|Allmendinger lifts his inside wheel through the esses|
With a bittersweet victory on a day mired by tragedy, A.J. Allmendinger finally found redemption and a chance to take a shot at the Sprint Cup title.
Allmendinger bested Marcos Ambrose in a door to door battle over the final laps around the twisting 2.5-mile road-course of Watkins Glen International to win his first-career NASCAR Sprint Cup event in Sunday’s Cheez-It 335, finally putting his past behind him and focusing on the future with a secure spot in the field for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Allmendinger, who started sixth in the no. 47 Chevrolet, led all of the final 30 laps – sometimes by just inches over Ambrose – including a last four-lap shootout following the second red flag of the day.
Kurt Busch finished third, followed by rookie Kyle Larson and Carl Edwards
The win was the first for Allmendinger in 213-career Sprint Cup starts, and comes just days after signing a contract extension with his sponsor and with JTG Daugherty Racing.
“I can’t believe we won a NASCAR Sprint Cup race," said Allmendinger. “With this whole No. 47 team – Tad Geschickter (co-owner) and Brad Daugherty and all the great sponsors we have; our first Cup victory together, my first Cup victory, I love these guys. I just wanted it so bad for them and this team. They deserve it. I don't have to hear any more ‘AJ might be that next first time winner’. I'm tired of that, so I don't have to hear about it anymore.
“I've dreamed about this moment, and I'm not going to forget it."
Allmendinger’s victory was a bittersweet end to a somber day that started off with news of the death of a 20-year-old sprint car driver Kevin Ward, Jr., who died after being hit by a car being driven by three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart during a sprint car race Saturday night at nearly Canandaigua Speedway
“We’re racing with heavy hearts today," said Allmendinger. “All of our condolences here in NASCAR and this whole NASCAR family to the Ward family. I can’t even imagine what they are going through. We’re a community here and we’re all thinking about you.
"And it also goes to Tony. It's not like he's sitting there and forgetting about it.
Although NASCAR allowed Stewart to participate in Sunday’s race, Stewart himself decided to withdraw, putting turning over driving duties to NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Regan Smith, who finished 37th in the no. 14 Chevrolet.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends, and fellow competitors of Kevin Ward Jr. We support Tony Stewart’s decision to miss today’s race and we will continue to respect the process and timeline of the local authorities and will continue to monitor this situation moving forward."
Allmendinger’s victory comes just two years after he was suspended by NASCAR for violating the sanctioning body’s substance abuse policy, which ultimately cost him his ride at Penske Racing and threatened to end his career.
After three months under suspension, Allmendinger completed NASCAR’s “Road To Recovery" program and was re-instated, landing Cup rides with Phoenix Racing, an Indycar gig with Penske and a Rolex 24 victory before fighting his way back to the Cup Series – signing with JTG Daugherty full-time in 2014.
And winning his first race was just as much of a struggle.
Faced with holding off one of the sports best road course racers in Marcos Ambrose, Allmendinger threw his car right to the ragged edge following the final restart with four laps to go, leaning on Ambrose as they came through turn five with Ambrose gaining a slight advantage before Allmendinger fought back on the inside coming through turn six, gaining a car-length advantage as they came through the final turn.
With Kurt Busch pressuring Ambrose for second, Allmendinger was able to pull away, opening up a four car-length lead as they completed the final lap.
Ambrose came within just one position of completing the weekend sweep after winning Saturday’s Nationwide Series race and also missed out on joining his Richard Petty Motorsports teammate Aric Almirola in the Chase field.
“Congratulations to AJ and the 47 team. They deserved that win," said Ambrose. “I left nothing on the table. I tried to rattle his cage and couldn’t shake him. We raced fair and square to the end there. It was a tough couple laps but it was fair. We were both giving it to each other pretty hard. No harm, no foul. We just came up a little short
Sunday’s race was marred by several terrifying crashes that caused serious damage to the track, bringing out two red flags.
In the first incident, Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman made contact coming through the outer loop in turn five when Newman spun into the outside wall, bouncing off the Armco guardrail and back into traffic, where he collected Michael McDowell, sending his no. 95 Ford airborne across the track and into the catch fencing, totally destroying the back end of McDowell’s car.
Neither driver was injured, but NASCAR was forced to throw the red flag to fix the guardrail.
The with four laps to go, Denny Hamlin spun coming out of turn seven, impacting the gravel and sand-filled barrels at the end of the pit road wall, bringing out another red flag to clean up the track.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished in the 11th spot and takes over the points lead over his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon after Gordon spent several laps behind the wall fixing an electrical problem on his no. 24 Chevrolet, ultimately ending up 34th. He now trails Earnhardt, Jr. by five points. Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano round out the top five in points.
AJ ALLMENDINGER, NO. 47 SCOTT PRODUCTS CHEVROLET SS – RACE WINNER
TELL US ABOUT LAP 89 WHEN MARCOS GOT PAST YOU:
"Yeah, I mean I knew our car was slick on restarts on the tires and I knew Marcos was going to try to move me out of the way if he had the opportunity. To his credit he didn’t wreck me. He just moved me like he should have. I went down into the next corner and leaned on him a little bit to see if I could get a gap and get them racing behind me. I knew if I could just get a three or four car length gap they weren’t going to get back to me. That was just a fun race. Thanks to the fans for enduring two red flags, the track workers for putting the track back together a couple of times. Everybody at home if you didn’t love that you are not a fan of racing."
RIGHT BEFORE THE RED FLAG YOU PASSED MARCOS FOR THE LEAD DID YOU KNOW YOU WERE THE LEADER AT THAT POINT IN TIME?
"They told me I was. I didn’t know for sure. It’s the same thing. He put a great move on the restart. I thought Kurt was behind me enough that he couldn’t cut under me. And Marcos made a great move we went side-by-side through the esses which you are not supposed to. Clean racing and he kind of had his tires used up. He got loose into the last corner I got back around him and the caution came out. At that point I didn’t think it really mattered who controlled the restart it was going to be a battle to the finish."
WHAT DOES THIS WIN MEAN TO YOU? YOU ARE NOW IN THE CHASE:
"Honestly the Chase doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s cool once we sit down and think about it, but just to everything I’ve went through all I’ve wanted to do for the last how many years is win a Sprint Cup race. It’s so hard. Jimmie (Johnson) makes it look too easy he wins so many. For this race team Tad and Jodi Geschickter, everybody at this No. 47 team, Brad Daugherty, to win our first Cup race together that means the world to me. We have so many great sponsors Scott Products everybody."
WHAT DID ROGER PENSKE SAY WHEN HE CAME BY VICTORY LANE TO CONGRATULATE YOU?
"He just said he was proud of me and to have him and Bud Denker, Walt C and everybody at Penske Racing that means so much to me. To have RC, Richard Childress, because he means so much to this team the alliance that he has he has opened his doors to us. That right there honestly is probably the best memory I will have because that means the world to me."
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO YOU?
"First off, all of our condolences here in NASCAR and this whole NASCAR family to the Ward family. We’re racing with heavy hearts today. I can’t even imagine what they are going through. We’re a community here and we’re all thinking about you.
"My gosh, I can’t believe we won a NASCAR Sprint Cup race. With this whole No. 47 team. Tad Geschickter and Brad Daugherty and all the great sponsors we have; our first Cup victory together, my first Cup victory, I love these guys. I just wanted it so bad for them and this team. They deserve it. They work so hard. I wasn’t going to let Marcos (Ambrose) take this from me. I hope the fans loved that race here and at home, because it was fun in the race car."
TAKE US THROUGH THAT FINAL TWO LAPS
"I just knew on that restart if he (Ambrose) could get to me he’d move me out of the way just like I’d do to him. It wasn’t rough. He didn’t try to wreck me. He just moved me and so I just leaned on him. I knew if I could get a gap and get them racing behind me, it was game over. So that’s what I did."
HOW ABOUT ALL THOSE ICONS WHO HAVE COME TO CONGRATULATE YOU?
"I just don’t even know what to say to that. That just means more than anything to me to have those guys. They’ve been such a mix of supporters of mine. I need to thank Roger and the whole Penske Racing for what they did for me last year; and RC (Richard Childress) for this whole alliance. He opened the doors to this race team; giving us everything could have to go out there and compete. We won a race! We won a Sprint Cup race!"
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