AJ Allmendinger gets loose and hits the wall causing a late race caution in the Chase for the Sprint Cup finale.
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!
Panel of experts debates the hot topics in NASCAR 1. Now that the season has been completed, what do you think? What stands out about 2014? Alan Cavanna: The Chase and everything surrounding the Chase. It worked out better than expected and I think it's sent the sport in a good direction. Kenny Bruce: It's definitely a long list, some good and some not-so-good. Dale Earnhardt Jr . winning the Daytona 500 , Aric Almirola and AJ Allmendinger winning for the first time and making the Chase, the excitement of the new format and the intensity that it generated. You had must-win situations for Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick , and they came through. The whole situation surrounding Tony Stewart late in the season will be memorable for all the wrong reasons, unfortunately. But it's become a part of what the '14 season was all about. Zack Albert: So many storylines to choose from and not just with the new-look Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Five guys -- and there for a while, a sixth -- rose to fantastic heights: Kevin Harvick , Brad Keselowski , Joey Logano , Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr . all either enjoyed resurgences or breakout years. The sixth slight nod goes to Jimmie Johnson , who was hot as a firecracker heading into the summer, but wasn't quite up to his usual Chase standards. Cavanna: As a storyteller, I loved the emergence of Brad K. as the "black hat" to some. The only way to really earn that is through great performances. Fans love having someone to hate, and Brad gave them plenty of wins to hate on. Bruce: The more you think about it, the more things slide back into focus, Zack. The Johnson hot streak you mentioned, the post-race altercations at Charlotte and Texas that Alan alluded to. And we haven't even touched Nationwide or Trucks, which had incredible moments as well. A rookie wins the NNS title? The first back-to-back champ in the Truck Series? Albert: I distinctly remember sitting in the Atlanta Motor Speedway media center watching Ryan Blaney and German Quiroga duke it out on the final lap of the trucks' visit to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park . The whole room stopped what they were doing to watch. Between that and the whole aura of Eldora for the second straight year, many great Truck Series memories. Cavanna: I really believe people will be talking about this first Chase, and first championship race, for a long, long time. To have three contenders with three laps to go still racing for a title was unreal. Bruce: Safe to say the season gave us plenty to talk about. But you're probably correct Alan. When it was all over, the new format and the final race seemed to stand above the rest. Albert: Very true. It all played out with a great finish and all four drivers putting in a championship-worthy performance. And whether you love the new Chase or are one of its critics, the bottom line is: Was the racing good? At Homestead and many other tracks week-in and week-out, the answer was yes. Bruce: Now the question is how do they top that, Zack? Albert: Always room for an encore, methinks. 2. Kevin Harvick semi-joked that the Chase format could shorten his career because of the intensity it generated. OK, maybe or maybe not. But will the format adversely impact opportunities for a team to win multiple titles? Will we see more guys in the hunt or domination by those who figure out the best approach? Expect Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus to be better in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup next year, now that they have one year of experience under the format. Cavanna: It's so hard to say because we're dealing with such a small sample size. We all made predictions before knowing how this Chase would work, and we were generally all wrong. Bruce: Generally? How about specifically, Alan? I think I had four different winners in four different Chase brackets and "might" have picked Harvick in one of them. Cavanna: In the end, the most dominant car won. But we also saw how it all came down to one race, and really the final pit stop. That could easily swing a championship, and prevent repeat titles. Albert: The degree of difficulty certainly went up in 2014. But you also have to have the common denominator of performance, year over year, to form a dynasty. Does Harvick have a repeat in him? Absolutely, but some of the new format's nuances can make it tough sledding. It will be interesting to see how teams learn from this first go-round and what the strategies will be for the next Chase episode. Bruce: Listening to post-race comments, Zack, I think you're right. We didn't know what to expect and neither did the teams. I imagine they're already determining what they could have or should have done differently for next year. Albert: Let's hope they can enjoy a little bit of offseason down time before they start number crunching on Chase scenarios. Cavanna: With one Chase to study, I can easily see the No. 48 team planning its strategy for next year. I think teams will take a different approach to ensuring their spot in the final four. Bruce: As far as whether the format favors someone dominating in terms of winning titles, I doubt it. With the elimination races in place, we saw what can happen to even those that were perceived to be the "best" teams. Still, anyone not figuring on Harvick being an early-season favorite should turn in his or her hard card. Cavanna: Once teams "figure it out," I think we could see some teams get good at it. Bruce: Given the format, do we see more "Mark Martin" scenarios? Great drivers who never win a title? Cavanna: That's very possible, Kenny. I feel like every year we'll have a driver who has a Logano-like year, but then just miss it in Homestead. Albert: Not to mention making room for an underdog, a la Newman, in the Championship 4. Bruce: I guess it's a glass half-full or half-empty scenario. Maybe more guys having great seasons that don't win a title, or perhaps the opportunity for more drivers to win it. Albert: Alan's still waiting on his opportunity in a third Penske car. Talk about your Chase bracket buster … Cavanna: My pit crew is stellar! Put me in the race, Captain! 3. OK, we know how 2014 shook out. What’s the outlook for 2015? And by the way, the Daytona 500 is less than 100 days away. Our experts think Kyle Larson makes the postseason next year -- and he may even be a title contender. Albert: Wow. Let me dust off my dart set and start throwing. Bruce: Daytona's rising. That much we know. As for anything else? Lawn Darts, Zack. Go big or go home. Cavanna: The emergence of Kyle Larson will be fun to watch. As long as his team continues to improve, I think he's a lock for the Chase, and a deep run. Albert: A very safe bet that he'll visit Victory Lane on the Sprint Cup side in 2015, probably more than once. Bruce: At least he still has his crew chief, which is more than his teammate can say. Cavanna: I also think some drivers will look at Larson's 2014 season and be even more motivated to get that win. Remember, if Larson had just one regular-season win, it could've been him taking a title in Homestead. No driver will want to be saying "what if" after having a great Chase but not being in it. Bruce: Actually, I think the crew chief movement will play a bigger role in '15. A lot of guys on the box seem to be on the move -- McMurray and Earnhardt Jr. will have new guys in place, we're still waiting to see what unfolds over at Joe Gibbs Racing. Kahne and Kenny Francis are no longer together. Maybe the season-opening question should be, can change top the tried-and-true? Cavanna: Kenseth switched teams and won seven races (in '13); Harvick switched and won a championship. What's next for Carl Edwards ? Albert: Plenty of movement, even though this silly season seems to be sprinkled with less hilarity. I'll be very interested to see if Team Penske can keep it up after a banner season, and how Hendrick Motorsports regroups after going 0-for-4 on title-eligible drivers at Homestead last weekend. Will also be watching to see if Chase Elliott takes those first steps into Sprint Cup, as hinted. Cavanna: We haven't even mentioned the 2015 rules package. The no-ride height made for a big change this season. Next year will be another adjustment, hopefully for the better. Bruce: If that's the case, Alan, then we should probably play close attention to next month's anticipated test at Charlotte. I seem to recall one team being ahead of everyone at that point a year ago ... and look where they ended up. Albert: Who knew that simulated races in December would mean so much? Cavanna: I'm filling out my Chase bracket based on next month's test. 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AJ Allmendinger holds off Marcos Ambrose to win at Watkins Glen for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.
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
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
Primary sponsor to continue as key partner for team Team Penske has reached a multiyear extension with Discount Tire, which will remain a primary sponsor for the team in the NASCAR XFINITY Series and serve as an associate sponsor for both the Nos. 2 and 22 Ford Fusions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series . The terms of the deal were not disclosed. "We are happy to be extending our relationship with Team Penske into 2015 and beyond," said Michael Zuieback, president of Discount Tire. "They've been a loyal ambassador of the Discount Tire brand since we began our relationship with them in 2010." In 2014, Team Penske earned its second consecutive Nationwide Series Owners' Championship with Discount Tire on board. In 2013, the No. 22 team compiled 12 Nationwide Series wins with four different drivers: Brad Keselowski , Joey Logano , Ryan Blaney and AJ Allmendinger . In 2010, it won the Nationwide Series championship with Keselowski. "The on-track success that we have shared with Discount Tire has been remarkable over the last few years," team owner Roger Penske said. "Discount Tire has been an important part of our championship runs as a key sponsor of the No. 22 team in 2014 as well as our other title-winning seasons in 2010 and 2013." The 2015 NASCAR XFINITY Series season will begin on Saturday, Feb. 21 at Daytona International Speedway . MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Allmendinger plans to lay low for a Chase shock factor