WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) — AJ Allmendinger is in a good place with the renewal of a key sponsor. He has a chance to be in a very good place Sunday.
A road racer at heart, Allmendinger is in his element at Watkins Glen International, where the Sprint Cup Series stops this week. He qualified second at Sonoma in June at NASCAR’s other road race and led a race-high 35 laps before pit strategy and a late wreck cost him a shot at the win.
Now comes perhaps his best chance at that elusive victory, which would place him in the 16-driver field for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
“I have went into this weekend, this whole week, and waking up this morning thinking about the possibility of winning, but you can’t get locked into it,” Allmendinger, who tested at The Glen two weeks ago trying to find any sort of edge, said Friday. “You have to go through the whole process. When I went to Sonoma, I woke up Sunday morning thinking we really had a shot at this thing if everything works out right. There is a lot that has to work out right, though. I will take it as it comes. I don’t want to define our race weekend.”
It’s been just about a year since Allmendinger regained a full-time ride in the Sprint Cup series. JTG Daugherty Racing announced last August that the former open-wheel star would take over the No. 47 car from Bobby Labonte, capping a comeback from a positive drug test the previous year that resulted in a NASCAR suspension and the loss of his job with Roger Penske’s Sprint Cup team.
Allmendinger is 25th in points with just one top-5 and three top-10 finishes to go with two DNFs. A victory in Sunday at The Glen would place him in the Chase field with only five races to go before the 10-race playoff begins. And he has the stats to challenge: he was fourth at Watkins Glen in 2010 and eighth in 2011, with no finish worse than 13th in five career starts.
Still, Allmendinger would rather think about the big picture, especially after his team announced Friday that Kimberly-Clark had extended its sponsorship of his car through the 2017 Sprint Cup season.
“I don’t know if we have had our defining moment yet this year,” Allmendinger said. “We have had some good runs. Sonoma I felt like we did everything right to have a chance to win the race and it just wasn’t meant to be. I was thrilled with the way the team went into that weekend and everybody had their head down and we did the job.
“Looking forward I just think going through the rest of the year and getting to Homestead and finishing the race there and say, you know what – we are at our best right now. We are way better than what we started, and we are way better than what the middle of the season was. That to me is success.”