SONOMA, Calif. (AP) — AJ Allmendinger was at Road America this time last year, driving for Team Penske and trying to rebuild his career and earn a spot back in the Sprint Cup Series.
He delivered with an emotional victory in the Nationwide Series race, a win that helped re-establish Allmendinger following his 2012 suspension for failing a random NASCAR drug test. He won again at Mid-Ohio two months later, and landed a ride back in the Cup Series with JTG Daugherty Racing by the end of the season.
Now back at Sonoma Raceway with the big boys, Allmendinger thinks he’s got a shot on Sunday. JTG and Allmendinger tested for two days at the 1.99-mile road course to prepare for this race.
“I’d be lying to say I didn’t come in here with the mindset that we have a shot to win this thing,” Allmendinger said. “We tested here for two days, which was big because what we started with here at the test, we would have been way off if we would have come back and hadn’t tested.
“But I don’t want to walk into this weekend saying, `If we don’t get this race, then it’s a disappointment.'”
Allmendinger said he’ll settle for a top-10 finish and chalk it up as a good weekend. But, “if we can be inside the top five and have a shot to win it, then it’s a great weekend.”
Although Allmendinger has struggled the last month – he’s not finished higher than 21st in the last five races and has fallen from 15th to 21st in the standings – he likes the direction at JTG. The team was 28th in the standings this time last year, so Allmendinger’s performance has been an improvement.
“We’re going to have those weeks,” he said. “We’re a one-car team that is slowly building. We have the potential of being good. Are we there yet? No. On our best weekends like this, can we go win a race? I think we can.”