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Dinger Looking To Party Like It’s 2014 At The Glen

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 8 2015
07 August 2015:    AJ Allmindinger made the Chase a year ago by driving to victory at the Watkins Glen International road course. Allmendinger hopes to do the same thing this year. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Rusty Jarrett)

AJ Allmendinger made the Chase a year ago by driving to victory at the Watkins Glen International road course. Allmendinger hopes to do the same thing this year. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Rusty Jarrett)

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – The Dinger is on-pole at Watkins Glen International and intent upon re-living the dream at the end of Sunday’s 30th annual Cheez-It 355.

AJ Allmendinger arguably provided the feel-good story of the 2014 NASCAR sprint-logo-08Sprint Cup Series season when he won on the historic WGI road-course last summer. The victory not only was the first for Allmendinger and JTG Daugherty Racing, it also secured the single-car team a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Heading into Sunday’s 90-lap/220.5-miler around the 2.45-mile/seven-turn layout, Anthony James Allmendinger is staring at perhaps his last legitimate shot at qualifying for NASCAR’s postseason. Just like last year, AJ needs a win.

“The thing I’ve learned about the Sprint Cup Series is it doesn’t matter whether somebody ‘needs a win’ or not,” said Allmendinger, who secured the Coors
Light Pole Award with a lap in 68.993-seconds/127.839 mph. “If the opportunity is there, he or she is going to go out there to do whatever they can to get the win. It really comes down to last year at this time I had never won a Sprint Cup race. To say when it comes down to time and if the opportunity is there what does it feel like? ‘Well I don’t know; I’ve never done it before.’

“I know what it feels like now and I know what I have to do to put myself in

AJ Allmendinger hopes to rule the road on Sunday. He got off to a good start on Saturday by winning the pole. (RacinToday/HHP file photo byHarold Hinson)

AJ Allmendinger hopes to rule the road on Sunday. He got off to a good start on Saturday by winning the pole. (RacinToday/HHP file photo byHarold Hinson)

that position. For that reason I think it’s a lot different from last year.”

Allmendinger sits 23rd in driver points following a seventh-place finish last Sunday at Pocono Raceway.

Saturday, Allmendinger completed a qualifying sweep of the Cup series’ two road-courses, having earned P1 at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway in June. He secured his first pole in seven races at The Glen, and fourth in 249 series starts.

“I feel confident,” said Allmendinger, driver of the No. 47 Kroger/Bush’s Beans Chevrolet SS owned by Tad Geschickter and tuned by crew chief Brian Burns. “It’s the same car we had last year here. It’s the same car that we ran at Sonoma and qualified on-pole with and had a chance to win. We just go out there and see how (Sunday) goes. If it’s meant to be it’s meant to be. If not, then it doesn’t happen.

“That’s what makes the series so fun. I kind of laugh because everybody initially said, ‘Oh, Marcos (Ambrose) isn’t here _ this should be easy for you.’ I’m like, ‘I’m not sure if you guys remember Jeff Gordon was leading when he broke (last year).’ There are a lot of great race car drivers and you can’t just single-out one or two of them that are going to be tough. It makes it a lot of fun. I know I have to go out there and be on my A-game to have a shot to win this thing.”

Allmendinger will be joined in the two-car front row by Martin Truex Jr., who qualified the No. 78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS second in 69.139-seconds/127.569 mph.

Meanwhile, five-time WGI Cup winner Tony Stewart momentarily put aside his latest legal issue and qualified third in 69.187-seconds/127.481 mph in his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS.

A three-time Cup champion, Stewart was named as lone defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit filed Friday by the family of 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr., who was struck and killed by Stewart’s Sprint Car during a race on Aug. 9, 2014, at nearby Canandaigua Motorsports Park. The suit was filed on behalf of Ward’s parents, Kevin Ward Sr. and Pamela Ward, in the 5th Judicial District for the Supreme Court of the State of New York in Lowville.

Kevin Harvick, the reigning Cup champion and Stewart’s teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing, will start alongside his boss after lapping at 69.222-seconds/127.416 mph in the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS.

Jeff Gordon, a four-time series champion and four-time winner at WGI, will start fifth in his final scheduled Cup race here after lapping at 69.350-seconds/127.181 mph in the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet SS fielded by Hendrick Motorsports.

Kyle Busch, who ran out of fuel while leading on the final lap last Sunday at Pocono, will start eighth after lapping at 69.521-seconds/126.868 mph in his No. 18 M&Ms Crispy Toyota Camry. Despite finishing 21st, Busch gained 10 points on 30th-place _ the position he needs to ascend to in order to make the Chase _ and now is only 13 points behind David Gilliland. Busch, of Joe Gibbs Racing, has five races to climb into the top-30.

Busch has won four of the last six races dating to Sonoma after returning from serious leg injuries suffered in a crash during the season-opening NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway. Busch will attempt to sweep the series’ road courses here (2 p.m. EDT on NBCSN). Busch has won at Watkins Glen twice (2008, 2013). In fact, Busch (2008) is the last NSCS driver to sweep the road courses.

Allmendinger, a 34-year-old native of San Jose, Calif., was ecstatic about his pole-winning run after tumbling down Friday’s practice sheet from second in the opening session to 28th in the final prax. Gordon emerged as leader of the final sessions via numbers of 69.267-seconds/127.333 mph. Allmendinger’s best lap of 70.660-seconds/124.823 mph left him steaming late Friday afternoon.

“I’m just proud of all my guys; I was frustrated and I probably wasn’t helping,” said Allmendinger, who will be making his fifth top-10 start of 2015. “I was overdriving trying to get more than what we had there and I didn’t do a good job. They saved me. They gave me a good race car. So, going into tomorrow, I feel happy with what we’ve got. But we’ll see. It’s a tough race. This Kroger/Bush’s Beans Chevy is going to be fast and hopefully we’ll be re-living last year.”

As he noted, Allmendinger at least has an excellent chance of leading into Turn 1’s downhill right-hander and establishing track position. “It’s so critical around here,” Allmendinger said. “Everybody is so close. It’s tough to pass. You start beating and banging on each other. Your fenders get torn up here and you can’t have that. It’s very aerodynamic-dependent. It’s a good start. Strategy plays a lot in this race; fuel mileage and everything. I can’t thank everybody at ECR enough for giving me the horsepower. I don’t know if I’ll sleep any better tonight or not, but I’ll be ready for tomorrow.”

Allmendinger reiterated he does not feel undue pressure to capitalize on this road-course, or risk missing the Chase. In fact, his pole run might be ramping-up the anxiety level for any number of series regulars similarly needing a win to make the Chase.

My goal is to knock one of those guys out. That’s what it all comes down to,” Allmendinger said. “We did the same thing last year. All I can do is go out there and try to be at my best. I put so much pressure on myself and I have a lot of ups and downs inside me about feeling I’m being at my best because I just don’t want to let my guys down. So, my goal is to go win a race and cause a lot of frustration on other drivers when it comes to how the Chase works out. But I don’t even look at the Chase. The Chase is a non-factor to me. I know the goal is if I win, it puts us in. That’s great. The ultimate goal is to win and the rest will take care of itself. I can’t worry about what anybody else does.”

Allmendinger forged his reputation as a road-course ace during his tenure in the open-wheel Champ Car World Series. Allmendinger made 40 Champ Car starts during three seasons, highlighted by five wins in 2006 for Forsythe Championship Racing.

Asked if he thought Cup cars might actually better suit his driving style, Allmendinger pointed out the wonderful differences among the various types of machines he has handled.

“Man, the Champ Cars, back in the day when I was running it, they’re pretty amazing,” Allmendinger said. “They have those turbocharged motors and some of the venues we went to _ to be racing on the streets of Surfers Paradise Australia, Toronto, those street-course races, airport runways, places like Cleveland, Edmonton _ unless you do it, you really don’t experience and understand how awesome it is to be racing a car that’s doing 190 (mph) through streets that are made for 35 mph. So, that was a lot of fun.

“It’s a different type of racing. The Sprint Cup Series, on any given day, 20 drivers have an option to win a race and you know you’ve got to be on you’re A-game no matter what place you go to, just to run inside the top-15 or top-10, let alone win a race. That makes it a lot of fun. And I loved racing the Rolex 24 (Hour at Daytona International Speedway). The nine or 10 years I’ve been with Michael Shank to be driving those cars; this past year running, that car was awesome.

“So, they’re race cars. They’re fun to drive. Everyone is unique in its own way. What makes it fun is winning. When you’re not winning, they all suck, honestly. So, that’s what it comes down to. If you’re running well, it makes it a lot of fun.”

In six career starts at Watkins Glen, Allmendinger has posted one win, two top-fives and four top-10s. He also owns the second-best average finish (7.8333) among active regulars.

Allmendinger allowed himself to briefly revisit memory lane Thursday with a ride around the track. “The amount of joy that I had and just all the feelings and emotions that I had gone through…those are memories that no matter what happens the rest of my life I will always have,” Allmendinger said. “Just to experience something that I’ve worked so hard for in eight or nine years in the Sprint Cup Series between Tad and Jodi Geschickter and Brad Daugherty and everybody on this team to get that win was really special.

“I think as a team we’re a lot closer. We believe in ourselves even through the downs. It’s one of those things that we know we have to stick together. That win has helped a lot and it’s made us believe in each other and trust each other. Even if the points don’t show it right now, we are a lot better of a race team than we were at this time last year.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 8 2015
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