Allmendinger: "You can’t really let your guard down" at Martinsville

AJ Allmendinger will enjoy a long-awaited reunion this weekend at Martinsville Speedway— with his crew chief Randall Burnett.

Allmendinger: "You can’t really let your guard down" at Martinsville
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

Burnett has been on vacation since the No. 47 JTG Daugherty race team failed to secure lug nuts on one of the wheels during the final pit stop at Atlanta Motor Speedway three races ago. 

Although competition director Ernie Cope has performed admirably as a substitute, Allmendinger is currently 30th in the Monster Energy Cup standings and could benefit from a familiar voice on the radio. 

“Randall being out was a difficult challenge, but Ernie Cope did a fantastic job,” Allmendinger said Friday morning at Martinsville. “Obviously, Ernie has got the experience level to know how to do it. I felt like over those three races our practices went really well. The stuff that we learned was good throughout those three races.  So, having Randall back is definitely going to help, but I didn’t feel like we were hindered a lot, like that was the reason that we struggled was the fact that just Randall wasn’t there. 

“We are just struggling because we haven’t figured out the aero package yet. It’s going to be nice to have him back and for sure allow him to get back to the race track. You could kind of see back at the shop he was kind of chomping at the bit. This is a place that he loves. We have had good success here. This race track, just to him personally, means a lot, so I think this is a good race track for him to come back at.”

Approaching Martinsville like a road course

When it comes to statistics, one would expect AJ Allmendinger best results would be a Watkins Glen, the site of his only Monster Energy Cup win. But when it comes to oval tracks, Dinger’s record of two top fives and five top-10 finishes at Martinsville Speedway ranks a close second. 

Although Allmendinger didn’t immediately take to the track, he’s picked up certain techniques that have enabled him to excel. 

“It’s somewhat like a road course in the sense of the way you brake and some of the stuff you can do with the throttle and things like that,” Allmendinger said. “A driver can make a bit of a difference here, so more than anything just trying to learn the techniques. You still have to have a great race car. The last couple of years we’ve had a good set-up and been able to use it to have some pretty good runs.  

“It’s just a tough race. It’s one of those races that you can’t really let your guard down mentally for 500 laps. Anything can happen, usually get a late-race restart, so a race track that has been tough, but over the last couple of years has been really good for us and hopefully can have another good run because we definitely need it.”

Looking for a win

In 17 starts at the half-mile paperclip, Allmendinger’s most consistent runs have come under Burnett. Since he joined the team as crew chief last year, Allmendinger tied his career-high finish of second in the spring at Martinsville and finished 10th during the Playoffs. His average qualifying effort at Martinsville in 2016 was career-best fifth.

“It’s just a fun race track,” Allmendinger said. “It’s unique. It’s not like any track that we don’t go to, so anytime you can go to a race track like that for me is a lot of fun. It’s a challenge.The fan base here is awesome. We get a big crowd here all the time they are passionate about NASCAR racing when we come here. It shows how much they appreciate us being here and hopefully we show how much we appreciate the fans for showing up just for the great racing that we try to put on. It’s just a unique place.  

“I love telling people, friends of mine that have never been to a race or who have only been to a couple and I’m like you have to come here because you don’t really get the just of it on TV until you walk in and see how tiny this is, but how you pack 40 race cars on it, how you pack so many people into it and just the history of it.  I didn’t know much about this place when I first started in NASCAR racing and once I learned how to get around it, quickly appreciated it for what this sport has meant to this race track and more importantly what this race track has meant to the sport.”

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