Road course ace Allmendinger one to watch at Sonoma

Allmendinger hopes to bring the heat home to Sonoma

Road course ace Allmendinger one to watch at Sonoma
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
Race winner A.J. Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
A.J. Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
Polesitter 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
Race winner 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

What’s it going to take for AJ Allmendinger to win at Sonoma Raceway?

No doubt the driver of the No. 47 JTG/Daugherty Chevrolet will be asking himself the same question while attempting to enjoy a little R&R at Pebble Beach Golf Links prior to this weekend’s Toyota/SaveMart 350.

Although Allmendinger, 34, is one of the most accomplished racers on road courses in the Sprint Cup Series, his past performances on the 1.99-mile circuit have been lackluster at best.

Home turf

But on Sunday, Allmendinger, who grew up about 90 miles south in Los Gatos, Calif., is looking to change his luck at his home track.

“You try and go out there and I try and have the mindset that it’s just another weekend, but we know it’s not,” Allmendinger said. “There are a lot of great things. It’s my home race. It’s a race that I grew up going to and I always enjoy. I think it’s one of the best racetracks that we have in the US when it comes to road course racing.

“It’s a home race for our sponsors Kingsford and Clorox. We have a lot of people that show up from the corporation that is based in Oakland (California) only an hour or so down the road. We are going to have Ralph’s on the car, which is a Kroger company, but it’s a home company, a store that I went to a lot growing up. There is a lot of stuff that comes down to why it would be special to win.”

Other than getting the monkey off of his back, a victory at Sonoma Raceway — or any of the next 11 races — would secure a spot for Allmendinger and the JTG/Daugherty Racing team into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. In the seven seasons Allmendinger has been eligible for the playoffs, his sole appearance Chase appearance came after winning his first Cup race at Watkins Glen in 2014.

“In the end, it would be special because it gets you into the Chase,” Allmendinger said. “You go out there and it makes the rest of the season just a little bit easier to prepare for the Chase. Everybody has got that home race that stand outs. We know the biggest races in our sport, the Daytona 500, Brickyard, Darlington, but for me, Sonoma is on top of the list, because that is a race that I have loved. I have family and friends and it would be a special moment to go out there and be able to share that and spend that in Victory Lane.

“You can’t get ahead of yourself. It’s such a tough and difficult race. Although we have been fast there, if you look at my stats they are not very good just because there is a lot of bad luck. There are a lot of ups and downs during the race whether it comes with cautions or the way the tires are used there, the strategy. It’s a long ways to get there, but I know when we show up we are going to have a good car and we are going to have a good shot to win it.”

Feast or famine

Allmendinger has endured his share of misfortune at Sonoma. In his last two attempts, Allmendinger has started on the front row but finished 37th in each race. Despite winning the pole last year, he failed to lead the first lap and held the point for only one circuit.

Since joining JTGD at the end of 2013, his qualifying effort has picked up at Sonoma. However, lack of a quality game plan and poor execution have undermined his performances in the races themselves.

Allmendinger believes that saving the rear tires on his Chevy could be the key to success.

“If you can get a car that is easier on the rear tires than the next guy, then it’s going to be a good weekend no matter what you do,” he said. “No matter what, it’s hard on the rear tires. You’ve just got to get a car that turns good enough, but really puts the power down and doesn’t abuse the rear tires. That’s the thing to focus on in practice. You can do a long run during practice, but you don’t really know until that first run on Sunday. That’s always been the key for me.”

Change of pace

After last season, team owner Tad Geschickter added his former crew chief Ernie Cope to oversee the team as director of competition and Randall Burnett as crew chief. In the first 15 races of the season, Allmendinger has posted one more top-five and matched his top 10 finishes (three) from all of 2015.

Cope, a Tacoma native, can’t wait to return to the West Coast with his new driver. The former driver, who finished eighth in the 1995 NASCAR K&N Pro Series Tour race at Sonoma, told motorsport.com that Allmendinger will pilot the same chassis that carried him to the pole for both road courses in 2015.

“Road courses are probably are best chance to win — and we probably have the best road course racer out there,” Cope said. “There’s nothing special we’ll do for Sonoma that we don’t do for any of the other races. We prepare for every race as good as we can. There’s really no extra preparation, they’re all the same. We prepare like every week is Sonoma or Watkins Glen.

“It is our best chance, but we put our best effort in every week.”

Allmendinger is pleased with the changes to his team. Although he’s currently 19th in the standings, the team keeps moving in and out of the Chase Zone. Allmendinger’s average finish of 18th is his best since 2011.

“Still a lot of weeks ahead of us, but just the way the team is progressing we’ve got pretty good speed in the car kind of everywhere we go,” Allmendinger said. “The places like Charlotte, Pocono and Michigan are tracks that the last couple of years we have really struggled at and I feel like although we are not quite where we want to be, we have definitely improved.

“Everything kind of looking ahead we are heading the right direction, it’s just right where we are at in points right now you have a bad week and it’s a big hit. You have a good week and you are back inside the Chase. It’s the way it’s going to be. Just try and go out every weekend and put our best foot forward and try to minimize our mistakes and get everything that we can, maximize the finishes no matter whether we have a great race car or not a good race car and just try to get everything we can out of it.”

Allmendinger acknowledged winning at Sonoma will be a challenge, and he'll be thinking about it even when he's testing his golf game at one of the world's most scenic layouts.

“There won’t be a moment that I’m on the golf course that it’s at least not on the back of my mind,” Allmendinger said. “The struggle is not to make it on the front of my mind. That is what I have to be better about is doing the right things whether it’s Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday leading up going into Sonoma making sure I’m still taking care of myself and focused on the prize, which is going there and being the best that I can be when I get to the racetrack. That is the biggest thing.

“It will be there on my mind. It’s just how good am I about not making it on the front of my mind until I pull into Sonoma on Friday. I guess we will wait and see about that. We will see what the golf scores are.”

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