AJ Allmendinger Optimistic About Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Racewayby Hunter Thomas June 21, 2014 0 comments
SONOMA, Calif. – This time last year, AJ Allmendinger was celebrating in Victory Lane at Road America in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
AJ Allmendinger, a San Jose, Calif. native is eager to start turning left and right this weekend at Sonoma Raceway. Not just because it’s a homecoming for he and his sponsors, Clorox and Kingsford, but Allmendinger has plenty of road racing experience behind him, as well as recent success at turning right. Last year, Allmendinger put his dark past behind him and won the NASCAR Nationwide Series events at Road America and Mid-Ohio in Team Penske’s No. 22 car.
Allmendinger feels that this weekend’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 will be one of the team’s stronger performances, and it wouldn’t be a shock if he was contending for the win on Sunday afternoon in “Wine Country”. In five starts at Sonoma Raceway, he has captured two top-10 finishes. His best finish was a seventh back in 2009.
“It is always good to come back to Sonoma,” Allmendinger said. “I missed it last year for a good reason, I was winning at Road America (Wisconsin – NASCAR Nationwide Series), so we will just put that out there. I missed being here. Being a home race for me, it is nice to see my family, and some friends and all that. But it is one of those things that you have to split up between doing your job, and then seeing all your friends and kind of hanging out and catching up.
“A good opportunity to try and get a win. But, you can’t put too much pressure on yourself getting here saying this is the only race we have a shot to win at. Just kind of taking the weekend as it comes, and really going from there – step-by-step.”
Allmendinger currently sits 21st in the driver point standings, but he and the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing team have one top five and three top-10 finishes this season. His best finish came at Talladega Superspeedway back in May when he crossed the finish line in fifth. Recently he has been sliding in the point standings, but if he stays within the top-30 and happened to win on Sunday, he’d possibly make this year’s Chase, because as of right now, there are only 11 different winners, and well, the Chase will be a 16-driver field.
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t come in here with the mindset that we have a shot to win this thing,” Allmendinger said. “But at the same point, the Sprint Cup Series every weekend, it is so tough now. It is a lot different than 10-15 years ago when I thought you looked at the series and said maybe there are five, or eight or 10 guys at most that can win on a road course race. Now it is so deep and everybody has gotten so good at road course racing in general.”
Allmendinger was 18th quickest in first practice on Friday, but the team worked primarily on race trim. He moved up to 15th fastest in final practice late Friday afternoon. The team tested at Sonoma Raceway earlier this season, so if they can piece together the notes gathered during the test, as well as from this weekend’s practice sessions, then look for AJ Allmendinger to be on a charge once the laps start to dissipate come Sunday afternoon.
“We tested here for two days, which was big because I felt like what we started here with at the test, we would have been way off if we had come back and hadn’t tested,” Allmendinger said. “It was a good two-day test. I don’t want to walk into this weekend saying ‘If we don’t win this race, then it is a disappointment’. We just need to have a solid weekend, and if we can run inside the top-10, good. And, if we can be inside the top-five and have a shot to win it, then it’s a great weekend. That is how I look at it.”
You can catch the Toyota/Save Mart 350 from Sonoma Raceway on TNT and the Performance Racing Network (PRN) on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET.