Allmendinger broke through with his first win last season. What does he have in mind for an encore?
Telling AJ Allmendinger that things happen for a reason used to get under his skin. The phrase irked him for its simplicity, as he felt there was always more to the story.
The last few years changed his mind.
Allmendinger lost a full-time seat with Penske Racing in the middle of the 2012 season when he failed a NASCAR drug test for taking Adderall without a prescription — a situation he says was a one-time mistake and not a long-term problem. The subsequent suspension and fallout dropped Allmendinger from the high point of his career to rock bottom. The path back to respectability seemed long. “I knew at that point that I had to make some changes,” Allmendinger says. “If (NASCAR) was ever going to happen again, I wanted it to happen the right way.”
In 2014, it happened the right way, and with a surge no one expected. After riding a part-time gig in 2013, Allmendinger took over full-time in the seat of JTG-Daugherty Racing’s No. 47, driving for a one-car team doing its best to throw punches at NASCAR’s behemoths. The organization had struggled before Allmendinger’s arrival, earning only four top-10 finishes in the last three seasons with veteran Bobby Labonte. Allmendinger had some struggles — he drove to just the 25th-best average running position of all full-time drivers — but he got the job done in his last, best chance to earn a spot in NASCAR’s postseason. Besting road course king Marcos Ambrose, Allmendinger earned his first career Cup victory at Watkins Glen in August.
Thanks to the new championship format, Allmendinger’s regular-season win earned the No. 47 car an unexpected Chase berth.
“I love that underdog role. I love the small team,” he says. “We’ve got to go out there and work harder just to compete. It has happened for a reason. I have found a home. I wouldn’t change anything.”
The Chase opportunity didn’t reinvent the No. 47 team — it was out after the first round — but it represented progress. RCR chassis and engine support, new in 2014, paid dividends, along with crew chief Brian Burns. Both are back. Allmendinger, who was signed to a long-term extension with his primary sponsors Clorox and Kimberly-Clark, understands he has a foundation to build from now.
“It’s baby steps,” he says. “It’s great to win a race, but I still look at us in general and know that we were about a 20th-place team. I want to get to be a 15th-place team. I want to get to be a top-10 team. We can get better every weekend, get more competitive.”
Allmendinger includes himself in the discussion of what needs to improve; he’s still inconsistent on the track and learning how to lead a one-car team off it. He knows that this year will still require heavy lifting and some good fortune to earn a second consecutive postseason appearance. “We have a long way to go,” he says. “But we know that if we can go out there and hit our best, we can win any given race.”
No. 47 JTG-Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
Primary Sponsors: Kimberly-Clark Products, Clorox
Owner: Tad & Jodi Geschickter/Brad Daugherty
Crew Chief: Brian Burns
Year With Current Team: 3rd
Under Contract Through: 2016
Best Points Finish: 13th (2014)
Hometown: Los Gatos, Calif.
Born: Dec. 16, 1981
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Photos by Action Sports, Inc.