MOORESVILLE, N.C. – It took A.J. Allmendinger some time to realize what he’d accomplished on Sunday at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) Int’l.
He won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup race. He’s locked into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The realizations kept coming, even after his Victory Lane celebration ended.
“I’m glad I don’t have to run the Showdown anymore in the All-Star Race, at least for one year,” Allmendinger said. “That’s awesome.”
Not as awesome as the Cheez-It 355 trophy he got to share with car owners Tad and Jodi Geschickter and Brad Daugherty. Allmendinger, a 32-year-old Los Gatos, Calif. native, was no stranger to winning races prior to Sunday.
He’d won in the open-wheel Champ Car series, the NASCAR Nationwide Series and the Rolex GrandAm Sports Car Series.
But a Sprint Cup win? A.J. Allmendinger in Victory Lane, and not one of the sport’s biggest stars? It was still sinking in for Allmendinger after the race.
He delivered JTG Daugherty Racing its first Cup win and Chase berth, making it just the second single-car team to ever make the Chase.
Allmendinger’s long journey from promising Red Bull Racing rookie, to Team Penske driver, to a 2012 suspension for using illegal substances – said to be Adderall – and back to NASCAR after an IndyCar stop made the win even sweeter.
“Nothing compares to (Sunday), because I have went through hell in this series, absolute hell,” Allmendinger said.
“Whether it was missing 19 races my first year, wanting to slit my wrists on a weekly basis thinking about, ‘What am I doing here?’, to feeling like I had it figured out and to lose my job with Red Bull and to be so close a couple of times with the No. 43 (Richard Petty Motorsports car) and then obviously to go through what I went through with the No. 22 (Team Penske car) and just to go through hell and back, and to know that this was my dream that I’ve worked so hard for over the last eight years was to win a race here, I mean, you can ask any of my family, Tad, Jodi, my parents, my girlfriend, it’s all I talk about. It’s what I am happy about one day and so hard on myself about the next day.”
A simple test the No. 47 Chevrolet SS underwent at The Glen prior to the race weekend made a big difference.
“We know this is one of those races we put on our refrigerator on the calendar there that we have a chance to win, a little more than some of the other places we go to,” crew chief Brian Burns said.
“We had a great car at (Sonoma) and brought that car out here a couple weeks ago. Was fortunate to test with some good cars, as well, to be able to gauge ourselves, the No. 78 and the No. 9 and a few others were there. Left that test feeling really good. A.J. has been focused all week, showed up here feeling just as good about it.”
It still wasn’t easy.