owner Allmendinger has raced for in the Rolex 24.

Going into the race, Allmendinger conceded it would be “different” for him driving a sedan competing against the Lamborghini, Ferrari, Audi, Porsche, Mercedes entries. But he acknowledged his team was stacked with talent and he was optimistic.

“Not the win and Rolex we wanted but my teammates were awesome,’’ Allmendinger said on Twitter following the race. “So cool to be on the podium with the @MichaelShankRace team.

“Amazing weekend.’’

The team’s performance was good enough to win the opening round of the North American Endurance Cup. And Allmendinger will return to Daytona Beach for the NASCAR portions of Speedweeks already feeling accomplished and warmed-up.

“This might be the most tired I’ve ever been,’’ Allmendinger said. “It probably was not a wise call on my part not to run an air hose to my helmet. But this Acura NSX GT3 has been fun to drive. I love Michael Shank and I love this race team.

“That last stint, I was starting to get the chills inside the car. But this is what the Rolex 24 is all about: the last four hours you give everything you’ve got.”

PHOTOS: Scenes from the Rolex 24 at Daytona