Chasing The Underdogs

Chasing The Underdogs: AJ Allmendinger Breaks Through


FORT WORTH, T.X. – For AJ Allmendinger Watkins Glen — a road course — had been circled on his calendar ever since his legitimate shot for a victory at Sonoma — another road course — back in June when contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr. sent him hard into the wall. The crash ended Allmendinger’s shot at victory that day. After leading 35 laps Allmendinger and his JTG Daugherty Racing team were relegated to a disappointing 37th.

“We led a lot of laps today and we were good enough to win the thing no doubt,” Allmendinger said after the Toyota/Save Mart 350, “It’s just disappointing the way our day ended and to leave Sonoma with a car that’s tore up. I’m proud of my guys and all the hard work they put into this weekend. It’s just tough.”

Sunday at Watkins Glen, Allmendinger and Co. were out for redemption, and they found it. But Allmendinger had to work hard for his first-career win, and it really was a statement win for this entire team. Their never say die attitude led to one of the most exciting races of the season.

Allmendinger kicked off his Sunday morning with a stop by Fox Sports 1’s pre-race show, Raceday.

After swinging by RaceDay, Allmendinger knocked out some sponsorship appearances, and it was off to the driver’s meeting. After the driver’s meeting Allmendinger suited up and had some good times with his team in the hauler before the race to get loose.

It was shaping up to be a big day for the little team that could. The vibe in the garage was that Allmendinger would be one of the favorites to win for sure, but nobody really knew how big of a day it would be for the Californian.

Allmendinger rolled off from the grid in the sixth position. By lap five, Allmendinger had raced his way solidly into the top-five, but his car would go to the loose side coming out of the turns. When the first caution of the day came out for Cole Whitt slamming into the tire barrier, crew chief Brian Burns called for Allmendinger to stay on the race track.

Allmendinger had moved to third place, but he was screaming for help getting his car to turn in traffic by lap 18. When the No. 47 car finally made it to pit lane, the crew changed four tires, filled the car up with fuel and made a slight air pressure adjustment.

By lap 35 (in the 90 lap race) Allmendinger’s loose condition worsened. The team opted to pit on lap 47 for fuel, tires and Brian Burns figured adjusting the air pressure in just the rear tires would help Allmendinger in the rear grip department. The adjustments would begin to move the car in the right direction as Allmendinger would move up to the third position before a red flag for a huge pileup with Ryan Newman and Michael McDowell that brought out a one hour and 21 minute red flag.

Allmendinger passed the time by hanging with his crew, and doing interviews with ESPN.

When the race went back to a yellow flag situation, Allmendinger was called to pit road to add fuel. According to his crew chief, Allmendinger would be good to go to the finish. The race would finally go back to green on lap 60, and it’s under this run that Allmendinger took command of this race. He would work his No. 47 car to the lead on lap 61, and even though Allmendinger had to endure two restarts from lap 82 to lap 86, he wouldn’t be touched until a restart with two laps to go.

An epic battle for the win ensued between Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose. Both drivers were without a win in 2014, and were looking to etch their names into Chase contention for the first time in their careers. Ambrose and Allmendinger traded paint, and exchanged chrome horns with two laps to go, but Allmendinger never relented.

Even when Ambrose nudged Allmendinger out of the racing groove in turn five, Allmendinger fought back hard and was in great position heading into turn six. Coming to the white flag off of turn seven, Allmendinger had built a few car length advantage, and he brought it home from there.

“I left nothing on the table. I tried to rattle his cage and couldn’t shake him,” Ambrose would say after climbing from his No. 9 Ford, “We raced fair and square to the end there. It was a tough couple laps but it was fair. We were both giving it to each other pretty hard. No harm, no foul.”

The following tweet sums up the feeling and emotions on pit road, and in the race car for driver and team.

Allmendinger won in exciting fashion, but after the race he explained that isn’t how he wanted to win the race.

“I was hoping to make it boring, honestly.  I wanted to lead all 90 laps and just have a cruise control,” said Allmendinger, “But that’s what makes the Sprint Cup Series so fun.  You know you’re not going to get that.”

What Allmendinger did get was one of the hardest fought battles of his racing career. He would go on to talk about his competitor Marcos Ambrose, and the incredible finish between the two.

“…Marcos, I don’t believe he’s one of the best road racers in NASCAR, I don’t believe he’s one of the best in the U.S., I believe he’s one of the best in the world,” Allmendinger explained,  ”To be able to have to go with him basically one‑on‑one there, and I felt like ‑‑ I’ve always respected him, but I respect him so much now because he could have easily just wrecked me, and honestly probably moved me out of the way and wrecked me and drove to the win and made the Chase and everything is great, but he didn’t.  He moved me out of the way and he leaned on me and I leaned on him back, so to have that but have that mutual respect where we know what the limit is.”

Now Allmendinger can breathe a sigh of relief. He is in the Chase. He is in the All-Star race. He now will get to enjoy all of the perks of being a Sprint Cup Series winner.

— How did the other underdogs fare in Watkins Glen? —

15th – Casey Mears (8th top-15 finish of 2014)
17th – Justin Allgaier (17th or better two weeks in a row)
19th – David Ragan
22nd – David Gilliland
23rd – Reed Sorenson
29th – Landon Cassill
30th – Joe Nemechek
31st – Michael Annett
33rd – Alex Kennedy (crashed out on lap 86 of 90)
36th – Alex Bowman
38th – Josh Wise
39th – Ryan Truex (fell out of the race — suspension)
42nd – Michael McDowell (involved in scary collision on lap 56)
43rd – Cole Whitt (slammed into tire barrier on lap 9)

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About Toby Christie

Toby Christie is the Senior Writer for Rubbings Racing. He has been watching NASCAR since 1993, and has covered the sport as a media member since 2007. Toby is a proud member of the NMPA. Additionally, Toby is a lifelong Miami Dolphins fan, subpar guitarist and he is pretty good around a mini-golf course.

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