Bruce: Never count 'Smoke' out, but he needs a win RELATED: Chase-clinching scenarios for Pocono It's been three years since Tony Stewart qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . And it's beginning to look as if the three-time series champion might miss this year's field of 16 as well. Stewart, 44, is 26th in points heading into this weekend's Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway. With only six races remaining before the field is set, it's unlikely that the co-owner/driver at Stewart-Haas Racing will qualify for one of the 16 positions based on points. To earn a chance to compete for this year's championship, Stewart needs nothing less than a victory in the coming weeks. Defending series champion Kevin Harvick , six-time champion Jimmie Johnson , '04 champ Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr . have officially clinched Chase berths. Joey Logano , Martin Truex Jr ., Brad Keselowski , Matt Kenseth , Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards are 2015 race winners and are currently 16th or higher in the points standings. Kyle Busch , riding a white-hot streak that has seen the Joe Gibbs Racing driver win three consecutive Sprint Cup events, and four of the last five, is on the doorstep of the top 30 in points (another Chase eligibility requirement). Non-winners, but those somewhat safely inside the top 16 in points include Jamie McMurray and Jeff Gordon . On less stable ground are Ryan Newman , Paul Menard and Kasey Kahne , currently 12th through 14th, respectively, in points. Unless he can advance his points position, Clint Bowyer , who sits 15th, would fall outside the Chase as soon as Kyle Busch cracks the top 30. Stewart is trying to climb into contention. Those on the periphery are likewise trying to advance -- or hold on -- to what they've earned thus far. A win in the coming weeks by anyone else, AJ Allmendinger (23rd) at Watkins Glen for example, would trump the points position of a non-winner inside the top 16. It's unlikely that someone such as Kahne, Menard or Bowyer is resting too comfortably these days. Kahne has made three consecutive appearances in the Chase, but isn't taking anything for granted; Menard's still chasing that first playoff opportunity; Bowyer, meanwhile, is attempting to return after missing the field a year ago. Aric Almirola (17th) and Greg Biffle (18th) made last year's Chase. Austin Dillon (19th) and Kyle Larson (20th) are still looking for that first career win and first Chase appearance. Would it be unwise to look past any of those drivers given the uncertain nature of racing? Rules package changes and a variety of tracks -- large, small and a road course to boot -- only serve to muddy the racing waters. Stewart's Chase absence has been well documented. A broken leg in 2013 sidelined the No. 14 driver for the season's final 15 races. A year ago, he missed three races prior to the start of the Chase, and while he was given a NASCAR exemption, Stewart failed to produce the necessary win or points position to qualify. Perhaps it would be just as unwise to look past Stewart, given what he has been able to accomplish in previous years. But the road ahead won't be an easy one for him or any of those looking to go from Chase hopeful to Chase qualifier. The calendar is starting to take an ugly turn. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
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!
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
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.
AJ Allmendinger talks about growing up watching Jeff Gordon and what NASCAR will be like without him.
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
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
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