Allmendinger focused on going for Sonoma win and turning season around

AJ Allmendinger is a fan of NASCAR’s playoff format.

Allmendinger focused on going for Sonoma win and turning season around
A.J. Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
A.J. Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
A.J. Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
A.J. Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
A.J. Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
A.J. Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
A.J. Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
A.J. Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
A.J. Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
A.J. Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet

He knows that a win could turn his whole season around. But the way his luck is going, that’s asking a lot of the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing team — even entering his home track, Sonoma Raceway.

Still, Allmendinger remains optimistic.

“We go Sonoma … and everything is back on task and we have a chance of making the playoffs,” Allmendinger said.

Although Los Gatos, California native is considered one of NASCAR’s top road racing specialist, he’s never scored a top-five finish at Sonoma in the Monster Energy Cup Series. Sure, he’s earned a pole (2015), has two top-10 finishes and led 56 laps, but he’s never closed the deal.

“I’ve won one race in 300 and something races,” said Allmendinger, who will make his 315th career start on Sunday. “If we go out there and lose next week, it’s just another loss. It’s not like I’m 300 and 0. It’s just the opposite. All you can do is go out and do your best. That’s all I can do. That’s all the team can do.

“I know on the outside world that people think, ‘This (Sonoma) is your best chance.’ Well, maybe it is. Maybe it’s not. Maybe Martinsville (where he’s finished second twice and scored top-10 finishes in his last three starts) is our best chance. I don’t know.

“You just have to do your best every weekend and if that gives you a chance to win a race and got to Victory Lane great. If you finish 20th, that’s all you had that day. I hope my guys know that whether I’m at Sonoma, Watkins Glen or here at Michigan, I’m going to give them everything I have.”

A rough 2017 season

Allmendinger, who is 26th in the standings, has endured his share of challenges is 2017. Last weekend at Michigan was no exception. With minutes remaining in Happy Hour, Allmendinger destroyed his car after hitting the wall. The team was forced to race the backup car sans practice time. They were forced to start from the rear of the field and dial the car in over the course of the race. Allmendinger gutted out his fourth top-20 finish in the last nine races. 

Allmendinger has also endured dramatic change this season. Chris Buescher became his teammate with JTG Daugherty expanding to a second car. At Atlanta, the second race of the season, the team received a 35-point penalty and crew chief Randall Burnett was suspended for three races when the pit crew failed to secure five lug nuts tightly on his car. Burnett, who was in his second year with the team, was replaced by competition director Ernie Cope at Charlotte in May.

Compounding the problem is Allmendinger’s difficulty acclimating to the new lower downforce package. At Michigan, the felt his engine lacked the necessary speed to be competitive. On Friday, he qualified 25th — one position behind Buescher. Allmendinger feels the inability to test has hampered the organization’s progress.

“This year has been a challenge, for sure,” Allmendinger said. “We don’t get to wind tunnel the car much. A lot of our testing is, unfortunately, at the race track trying to learn all this stuff together. I look at the chemistry on our race team, it’s really good. In times of struggle, that’s when you really see what you’re made of as a race team. Do you start falling apart at the seams and everyone starts fighting with each other? Or do you stick together and work harder and make things better?

“We’re slowly getting there. We’re by no means anywhere close to where we want to be but over the last few weeks working together, we’re slowly learning. We’re developing this package. Our alliance with RCR, they’re struggling as well. They have two wins, but as a whole, if you look at their race team and the speed each weekend, we’re all struggling together.”

Another road course added to the schedule 

The addition of a third road course on the Monster Energy Cup Series schedule should have been good news for Allmendinger. The driver of the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Chevrolet enjoys road courses. His first win in Cup came at Watkins Glen in 2014. He’s run the roval at Daytona International Speedway — and tested the proposed road course and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

But 2017 has been such a downer for the affable racer that even an additional road course on next year’s schedule couldn’t provide Allmendinger a warm and fuzzy feeling. Sure, Dinger thinks racing the new roval will be entertaining but there are bigger concerns in his immediate future — mainly getting his team back on the right track.

“Honestly, I didn’t really pay much attention to it,” said Allmendinger, who was the first driver to test the proposed course. I think it’s fun because it’s something new. It could put on the best race in the world. It could be a race that’s not that great. But I think it’s going to be interesting driving that race track at Charlotte. I like the uniqueness — as a driver — what you’re going to have to fight because the infield is fairly tight.

“There’s a lot of first gear, maybe set on the verge of second-gear corners. You're going to get frustrated in the infield stuck behind somebody and you’re going to say, ‘I don’t care. I’m just going to run through him and get him out of the way because all of those hairpins in there makes for a ton of potential to just move somebody out of the way. But I was still running 190 (mph) getting into Turn 3 on the banking, so the same deal. So, you’re pissed off at somebody and say, ‘OK, I’m done with you.’ That pissed-off-ness is really going to turn into frustration by the time you get into Turn 3.”

The Charlotte roval won’t come into play until October 2018. Although Allmendinger is impressed with Speedway Motorsports’ commitment to transforming the track and making it as fan friendly as possible, for now, he remains focussed on Sonoma.

“I’ll worry about that at that time next year,” Allmendinger said. “It’s great that it’s in the playoffs. But you have to get in the playoffs first to worry about that — and that’s a long ways away. I think it will be fun to go there and try something different.

“I joked with al the heads of NASCAR when they asked if there’d be any passing for the win. I asked, ‘How many laps did Martin Truex Jr. lead in the Coke 600? 392 last year?’ There will probably be more passing than that. It will be interesting for sure. I think the fans are in for a new treat.”

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