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.
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!
AJ Allmendinger heads back to Watkins Glen International this weekend for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race as a defending winner. It's a mantle he happily accepts, one that brings back plenty of memories, but one that comes with expectations and a golden opportunity. Allmendinger aims to rely on his road-racing expertise in Sunday's Cheez-it 355 at The Glen (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM) on the 2.45-mile circuit, site of his breakthrough triumph in NASCAR's premier series. A victory would help provide a needed salve for the JTG Daugherty Racing driver, who sits 23rd in Sprint Cup points but could clinch a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs with a regular-season win. RELATED: Allmendinger wins first Cup race "I still believe it every day that we have a great shot to win a race and make the Chase and if I didn't believe it, then I shouldn't be in a race car," Allmendinger said in a release provided by the team. "From there, it's all about being better. Are we a championship-winning team right now? Probably not, but all you have got to do is look at what (2014 series runner-up) Ryan Newman showed last year. All you got to do is get into the Chase and you've got a shot." Allmendinger's likely best chance comes on the twisty turns at Watkins Glen, where his shrewd road course ability makes the No. 47 Chevrolet a pre-race favorite. The proficiency paid off last season, where Allmendinger outran fellow road ace Marcos Ambrose for his first Sprint Cup win. VOTE: Who will at Watkins Glen? But the performance sometimes comes with the double-edged sword of anticipation. It's another element of pre-race preparation that crew chief Brian Burns has tried to manage. "I'm not going to lie, it is a stressful weekend for us because we all have the same expectations," Burns said. "We try not to talk about it and try to block it out so we can stay as calm as we can. We try to keep each other on an even level. We know that if we don't make mistakes and do the simple things right and have the absence of bad luck, we can win." Misfortune derailed JTG Daugherty's hopes in June at Sonoma Raceway, the other road course on the Sprint Cup schedule. Allmendinger claimed the Coors Light Pole Award and ran among the contenders until a fuel-pressure issue forced the No. 47 behind the wall for extensive repairs in the garage. It was the latest setback in a season that thus far has produced just three top-10 finishes in 21 races. "We're doing our best and are trying to get better," Allmendinger said. "To go out there, whether it's battling for 25th or battling for the win, we are trying to get everything we can. This season has definitely not gone the way we've wanted it to go. It started off great and after five races we were top five in points and then we had some motor problems happen and a few incidents where we would be running in the top 10 and have an accident like we did at Bristol and so forth." A rebound could hinge on this weekend's return to Watkins Glen. Allmendinger said he still gets chills watching the race replay, but that he still contemplates what he could have done better over the final laps. Regardless of any internal second-guessing, his stirring 2014 drive cemented Allmendinger's name in the registry of premier-series winners. "Winning a race, no one can take that away from you," Allmendinger said. "You feel like you are king of the world for one day. At that moment, you are the best there is. I just remember on that day it was the best I had ever driven in my life. On that day, I had to man up and say, 'I'm not letting this race get taken away from me.' It's something that no matter whether if I win again or not, it's memories that I will always have."
RELATED: Gordon has brake problems " Hamlin's hood flies up Polesitter, AJ Allmendinger lost power on his No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet and was sitting on pit road during the fourth caution in Sunday's race. A frustrated Allmendinger was heard saying on the radio, "I shut it off trying to save fuel. Last time I ever do that ... When I popped the clutch, nothing." Allmendinger's best chance for making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is at Watkins Glen, as he is the defending race winner and that win punched his ticket into last year's Chase. After his pit crew worked on his car, Allmendinger finally got power back and re-entered the race one lap down. 'Dinger led 21 laps before the power outage.
Pocono incident angers Richard Childress Racing driver Ryan Newman hinted that payback may be coming to AJ Allmendinger after the JTG Daugherty driver sent Newman's No. 31 Chevrolet into the wall on Lap 139 of Sunday's Axalta "We Paint Winners" 400 at Pocono Raceway . "It's pretty obvious what happened," said Newman, who was running seventh at the time but finished 39th. "The No. 47 ( Allmendinger ) just ran out of talent. He has got one coming now." Allmendinger appeared to get loose in Turn 1, and he tapped Newman's left rear bumper to trigger the incident. "The 47 just dove down in there and took your ass out," Newman was told over the radio. "I'm fully aware of the piece of (expletive)," the driver of the No. 31 replied. Allmendinger took the blame for the incident over his scanner. Then, later as the JTG team was assessing the damage, said "I don't even deserve to be in the car right now." Richard Childress Racing , the team for which Newman drives, has a technical alliance with JTG Daugherty as well.
In the painful initial minutes after hearing Monday night's news that his good friend and former teammate Justin Wilson had died of injuries suffered in an IndyCar Series racing accident, NASCAR driver AJ Allmendinger shared his raw and emotional reaction on social media . "Life isn't fair. We lost one of the great ones today.'' Allmendinger said on Twitter. He accompanied his tribute with a wonderfully telling old photo of himself -- at 5-feet, 6-inches -- standing on a racing tire alongside a smiling 6-foot-4 Wilson. It was so appropriate because Wilson, 37, was a person that Allmendinger -- and so many others -- looked up to figuratively, literally, on-track and off. "Justin was such a quiet guy, and the general public probably doesn't know much about him, so I want to let them know he was such an amazing person,'' Allmendinger said. "I want people to know he was a badass race car driver that, I felt, never got the credit he deserved. But the most important thing is as good as he was on the race track, he was so much better off it." "I truly looked up to him,'' Allmendinger added, acknowledging the pun. While the quiet Brit may not be a super familiar personality to many NASCAR fans, there are plenty of stock car connections to Wilson. Sprint Cup drivers Danica Patrick and Allmendinger competed alongside Wilson in Champ Car and later the IndyCar Series, where Wilson was a seven-time winner. RELATED: Drivers mourn the loss of Justin Wilson Cup driver Michael McDowell and former Cup racer Marcos Ambrose teamed with Wilson in Rolex 24 at Daytona sports car races as did former Camping World Truck Series competitor Max Papis , who also raced against Wilson in the open-wheel ranks. Allmendinger shared a seat with Wilson in five Rolex 24 races, and they were teammates as the long-shot small team Michael Shank Racing won the 50th anniversary edition of the Rolex 24. Wilson finished runner-up in Daytona's 24-hour race in 2010 driving for Cup owner Chip Ganassi. Of course, you didn't have to have know Wilson to appreciate the kind of racer and the kind of person he was. That's evident in the racing community with all the supportive social media tributes and well wishes sent by NASCAR drivers past and present many who never even met Wilson. In the hours immediately after Sunday's accident, three-time Cup champ Tony Stewart sent his plane to transport Wilson's younger brother Stefan to be at his brother's side in the hospital. RELATED: Stewart lends support to Wilson's family In many ways, Wilson's racing career -- and the way he went about it -- spoke much more loudly than the reserved Wilson ever needed to. Allmendinger recalls that he and Wilson were rookies together in Champ Car, except that Wilson was four years older than the young Californian at the time and fresh off a season in Formula One. "I was intimidated by him,'' Allmendinger said. "This guy was badass. It messed me up because I was so intimidated by it that all I wanted to do was beat him, because I knew if I beat him I was doing something pretty special." And Allmendinger considers his first major race win (2006 at Portland, Ore.) all the more special because it came after an intense duel with Wilson. "Here he had just finished second place and yet he was the first to come into Victory Lane and hug me,'' Allmendinger said. "It happened to come down to me and him battling for the win. I had just beat him and as I'm getting out of the car, he runs up and hugs me. That's the type of guy he was.'' It's a recurring theme when people speak of Wilson. He was one of those rare and exceptional individuals whom you never heard a harsh word spoken about. He was well respected as a person and a competitor, the latter sometimes under-appreciated. Despite the impressive resume Wilson brought to America, he mostly drove for underfunded, smaller teams. But he succeeded against the odds and always provided the underdog a legitimate shot. His win in 2012 at Texas Motor Speedway came for the small Dale Coyne Racing team. And just a few weeks ago -- in the midst of a part-time ride with Andretti Autosport with little to no testing in the cars -- he finished runner-up to Graham Rahal at Mid-Ohio. It was vintage Wilson. "He was a guy that never got a great opportunity especially late in his career, I always hoped Penske or Ganassi would pick him up,'' Allmendinger reflected Tuesday. "He was one of the best out there. But you know what, he always made the most out of it and never complained about it." I was always struck by what a strong family man he was -- a doting husband, devoted dad to his two girls and a proud big brother to Stefan, a promising young racer in his own right. "Justin was so good and always made me want to be at my best because I respect him so much,'' Allmendinger said. "He always made sure you were happy, you were OK. Always pumped me up. It drove me to be the best I could." And now Allmendinger and so many others in the racing community will honor their friend by doing the same for Wilson's family.
The 33-year-old driver to stay with team through 2020 season SHOP: NASCAR gear " RELATED: Allmendinger inks multiyear deal with Kroger KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver AJ Allmendinger has signed a five-year extension to remain with JTG Daugherty Racing , a move that will keep him in the No. 47 Chevrolet through the 2020 season. Allmendinger , 33, competed in nine Sprint Cup races with the team in 2013 before taking over the driving duties fulltime for the '14 season. A victory at Watkins Glen International was his first in the Sprint Cup Series, the first for the organization and secured a berth in last year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . While he and the team failed to advance to past the opening Challenger Round of the Chase, his 13th-place points finish was a career best. The team is co-owned by husband and wife Tad and Jodi Geschickter as well as former NBA star Brad Daugherty. It was recently announced that The Kroger Company had increased its funding for the single-car team, serving as primary sponsor for 17 races this season and 24 in '16. "It goes along with this Kroger deal and a lot of the companies we have," Allmendinger said of his contract extension during a press conference prior to Saturday night's SpongeBob SquarePants 400 at Kansas Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, MRN, Sirius XM). "… The great thing is we've got a lot of sponsors; the tough thing is trying to remember them all. My suit weighs like 12 pounds now. It's a good problem to have. "With that said, those sponsors are here long-term; Tad and I did a new deal through 2020 which to me was just a no-brainer. Tad and Jodi have been such a big influence on my life outside the race car. Inside the race car it's great to have a job and be here for a long time but what they mean to me outside the car is family, people I consider some of my best friends. Kind of a renewed love of the sport they've given me, just a different outlook. … Tad handed me the contract and I flipped to the back page and signed it and said 'here you go.'" Allmendinger has 237 career starts in the Sprint Cup Series. He is also a two-time winner in the XFINITY Series. "Anybody that knows me they see my passion that I have, I always try to go out there and try to be better," he said. "It pushes me and my life every day. This race team, I really take everything to heart because I know how hard (they) work, what they give us and the effort they put into this race team. And I think sponsors see that too." Allmendinger enters tonight's race at Kansas Speedway 19th in points. He has two top-10 finishes in 10 starts this season. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
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
AJ Allmendinger holds off Marcos Ambrose to win at Watkins Glen for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.