AJ Allmendinger celebrated like a rock star following the perfect encore after going toe-to-toe with fellow road course ace Marcos Ambrose on the final two-lap restart and beating him to the finish line to win last year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International.
The then-32-year-old first-time Cup winner screamed “I love you guys, thank you,” slowly rose out of his seat to stand on the door of his car and belly flopped off of it to crowd surf on his jubilant crew members.
“Winning a race, no one can take that away from you,” said Allmendinger a year later. “You feel like you are king of the world for one day. At that moment, you are the best there is.”
Allmendinger will try to recreate that moment when he returns to the Central New York track for Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at The Glen (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN). He will need to if he wants to compete in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup again. Currently 23rd in the standings, Allmendinger is 99 points away from the Chase cutoff line and needs a win in the next five races to get in.
“I still believe it every day that we have a great shot to win a race and make The Chase and if I didn’t believe it, then I shouldn’t be in a race car,” Allmendinger said. “From there, it’s all about being better. Are we a championship winning team right now? Probably not, but all you have got to do is look at what Ryan Newman showed last year. All you got to do is get into The Chase and you’ve got a shot.”
For the race, the No. 47 team will bust out the same car Allmendinger drove to Victory Lane at Watkins Glen last year and earned the pole with at Sonoma in June. According crew chief Brian Burns, the team has a twin brand new car, but it decided to use the old one.
Allmendinger has no doubt he can repeat.
“I know I believe in myself and that’s what I have always loved about road course racing, is that the driver can make a difference,” Allemndinger said. “You still need a great car, but a driver can make more of a difference by braking a little later, driving it in just a little bit more, getting a little bit more out of the car and I pride myself on that. When it comes time to do it, if we go do our job, we know we have a shot to win.”