2014 was a dream come true for the No. 47 team. AJ Allmendinger had joined the organization on a part-time basis in the season prior, and he was set to contend for them full-time. Not only did he run well, but thanks to an alliance with Richard Childress Racing – Allmendinger was able to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time in his eighth season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Highlighted by a victory at Watkins Glen in an intense duel with road course ace Marcos Ambrose, Allmendinger’s season was quite impressive. In his first season working with crew chief Brian Burns, not only did he win his first career race, but he also gave the team, crew chief and most crew members their first career Sprint Cup Series triumph.
Although the team’s top story was the win at a road course, Allmendinger did something that the team had not accomplished since 2012 at Martinsville. He earned their first top-10 finish in a non-plate race in 43 events with an eighth-place result at Fontana. Earning five top 10s on the year doesn’t seem astonishing, but entering the season – Allmendinger’s goal was to move the team from a 30th-place organization into the top 20.
Not only was the No. 47 Chevrolet averaging a finish just near 20th-place, but he led over 25 laps in two races.
Inconsistency plagued the small team throughout the season with 11 finishes of 25th or worse. However, Allmendinger became the leader that he was destined for. Being in a smaller environment compared to what he was once within at Team Penske or Team Red Bull, the California-native finished on the lead lap 19 times, which is equivalent to Bobby Labonte’s results with the team in 2012 and 2013.
For the 2015 season, Allmendinger will continue to work with Burns. The two are signed through 2016, and they have potential to become consistent contenders for the near future. Although it might not be the largest organization, the team has steadily come together.
Aspirations were set on making this a multi-car team several years ago, but now they have begun to set their sights on making the No. 47 car a top-tier one. Allmendinger is proving he is worthwhile, and the team should improve in 2015. As their alliance with RCR continues, things could go well with the new aerodynamic package that is set to go in place as Allmendinger is a mechanical driver, which is where his talent will come into play once again like the road courses.
In a wild race at the Pocono Raceway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was able to come out on top once again. After taking the victory in the June race at the 2.5-mile triangular-shaped speedway, Earnhardt Jr. was able to capture his third victory of 2014 in Sunday afternoon’s GoBowling.com 400.
Leading 14 laps on Sunday, he was able to take the lead at just the right time. With less than 15 laps remaining in the 160-lap race, Earnhardt Jr. passed Greg Biffle to take the top position. However, Kurt Busch hit the wall with just eight laps to go – forcing a late-race restart that created an added level of excitement to the race. The victory is his third of the season – marking the most he has recorded since 2004 when he had six triumphs.
"Steve's strategy was perfect at the end and I don't know if anybody knew what was going on, but that was pretty awesome. I can't believe we swept Pocono. I think the 24 had a great car. The 41 was fast all weekend, but we definitely went home from the last race and made our car better. They went back and didn't sit on what we had. They wanted to get better, faster cars so we didn't have to rely on luck to win," Earnhardt Jr. said after the race.
Besides marking his first multi-win year since that 2004 season, this is the first time the 39-year-old has swept the races at a track in one season since Talladega of 2002. This is also the fifth straight victory at Pocono Raceway for Hendrick Motorsports. Heading into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the No. 88 team will be seeded at the top position if no one else reaches three or more victories leading up to the regular-season finale at Richmond.
“It’s too far from the Chase. This is just a win. It’s a win at Pocono. It’s a great win. It gives you an advantage at Pocono, but if you think it gives you an advantage at Chicago – you are sadly mistaking. You have to go to every race like you are good enough, and if you have that mind set – you need to continue to try to stay ahead. The garage is full of great competitors, and the Chase is going to be something that you have never seen. No one knows how it is going to be. We all have our predictions, so we will so who’s right,” Earnhardt’s crew chief Steve Letarte said.
Kevin Harvick was able to come home in the runner-up position, and gave Earnhardt Jr. a run for his money in the concluding laps of the race. However, he was caught up in a 13-car wreck that took out several contenders. Harvick’s car was damaged in the incident, but it actually helped him move away from a tight condition.
“The left-front splitter was gone,” Harvick said in a post-race press conference. “Both fenders were caved in on the tires. I was loose most of the day and a touch tight in all of the corners. It definitely affected us some, but it definitely made us looser. It wasn’t very much fun before that when it was loose, but it was still really fast.”
Hamlin got loose under Clint Bowyer and saved it, but Brian Vickers got loose as he tried to avoid Hamlin – hitting Kenseth in the process. Tony Stewart went low but got hit from behind and landed on top of Paul Menard’s hood. Brad Keselowski received major right side damage in the accident as his No. 2 team spent multiple minutes trying to fix the damage on pit road. 13 cars were involved in the accident – Aric Almirola, Kenseth, A.J. Allmendinger, Keselowski, Menard, Stewart, Vickers, Justin Allgaier, Hamlin, Michael Annett, Truex Jr., Harvick and Edwards.
“The first one, I got tight off turn one and got in the fence,” Johnson said after the incident. “It pushed the rear quarter panel into the tire and got the first flat, so my bad. There on that one, I am clueless. It didn’t act like a tire went down and I am not exactly sure if it did. Normally when they go down that quick they explode and there was no explosion, the tire did not come apart, it just went straight. We are trying to get in there and look at it, obviously the tire is flat now from the impact.”
“It started far enough ahead of us that we couldn’t see it. We were just coming off of two there and somebody got sideways and started wrecking in front of us and we got caught up in it. I ended up on top of Paul Menard’s hood so it wasn’t where we wanted to end up by any means,” Stewart said.
After the incident, Allmendinger and Almirola attempted to go back on trap although their cars were severely beat up. Allmendinger smashed the wall in Turn 1 to bring out the caution with 21 laps remaining in the race. Greg Biffle took the lead on the restart, but Earnhardt was able to pass him with just 14 to go.
With just 31 laps left in the race, Jamie McMurray started the final green-flag pit sequence after a hectic day for teams in terms of strategy. Multiple drivers came in for two tires, but the majority of the cars on the lead lap took four tires. In order to save fuel in case of the possibility of a green-white-checkered finish, drivers stopped shifting.
On the second lap of the race, Brad Keselowski made an incredible save after nearly getting into the wall coming out of the tunnel turn. As Lap 10 came by, Jimmie Johnson experienced a flat right-rear tire coming off of Turn 1. Johnson came into pit road – forcing his No. 48 team to change up their strategy as they went one lap down. During the caution, multiple teams came down pit road – moving away from their original strategy.
Danica Patrick had problems with her No. 10 Chevrolet early in the race. On Lap 17, she slammed the wall just seconds after she radioed in that she had a tire going down. Patrick went a lap down, and never fully recovered as she finished 30th – four laps down.
Kyle Busch was running inside of the top-10 when the engine on the No. 18 Toyota expired. When that happened, multiple Toyota teams expressed concern for the reliability of their engines. Busch finished in the 42nd position during the Gobowling.com 400 at Pocono.
“Something in between the frame rails just doesn’t want to operate correctly right now and it’s so unfortunate because I thought we had a good car this weekend,” Busch said. “The car in practice was strong and it feel good and we were biding our time here early. We pitted early to get off sequence a little bit to see if we couldn’t do something different than the leaders and it obviously bit us here.”
As McMurray and Kasey Kahne were making green-flag pit stops, Landon Cassill’s No. 40 car collided with the wall. Cassill’s car was done for the day as he came home in the 41st position. The accident spiced up pit strategy even more as some teams came down pit road, while others stayed out.
Jeff Gordon led 63 laps on Sunday afternoon. Just after the halfway mark, Gordon became the first driver in the history of Pocono Raceway to lead 1,000 or more laps. Later in the race, he also led the 24,000th lap of his career.
Gordon continues to hold the championship lead over Earnhardt Jr. by 17 points. Keselowski, Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Johnson, Logano, Edwards, Bowyer and Ky. Busch round out the top-10 in points.
Here are some notables from the GoBowling.com 400:
-Clint Bowyer his third top-five finish of 2014. He made the jump from 10th to ninth in points.
-Joey Logano finished third in Sunday’s event. The top-five marks his eighth of the year, and marks his best finish in a race that he did not win this year.
-Jamie McMurray earned his sixth top-10 finish this year. McMurray raced inside of the top-five throughout the race, but fell to seventh after the final caution flag. He sits 20th in points and is still lacking a win.
-Pole sitter Kyle Larson came home in the 11th position. He was unable to lead a lap, and stayed inside of the top-five for a brief period of time before dropping back on the long runs. Although he was outside of the top-15 at certain points, his crew chief Chris Heroy and he were able to bounce back to earn a solid finish – remaining 12th in points.
-Casey Mears finished in the 12th position during the 400-mile event. Mears was on a strategy similar to McMurray’s as he was racing inside of the top-five in his No. 13 Chevrolet during multiple stages of the race. This is his best finish at a non-restrictor plate track since finishing seventh at Charlotte in 2009.
-The Front Row Motorsports cars of David Gilliland and David Ragan finished 17th and 19th, respectively. This is the first time both cars have finished inside of the top-20 since the pair earned sixth and seventh-place finishes at Talladega in October.
-Ryan Truex finished earned a 20th-place finish. His previous best career finish was 30th at Martinsville Speedway earlier this season. Truex spoke to Speedway Digest after the race: “It’s a big deal. Our car wasn’t very good all day, we just got lucky and Joe (Williams – crew chief) made the right call there. For once nothing broke and everything went our way. That big wreck happened far enough ahead of us, so luckily we were able to stop and after that – we had to save fuel. We had to run around some laps and just save fuel. We just have to get our cars driving better – get them turning and get them to carry more speed in the corners. I think we’re gaining on it. This is our best finish and we have been getting better and better throughout the year.”
-Travis Kvapil finished in the 25th position. His previous best finish of the season was 29th in the June race at Pocono.
-Dave Blaney came home in 26th-place. Blaney was reunited with Tommy Baldwin Racing after starting 2014 in the No. 77 car for Randy Humphrey Racing. The finish marked Blaney’s best result since finishing 25th at Talladega in October.
-Alex Kennedy finished a career-best 28th at Pocono on Sunday while running for Circle Sport Racing.
-There were 15 lead changes with 10 different drivers taking the top spot throughout the 160 laps. Eight caution flags were thrown on Sunday with an average speed of 127.411 mph.