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Allmendinger Knows Importance Of Sonoma

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, June 26 2015
A return to the Chase is on the line for A.J. Allmendinger this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

A return to the Chase is on the line for A.J. Allmendinger this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

The term “must win” has become one of the most over-used in sports. It’s verbiage that tends to be rotely rolled out when the term “highly important” is much more accurate but way less dramatic.

sprint-logo-08Then there is the situation for A.J. Allmendinger vis a vis this weekend’s Sprint Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway.

He and his JTG/Daugherty Racing team have to figure there are two races on the 36-race schedule that are, for them, must win and the annual Sonoma race is one of them.

They are a single-car operation whose cars at 34 of the yearly events are simply not fast enough to win and, hence, not fast enough to get into the championship-deciding Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship playoffs.

But at Sonoma and/or at Watkins Glen International, Allmendinger has legit shots to beat teams that spend five times more money and who have won the last, say, oh, 20 championships.

Somoma is a road course. Really good, technical one, too. Not super fast, it has interesting turns and serious elevation changes. At a place like that, in a racing series like Cup, the driver portion of the driver/car equation for success rises significantly.

Significantly enough to give a road racing monster like Allmendinger a chance to compete, to win, to qualify for a Chase berth.

He knows it and he accepts it.

“For me,” Allmendinger, who got a berth-clinching victory at The Glen last year, said. “I try to be at my best everywhere we go. My background is obviously road course racing, so it kind of leans towards that. Winning at Watkins Glen last year kind of helped that. But, the Sprint Cup Series is so difficult right now. I think there’s been what, 10 winners in the last 10 races here? I know if we go out there and we’re at our best and I do my job we’ll have a shot to win, and that’s all I can ask for.”

Not that Allmendinger and team want their yearly fate to winning a road race. See they also know that there are no road circuits in the Chase and without winning a race in the playoffs, championship hopes are nil.

For that reason, Allmendinger was not all that gaga about being on his kind of turf this weekend.

“Right now, our team is just trying to improve,” he said. “And the last six or seven weeks, we’ve kind of lost our way a little bit. This is probably a great race to try to get some momentum back, knowing that if we go out there and we do a good job, we should have a good chance to at least win the race or be in contention inside the Top 5.”

This past spring, it was announced that JTG had extended Allmendinger’s contract for five additional years. When the announcement was made at Kansas Speedway in May, Allmendinger was all smiles and full of hope.

Since then the smiles and hope have taken some gut shots. The best finish since the contract extension was announced at Kansas in May has been 23rd.

Sonoma this weekend gives Allmendinger, this team and his owners a chance to feel good again.

“The guys have done a fantastic job in the off-week to really focus on this race car and get it better,” the California native said. “But yeah, at the end of the day, I know what the prize is. I know if you win, you make the Chase; and that’s so important. But I try not to focus on putting the pressure on that this race is do or die, or Watkins Glen is do or die; and if we don’t, it doesn’t happen. We’ve just got to get better every weekend. I know that’s kind of cliché, but right now that’s really our goal. If we go out here and have a great run and build some momentum, that’s all we can do. Like I said, for me, I just try to drive my butt off. And if it’s good enough, it’s good enough. If it’s not, it’s not.”

Allmendinger and team will, theoretically, be together through 2020. That’s a long time should the answer to the question of “good enough?” come up “not”.

“I think we’ve improved,” Allmendinger says. “And everybody has to improve more again. That’s kind of the nature with a smaller team is you’re always trying to play catch-up a little bit.

“We have the steps in place and the ideas in place, but it’s not an overnight process, either. So, I think that’s just the biggest thing is that it’s not that we show up at say, Kentucky, really because that’s the next oval track 1.5-mile typical race, and we’ll have better cars once we get there, but it’s a process.”

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, June 26 2015
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