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AJ Allmendinger powers to pole at Watkins Glen
RELATED: See Sunday's full lineup WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- AJ Allmendinger would like nothing better than a good, strong case of déjà vu. "Hopefully, we're reliving last year," Allmendinger said after putting his No. 47 JTG Daugherty Chevrolet on the pole for Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at The Glen (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM). Last year the road-course ace barged into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup by winning at Watkins Glen from the sixth starting position. On Saturday at the 2.45-mile road course, Allmendinger posted the only sub-69-second lap (1:08.993) to win the pole at 127.839 mph, edging Martin Truex Jr . (127.569 mph) for the top starting spot in the 22nd NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season. Tony Stewart (127.481 mph) qualified third, followed by Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick (127.416 mph) and four-time Watkins Glen winner Jeff Gordon (127.181 mph), who is making his final start at the New York road course as a full-time Sprint Cup driver. The Coors Light Pole Award was the fourth of Allmendinger's career, his first at Watkins Glen and his second of the season -- and it marked a dramatic turnaround from a disappointing final practice on Friday afternoon, when Allmendinger was 28th on the speed chart. "I didn't do a good job (on Friday)," Allmendinger said. "They saved me. They gave me a good race car… I don't know if I'll sleep any better tonight, but I'll be ready for tomorrow." As he tries for a repeat performance, Allmendinger will have a familiar chassis under him. "It's the same car we ran last year, the same car we ran at Sonoma," said Allmendinger , who also won the pole for the West Coast road course race in June. "But they put a lot more work into it over the winter to make sure it was lighter, we got the right tools that we needed into the car to make it faster." Clearly, there's pressure on Allmendinger to qualify for the Chase, but most of it is self-generated. "There isn't any more pressure than I put on myself," he said. "These guys (his team) deserve it. I want to lift them on my shoulders and carry them to Victory Lane. Last year was special and it just makes you want to do it more and more. "But the outside, there ain't nothing there (in terms of pressure). It's all inside here that I put the pressure on myself, and I'm going to go try to make it happen. These guys deserve it." Kyle Larson , Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Kyle Busch , Jimmie Johnson and Austin Dillon will start from positions six through 10 on the grid.
Season preview: AJ Allmendinger
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
Allmendinger 'fine' after post-Kentucky X-rays
PHOTOS: Allmendinger's car among many mangled Saturday night AJ Allmendinger's hand is "fine" after undergoing an X-ray, a JTG Daugherty Racing spokesperson confirmed on Monday. Allmendinger was involved in two incidents Saturday night in the Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts, the second a hard hit with the wall that left the Sprint Cup Series driver frustrated and with an injured hand. In post-treatment statements outside the infield care center at Kentucky Speedway, Allmendinger displayed a wrapped hand and wrist and said an X-ray would be forthcoming. NASCAR has cleared Allmendinger to return to competition this weekend. The team was initially scheduled to take part in an organizational test on Tuesday and Wednesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. However, the team will not be at the test and will instead "regroup" and focus on building race cars for upcoming events, according to a team spokesperson. Allmendinger finished 36th in Saturday night's race at Kentucky and is 20th in the Sprint Cup Series driver standings through 18 races.
Allmendinger , Truex lead Friday Sprint Cup practices at The Glen
RELATED: Tune in this weekend on USA, CNBC PRACTICE 2: Results " Fastest laps run JTG Daugherty Racing driver AJ Allmendinger led the second Sprint Cup Series practice Friday at Watkins Glen International wheeling his No. 47 Chevrolet to a high speed of 127.551 mph. Allmendinger's sole Sprint Cup Series career win came at the New York road course in 2014. Martin Truex Jr . finished the second session runner-up to Allmendinger at a speed of 127.481 mph. The Furniture Row Racing driver was fastest in Friday's opening round. It's been a good week for Truex, who signed a new two-year contract with Furniture Row earlier this week. Roush Fenway Racing 's Ricky Stenhouse Jr . (127.416 mph), Joe Gibbs Racing 's Kyle Busch (127.381 mph) and JGR's Matt Kenseth (127.280 mph) completed the top-five fastest on the leaderboard. Sprint Cup Series points leader Kevin Harvick was 11th-fastest in the second run of the day (126.857 mph) in his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. The Sprint Cup Series returns to the track Saturday at 12:15 p.m. ET (CNBC) for Coors Light Pole Qualifying before hitting the track on Sunday for the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen (2:30 p.m. ET, USA, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). PRACTICE 1: Results " Fastest laps run Martin Truex Jr . led the opening Sprint Cup Series practice on Friday at Watkins Glen International with a high speed of 126.883 mph. The Furniture Row Racing driver is seeking his first win at the New York road course. Denny Hamlin finished the first session second to Truex at a speed of 126.343 mph. Casey Mears (125.896 mph), Carl Edwards (125.654 mph) and Kyle Busch (125.643 mph) completed the top-five fastest on the leaderboard. Defending race winner Joey Logano was sixth-fastest in the opening run (125.469 mph). In the final minutes of practice Clint Bowyer 's No. 15 Chevrolet spun after suffering from what the driver says were "brake problems." Bowyer's fastest lap was 123.219 mph, making him 32nd-fastest in the 40-car field. Danica Patrick also spun early due to brake issues.
Edwards edges Allmendinger for pole at Sonoma
RELATED: Full race lineup " See all 40 cars SONOMA, Calif. -- Carl Edwards ran a lightning-fast lap in the first round of Saturday’s knockout qualifying at Sonoma Raceway -- and it worried him. "After that first lap -- I have to be honest -- I sat here and thought, 'Man, I’m really going to screw this up on the second one,' 'cause the first one was really good, but it held on for the pole, and so I’m really excited.” Edwards toured the 1.99-mile road course in 1 minute, 14.392 seconds (96.301 mph) in the first round and was the only driver to crack 96 mph either in Friday’s practice or Saturday’s time trials. But he need not have worried about the second round. In Sunday’s Toyota - Save Mart 350 (3 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), Edwards' No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota will lead the field to the green flag. On the lap that counted, as tires fell off and the track got marginally warmer, Edwards secured his third Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his first at Sonoma and the 19th of his career with a run at 95.777 mph (1:14.799). AJ Allmendinger was a close second at 95.676 mph (1:14.878). The road course ace put his No. 47 JTG/Daugherty Chevrolet on the front row at Sonoma for the third straight year, having started second in 2014 and from the pole last season. "It was a struggle yesterday," Allmendinger said of Friday’s practice. "We just never could really find the direction of the car. All my guys did a great job to get to work, to get this car closer to the front. "When I saw Carl's first lap, I said, 'I don't care what kind of lap I run -- if he runs that again I'm not going to get close.' Then, after I saw it was less than a tenth (of a second), you sort of nit-pick, but it's definitely a big gain from where we were yesterday." Martin Truex Jr . (95.672 mph) qualified third, followed by Kurt Busch (95.654 mph) and Kyle Larson (95.362 mph). Seventh-place qualifier Joey Logano (95.276 mph) had the fastest Ford. "That's better than where we were last year," said Logano, the Sprint Cup Series' most recent winner (Michigan). "We were (19th) last year, so we've improved. I thought I had a shot after the first round but lost some grip the second round and tried harder at the same time, and all of that just didn’t work out. "It's unfortunate that we lost a little bit from the first round to the second round (three positions), but we're still in good shape. I still think we have a top-five car, and we proved that today in qualifying." None of the four Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets advanced to the second round. Dale Earnhardt Jr ., who led Friday's second practice, will start 13th, with Jimmie Johnson 15th, Chase Elliott 16th and Kasey Kahne 19th. Danica Patrick qualified 11th, her best starting spot since last year's Chase race at Texas. Cody Ware failed to make the 40-car field.
Allmendinger not injured, still feeling 'gut-punched'
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- AJ Allmendinger's crash at Kentucky Speedway almost three weeks ago left him with a bandaged left hand and a thumb that required X-rays. Those scans came back negative, and the 34-year-old driver says it hasn't given him trouble since. Still, Allmendinger maintained he's suffering some ill effects -- just not from that. "Nah, I feel like I've just been gut-punched and kicked in the not-such-fun place the last seven weeks," Allmendinger said, "so that's more the lingering effect." Allmendinger's remarks came Tuesday during Day 1 of a two-day organizational test for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams on the fresh pavement at Watkins Glen International, site of the JTG-Daugherty Racing driver's only premier-series victory in 2014. Given his road-racing pedigree, the 2.45-mile road course serves as an ample opportunity when the series returns Aug. 7 for the Cheez-It 355 at the Glen. But worn down by the results of the last two months -- a nine-race stretch with a 23.9 average finish and three DNFs -- Allmendinger says he's placing a greater value on bettering the No. 47 team's overall execution than punching a ticket to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs with a one-race wonder. "Performance everywhere's just got to improve," Allmendinger said. "It's no secret I love this race track, I love road course racing. It's my background, but it's no different mentality than going to Pocono this weekend, going to Bristol after that, going to Michigan. We've just got to be better as a team -- all of us together. "This is a place -- here and Sonoma, just road course racing in general -- where I think a driver can make more of a difference, but you've still got to have the right package." The two-day test afforded Allmendinger some extra prep time on the track's new asphalt. And while Watkins Glen ranks as a track where Allmendinger might control his own fate, minimizing the mistakes and misfortunes that have dogged the No. 47 Chevrolet of late is the priority, according to first-year crew chief Randall Burnett. "It's definitely one of AJ's niches -- here, Sonoma, he runs really well at Martinsville. We're definitely trying to capitalize on that," Burnett said. "That's why we're up here testing, making sure we can put our best foot forward on this deal. We've been working really hard on all of our programs -- our mile-and-a-half stuff's come a really long way this year. We've still got to get better for sure."
Allmendinger on roll, hopes to shed underdog role
RELATED: Full race results " Relive race in photos " Updated standings MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Finishing second doesn't usually touch off celebrations, but there was rightful cause for joy Sunday for AJ Allmendinger at Martinsville Speedway . Recording a hard-fought second-place finish in Sunday's STP 500 meant media obligations for Allmendinger after matching his best-ever oval-track effort in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The obligations were gleefully accepted as the 34-year-old driver hopped on crew chief Randall Burnett's shoulders for a piggyback ride for part of the walk to the media center. "It's big. It's big to keep stepping up the last few weeks," Allmendinger said on pit road after the first short-track event of the season. "We've been getting better, and to have such a great run here; we had such a great weekend. Hopefully, we'll just kind of continue to keep getting bigger and bigger and getting better." Sunday's result behind race winner Kyle Busch equaled the runner-up finish that Allmendinger scored at the .526-mile track in the spring of 2012, when he drove for Team Penske . Now with JTG-Daugherty Racing, Allmendinger posted his most recent showing on the strength of some nifty moves after a pair of late-race restarts and the benefits of changes within the No. 47 Chevrolet organization this offseason. Allmendinger was in the bottom half of the running order's top 10 for much of the 500-lap distance, but capitalized on Martinsville's rock'em-sock'em brand of racing during two restarts in the final 35 laps to launch into the top five. Though the bunched-up starts allowed him to pick off heavyweight contenders Jimmie Johnson , Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth down the stretch, he said his car was capable of making greater performance gains during longer green-flag spans. "With 35 to go, it doesn't matter," Allmendinger said of his all-out charge to the checkered flag. "You've got to do what you have to do. We had such a good long-run car. I was hoping we would stay green the last 120 laps, I thought we might really have a shot at 'em, but Randall Burnett and all the guys, pit crew, I can't thank them enough. They really stepped it up the last two weeks to give us a shot to win that race. "Yeah, I had to get aggressive and I thought, heck, with 12, 11 (laps) to go, we might have a new clock in the shop, but came up a little bit close. It's pretty cool to be racing Kyle Busch for the win here, though." The recent uptick traces a path back to Auto Club Speedway , where the No. 47 bunch registered an eighth-place finish two weeks ago to close out the circuit's West Coast swing. But the modest streak of two top-10 finishes has roots in the personnel swaps the organization made before the season's start. Team owners Tad and Jodi Geschickter brought in Burnett as a first-year crew chief after a long stint as an engineer with Chip Ganassi Racing , but also added experienced crew chief Ernie Cope as the team's director of competition. Brian Burns, the team's crew chief last year, joined Tony Palmer on the JTG-Daugherty engineering staff, roles where Allmendinger says they have thrived. Though Burnett is only six events into his new position calling the shots on race days, Allmendinger said there's already a significant comfort level. "He's great on the box," Allmendinger said. "He calms me, which shockingly I don't know if you guys know that, I probably need that sometimes. It doesn't seem like he's only done this for six races. They've brought a lot, but it's not just about those guys. Brian Burns and Tony Palmer, they stepped back into new roles and instead of feeling like they were downsized or demoted they've stepped up and embraced it. "The whole team here at the race track, at the shop, they've all stepped up. Pit crews the last two weeks have really stepped up, and there's a good vibe around the team. It's fun to be at the race shop. It's fun to be at the race track with the guys. Everybody seems a little bit more energetic." Said Burnett: "We worked hard as a bunch all winter long. AJ obviously gets around here phenomenally. He's definitely the key to that. We worked hard on our car, built a car just for here and put a lot of effort into it. The guys at the shop built a great car and our partners, everybody that's on board with this deal, everybody helps us out and gives us support to do it." Even though the remnants of March Madness with its early round college basketball underdogs still persist, Allmendinger hopes to grow out of comparisons to a Cinderella role. Sunday's result -- plus an alliance with Richard Childress Racing and the benefit of having one of the best-sponsored teams in NASCAR's premier series -- certainly helps the cause, potentially increasing the likelihood of more piggyback rides to the media center. "It's not about being a small team, it's about just getting better as a group," Allmendinger said. "We know the odds we're up against. If you look at all the (sponsorship) stickers on this race car, Tad and Jodi Geschickter, they're giving us the opportunity to go out there and compete at the highest level and it's what it's all about."
Allmendinger's team starts fast, has extra motivation at Rolex 24
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Just before AJ Allmendinger 's first driving stint in Saturday's Rolex 24 at Daytona, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series veteran admitted a win in the Michael Shank Racing Honda would be as popular and sentimental as they come. And it was his No. 60 Honda that was out front six hours into the twice-around-the-clock event at Daytona International Speedway . While Allmendinger awaited his driving time Saturday evening, he spoke about the extra motivation for his team -- honoring former driver Justin Wilson, who was killed competing in an IndyCar race last season. Wilson co-drove with Allmendinger in this race five times, including 2012 when the dark horse Michael Shank team won the 50th running of the Rolex. Allmendinger and Wilson were close friends. "When it comes to the competition side of it, everyone's pumped up," Allmendinger said before climbing into the car. "The series gave Honda a little more motor and they did their homework, it's really fast. What's different is Justin not being here." That was a meaningful and moving theme for Allmendinger , especially this weekend at a place he would normally be spending good times with his dear friend. "We're all pushing hard because we want to win it for Justin and in his memory," Allmendinger said. "I was doing OK until this morning when Mike Shank put up a picture on Twitter. "I knew it would be different, I knew it would be tough. But for me this is the race I always saw (Wilson) at. "No matter if we were racing together ... it was great to see his smiling face. It's difficult now, but it gives us a little more reason to go out there and try to get it." Of the other three NASCAR drivers entered in the Rolex -- Nationwide Series regular Brendan Gaughan and defending Rolex champions Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson -- only McMurray had turned in any time behind the wheel. His Chip Ganassi Ford prototype was fourth overall even following a spin and a collision with a GTLM class Corvette on a restart. "It's so hard on those restarts to predict how hard you can push," McMurray said after climbing out of the Ganassi car. "Our car is better than I expected so we just have to get through the night."
Allmendinger's Darlington look to honor 1975 Rookie of the Year
RELATED: Buy Darlington tickets " '16 throwback schemes " SHOP: 'Dinger gear AJ Allmendinger ’s Darlington throwback paint scheme will honor Kansas native Bruce Hill's 1970s-era No. 47 with a Kroger/Kingsford red, white and blue theme, JTG Daugherty Racing announced today. Allmendinger will drive the car in the Bojangles' Southern 500 on Sept. 4 (6 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Allmendinger and Hill, the 1975 Cup series Rookie of the Year, will meet for the first time on Friday at Kansas Speedway . "It is an honor, quite honestly," Hill said in a release. "Being remembered for something is always an honor, especially as big as the sport has gotten." Hill made starts in NASCAR's premier series in eight seasons with his best coming in his rookie year, 1975. He earned three top fives and 11 top 10s on his way to finishing 16th in driver points. He continued racing in the then-Winston Cup series through 1981. Hill now lives in his hometown of Topeka, Kansas, where he raises show horses on a ranch. "I'm really looking forward to meeting Bruce on Friday," Allmendinger said in the release. "I think what Darlington Raceway does to recognize former NASCAR drivers and the heritage of the sport is unprecedented. It's a great way to celebrate our sport and the people who made it what it is today. It's pretty neat to see all the sponsors and teams really get into it."
Earnhardt Jr. wrecks with Allmendinger , Buescher
Chris Buescher gets loose under the Nos. 47 and 88 wrecking Dale Earnhardt Jr. and AJ Allmendinger .