When AJ Allmendinger began his career with JTG-Daugherty Racing back in 2013, the driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet only made nine starts. Since 2014, Allmendinger has completed the full 36-race schedule for the race team in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
The 2016 season was a winless one for the California native. But while he didn’t make a trip to Victory Lane, Allmendinger earned two top-five finishes and nine top 10’s as well as 24 top-20 placings throughout the year. He also led a total of 29 laps in five races.
His best finish of the season came during the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway where he finished second to Kyle Busch, who led a dominating 352 laps. Despite the runner-up finish, Allmendinger was still excited after the 500-lap event. “Man, I hope the fans enjoyed that,” he said after the race in a post-race Team Chevy transcript. “I passed Jimmie Johnson (finished ninth) like five times at Martinsville. That is pretty cool. I just can’t thank this team enough.”
With 12 laps to go, Allmendinger made a move. “I had to get aggressive,” he said. “I thought with 12 to go, we might have a new clock in the shop. Came up a little bit short, it’s pretty cool to be racing Kyle Busch for the win here though.”
Allmendinger also performed well at the two road courses on the schedule. After a 14th-place finish at Sonoma Raceway in June in the Toyota/Save Mart 250, he finished fourth at Watkins Glen International in the Cheez-It 355, a race he won in 2014.
During the regular season, he accumulated top-10 finishes in the Auto Club 400 at Fontana in March and GoBowling.com 400 at Kansas in May. Fontana was no walk in the park after he had to start at the rear of the field when his crew found a burnt gear. “It was a good catch by our crew to see the burnt gear,” Allmendinger said after the California race the Team Chevy transcript. “They caught it and saved our day. “It was tough starting back there, but I didn’t realize I had driven through half the field so quick. The car was fast.”
Although he got into the wall at Kansas, Allmendinger still managed to score an eighth-place finish. “We just kept digging. I caught the wall and we had the fender rubbing the tire,” he said in the Team Chevy post-race report. Despite the issue, he was still able to get back on the lead lap. He gave praise to his pit crew. “The guys did a good job,” he said. “We got lucky it kind of cycled back around and got back on the lead lap. Overall, just a hard-fought night to get a top 10 out of it.”
Allmendinger failed to make the Chase but still ran solid during the final half of the grueling Cup season. Other than a crash during the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway which resulted in a 37th-place finish, the No. 47 Chevrolet driver never finished lower than 17th in the other nine races. His return to Kansas in October netted him another top-eight finish. He felt much better about this run. “It felt like the best 1.5-mile race we put together there,” he said in the Team Chevy post-race report. “I felt like we had about a fifth or sixth place car and we finished eighth with it. Just a solid day.”
Allmendinger went on to pick up top-10 finishes in three of the final five races of the season, including another eighth place at Homestead. He ended the year 19th in the driver standings with 830 points.
JTG-Daugherty Racing will become a two-car organization for the 2017 Cup season. Last year’s Pennsylvania 400 (Pocono, August) winner Chris Buescher will join the team using a charter leased from the No. 16 Roush-Fenway Racing Ford recently vacated by Greg Biffle. While Allmendinger will return to the No. 47 machine and be looking for top finishes and race victories, Buescher will pilot the new No. 37. After making it as far as the ‘Round of 16’ in the Chase a year ago, the 2015 NASCAR XFINITY champion will be looking for improvement and solid runs. He is also scheduled to kick off the new season in the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona next month.