Johnny Sauter spins out after contact with AJ Allmendinger , bringing out a caution at Daytona.
AJ Allmendinger talks about his second year with JTG Daugherty Racing, his first memories at Daytona International Speedway, and his hair gel.
Fresh off season with first Sprint Cup win, 'Dinger looking for more MORE: Full schedule of season previews Team: JTG Daugherty Racing No. 47 Chevrolet Rank in final 2014 standings: 13th Wins: 1 ( Watkins Glen International ) Year in photos: AJ Allmendinger 2014 highlights Strides: Allmendinger is coming off a career season, collecting his first ever NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win in a hard-fought final lap duel with Marcos Ambrose on the Watkins Glen, New York road course. The victory was also the first for his single-car JTG Daughtery team, landing the organization in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for the first time. A new technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing and Chevy engines from Earnhardt Childress (ECR) seemed to have paid off for the team. Allmendinger's two top-five finishes equals a career best and his five top-10 efforts were the most for him since 2011. Setbacks: While the team will look back fondly on 2014 as a year of progress, Allmendinger realizes that expectations rise with success. Consistency proved to be a real problem as he missed advancing to the Contender Round of the new elimination-style Chase format, alternating sub-20th place finishes with a respectful 13th-place run at Loudon in the opening three-race round. He had consecutive runs of sixth place (Richmond) and fifth place (Talladega) in the spring but didn't manage another top-10 finish until his victory at Watkins Glen, which came 12 races later. Quoteworthy: "I feel like the person I am, I love that underdog role, I love that small team feeling that we have to work harder than everyone just to compete with them," Allmendinger said. What's next: Allmendinger has always maintained the attitude that his small team has to take baby steps as it raises its game to compete with the perennial Chase contenders, mega-teams such as Hendrick Motorsports , Stewart-Haas Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing . However, scoring the win at Watkins Glen and a berth in the Chase was a huge confidence boost. Consistency and more top-15 finishes are realistic goals for the team this year and with Allmendinger's proven record on road courses, a second Chase berth is a reasonable expectation as well. "We have a long ways to go but we know if we go out there and we hit our best, on any given day we can win a race," Allmendinger said. "With the new [Chase] format especially, Ryan Newman showed you don't have to be great, just good enough to make it to the next (round) and heck, he was two laps away from winning the championship this year." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Driver talks past, future in interview RELATED: Subscribe to NASCAR Illustrated AJ Allmendinger has seen his share of adversity during nearly a decade in NASCAR. Two years ago, he hit the lowest point in his career after a failed drug test led him out of Team Penske and into NASCAR's Road to Recovery program. Chastened, the 32-year-old driver kick-started the second chapter of his career by winning two Nationwide races last year for Roger Penske. Allmendinger is now back in the Cup Series trying to push JTG Daugherty's program and his career to the next level. We caught up with Allmendinger a day after the No. 47 was swept up in an early wreck at Daytona. Just two weeks earlier, he'd led a race-high 34 laps at Sonoma before contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr . derailed his shot at for a first Cup victory and the Chase berth that would've come with it. NI: You're known as a strong road racer but what are your thoughts on plate racing? Allmendinger : Out of all the racing we do, it's my least favorite. There's just so much that goes into it. A lot of it's luck, being in the right place at the right time and missing the "big one." The racing can be exciting at times for sure. As a driver, you definitely have to be at full concentration the whole time you're out there when you're in the pack just because one 2-inch mistake can be a big, big crash. Especially if you're the one making that mistake, you feel bad because you wrecked yourself and you've got a lot of competitors that you feel bad about because they're probably pissed off at you. NI: You had a car that could have won at Sonoma before you were taken out. Does it take long to get over that? Allmendinger : I don't know if you ever fully get over it. To a certain degree, in this sport, you gotta be ready to go the next weekend. You can't let a bad weekend carry over into the next weekend. It's tough because I thought we had a shot to win. We were up front, top two cars every practice session and qualifying, led the most laps, played the strategy to what ours was and we just got into an incident. It is what it is. You can't fix it. NI: If you can get that first win, you're all but in the Chase. No added pressure there? Allmendinger : Honestly, I look at it two different ways. The Chase would be great for the fact that our sponsors and this race team being such a small team, to be able to promote that we won a race and are in the Chase, that would be fantastic. But when it comes to, "Do we have to make the Chase for it to be a successful season?" No. We're not a championship-winning team right now. There's no doubt about it. We're a small team, we're trying to grow to that at some point and it's going to be a long process to get there and a lot of hard work. I think with the right effort we can actually get there. NI: It might sound like a strange question but are you almost glad things played out the way they did back in 2012? Allmendinger : Except for the mere fact of having to put Roger Penske through that. Other than that, I'm way happier now than I have ever been when it comes to a lot of things. I still put a lot of pressure on myself racing, so I still have those ups and downs, but it's a different kind of pressure now. The ownership just makes this team such a family. I want to take this team to a new level. That's the pressure I put on myself, to put this team on my back and take it to another level. I feel like they deserve it down from ownership and the team because they work so hard. NI: How has your perspective changed in the past couple of years? Allmendinger : It's a different perspective now. It's not the only thing in the world, you know? There are other things that are important and in the grand scheme probably a lot more important than racing. But obviously when you make your life and you put your heart and soul into it, it feels like the most important thing. I wouldn't change anything that I've had to go through for anything except for disappointing Roger Penske. Hopefully, last year, winning the Nationwide races and having a shot to win Indy made up for it. NI: It's our tailgate issue, so I have to ask about your abilities on the grill. Can we call you a grilling master? Allmendinger : No (laughs). We can lie to everybody and tell them I can grill anything up. Only problem is hopefully I won't get called out on it. I really enjoy grilling because it is so healthy to be able to do that and I'm real health conscious when it comes to what I eat. The sponsors we have on our team are great when it comes to all that. So it makes it a lot easier because we’re stocked with a lot of great things to eat. I live in an apartment right now so it's hard to grill in the corner without a balcony. My girlfriend is really good at grilling so she's shown me some stuff. Hopefully, in the near future, I can have a house and practice up but right now it'd be a stretch to say grilling master. I'd like to be. Let's put it that way. NI: It's hard to believe you've been in NASCAR for almost a decade now. What's been your personal highlight so far? Allmendinger : The Nationwide wins were something I'll never forget, especially with what led to those. I remember making my first race at Bristol -- it took me four tries to finally make a race -- back in 2007 when there were 50 or 60 cars trying to qualify each weekend. Making our first Daytona 500 in 2009 and almost winning the thing. ( Allmendinger finished third in the No. 44 Richard Petty Motorsports Dodge.) But I think the highlight is still being here really. This sport is tough. It will bring some guys in, especially with the open-wheel side of it, and spit them back out pretty quick. So to have the commitment level and just the do-or-die work ethic trying to stay in when things were bad and things got better and things got bad again, and keep coming back, I feel very fortunate that people believe in me. Whether it's the "King" or the "Captain" or Tad (Geschickter) to give me another shot to jump in this race car and feel like I can get the job done now. More than anything, just being able to still be a part of it through thick and thin is something that's probably the most special. SUBSCRIBE NOW!
JTG owner Daugherty finds humor in Allmendinger's road course pressure
Crew chief got first victory atop pit box at Watkins Glen in 2014 Brian Burns will be back on top of the pit box for AJ Allmendinger 's No. 47 Sprint Cup Series team with JTG Daugherty Racing , the team announced Wednesday. Burns signed a contract this week to remain with the team as the crew chief for Allmendinger . "I'm happy to be back on board as crew chief and I've really enjoyed working with everyone at JTG Daugherty Racing ," Burns said in a team release. "Last season, I was able to get to know AJ both personally and professionally and I feel like the relationship we have formed is great. Chemistry is vitally important to have between the driver, crew chief and team and we have all gotten to know each other more. I feel like great things are in store for us this season." Allmendinger's win last season at Watkins Glen in August punched his ticket into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff. It was also his first Sprint Cup victory, Burns' first victory atop the pit box in the Sprint Cup Series and also JTG Daugherty Racing 's first win. "I am really happy to have Brian back as my crew chief," Allmendinger said in a release. "As the year went on, he kept growing and getting better as a leader and as the crew chief to the No. 47 Chevrolet SS team. He was a huge part in bringing myself and the team its first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory and I can't wait to build on that heading into the 2015 season. I wouldn't want any other guy to work with than Brian to help take our team to the next level." Burns helped guide Allmendinger to a 13th-place finish in the final Sprint Cup Series standings for 2014, which was Allmendinger's best year-end result and also the best year-end result for the one-car JTG Daugherty team. The 2015 Sprint Cup Series season gets underway on Feb. 22 with the Daytona 500 on FOX. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Chase underdog holds 10th place in the standings heading to the Monster RELATED: Follow your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize Before the playoffs, AJ Allmendinger gave his team a chance even when the odds appeared slim. Now the 32-year-old journeyman has one more chance to beat not only the odds, but at least four of his closest competitors to survive the first round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason. "We're digging," Allmendinger said Sunday after a 13th-place run at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . "We're trying to be the little team that could." Allmendinger , in his first-ever Chase, remains a dark horse to advance to the Contender Round after this weekend's AAA 400 (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Dover International Speedway , where the field of title hopefuls will be trimmed from 16 drivers to 12. With a ranking of 10th after the opening two races and a scant 12 points separating eighth place from 16th, Allmendinger said he knows he'll need another solid, error-free finish to make the cut. Allmendinger managed to escape the heavy toll of carnage and misfortune that visited several of his Chase rivals in last weekend's visit to New Hampshire. While he isn't necessarily wishing for more bad luck to his fellow drivers, he said he may need some help to remain firmly among the top 12. "We've got to focus on us," Allmendinger said. "We know what's around us. We know we have a lot of great teams. This is what we've got to do to keep going is make no mistakes. Chicago, we didn't run very good; we maximized 22nd. This weekend, thought we were a little better, weren't great in the race, maximized a 13th. We're going to need mistakes around us. We've just got to go to Dover -- one of my favorite places -- and just focus on us and get everything we can. "Wherever that puts us, it puts us." Allmendinger's JTG Daughtery Racing team will be bringing the same No. 47 Chevrolet that ran at Chicagoland Speedway two weeks ago, hoping that it can withstand the smaller confines and heavy demands of the Monster Mile. Though the driver's penchant for Dover is well-known, the team -- which shares a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing -- will need to make gains from the 21st-place performance it posted there in June to build off last weekend's effort. "Momentum is a big deal for any team. We feel like we needed that going into this weekend," said Brian Burns, Allmendinger's crew chief. "Fortunately for us, Dover is one of AJ's favorite tracks. We had a really good car there last time. A lot of things that we have learned since then will help us unload better. ... Our strategy is quite simple: Qualify good, stay out of trouble, be solid all day long." Allmendinger insists he won't be scoreboard-watching this weekend, though it would be hard to fault him if Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth -- the drivers close ahead of him -- and Ryan Newman , Kasey Kahne , Denny Hamlin , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola -- the Chase drivers behind him -- weren't part of the approach. Either way, Allmendinger is just one race away from achieving his pre-Chase goal of making a postseason surprise a reality. "I got home (Sunday) and all of a sudden it started hitting me that we have a shot to advance," Allmendinger said. "I don't know, the outlook is different, we can make it now. If we did, it would be good publicity for our sponsors, who have supported our team for such a long time." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
AJ Allmendinger holds off Marcos Ambrose to win at Watkins Glen for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.
AJ Allmendinger wins the Johnsonville Sausage 200 presented by Menards at Road America in dominant fashion.
JTG Daugherty team celebrates, but sends thoughts and prayers to family, Stewart RELATED: Complete coverage of Tony Stewart incident WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- The theatrics and fireworks of NASCAR's brand of road-course racing was omnipresent as usual at Watkins Glen International , but so was an underlying solemn tone of remembrance after the events of the night before. While AJ Allmendinger celebrated his first Sprint Cup Series victory in the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen and the sealing of his postseason fate, a strong portion of his thoughts were clearly devoted to Kevin Ward Jr., the 20-year-old victim of a sprint-car incident involving Tony Stewart . "I think it's one of those things that you look back at and it's a tough time for everybody," said Allmendinger . "I said on TV after the race, this NASCAR community, as a whole we're a family, and when anything like that happens, it's something that you don't just kind of erase and you forget about. And all of our thoughts and prayers, and it may not seem like it, or I wish there was more to do, but it goes to the Ward family and what happened. It also goes to Tony because it's not like he's sitting there and forgetting about it. It's a tough scenario. "You just try to come together. That's all you can do. You try to be thankful every day for the things that we have, the things that we're able to share together, and you also know that there's a lot less fortunate out there and there's a lot of disasters, whether it's in racing or not. You just try to keep that in perspective and always have your thoughts and prayers and do whatever you can to help out and be better with it." Ward was declared dead on arrival at a local hospital Saturday night after he was struck while on foot by Stewart's sprint car during a 25-lap main event for the touring Empire Super Sprints series at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park, a half-mile dirt track on the Ontario County Fairgrounds. The county sheriff's office continue to investigate the incident and said Sunday that no criminal charges are pending. Stewart was absent at the track Sunday with NASCAR Nationwide Series regular Regan Smith replacing him in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chevrolet. Several of Stewart's fellow Sprint Cup drivers declined comment on the incident, with some saying details were too sparse to make an informed statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ward family," said third-place finisher Kurt Busch, a first-year teammate to Stewart at the Stewart-Haas operation. "It was a tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with everybody involved. It's a tough situation for the motorsports world. I'm not at liberty really to speak anymore of it." While the mood of Allmendinger's JTG Daugherty team was buoyant after that operation's first win in NASCAR's premier series, the organization's brass was quick to temper their joy in light of the recent events. "Obviously just a catastrophic evening last evening," said team co-owner Brad Daugherty, also an ESPN analyst. "Our sympathies go out to the family that lost the young man. And it's been a difficult day for the Stewart‑Haas organization. We all recognize that and we all feel like we're all family because we travel 36 weeks out of the year it seems like 100 years together. Our hearts go out to Tony, but specifically out to the family. "It's a tremendous loss, and I thought that Stewart‑Haas and Tony and those guys did the right thing by showing the appropriate respect to the situation as well as the family ‑‑ more importantly to the family by not racing today. We'll see what unfolds of that, but our thoughts and prayers go out to that family." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news WATCH: Latest NASCAR video PLAY: NASCAR Fantasy Live FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule