NASCAR’s AJ Allmendinger calls his underdog race team The Misfits.
It’s an apt description for JTG Daughtery Racing, a one-car operation that will be seeded 13th in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and competing against the powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske Racing organizations, among others.
Allmendinger, 32, qualified for the expanded win-and-you’re-in 16-driver Chase by winning his first career Cup race on the Watkins Glen road course. The 10-race Chase, which begins Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, doesn’t include a road course, making Allmendinger an even bigger underdog, a position he relishes.
“I love that role,” said Allmendinger, who made an appearance in Kansas City on Wednesday to promote the Oct. 5 Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, the fourth race of the Chase. “People see us and say, ‘Oh, they won Watkins Glen and got into the Chase, but we are not going to have to worry about them.’
“I just want to fly under the radar and do our thing. The way I look at it, I’ve got no pressure on my shoulders. No one really expected us to be in the Chase. We’re playing with house money now. Hopefully we can go out there and shock some people.”
Just two years ago, Allmendinger appeared to be one of the sport’s rising talents when Penske Racing put him in the No. 22 car as a teammate of eventual champion Brad Keselowski. But he missed 15 races while suspended for violating NASCAR’s substance abuse policy and was dropped by Penske.
Allmendinger completed NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program and split time with Phoenix Racing and JTG Daughtery last season before signing a three-year contract with JTG Daughtery and replacing former champion Bobby Labonte in the No. 47 Chevy.
“This team and I are a good fit,” Allmendinger said. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and I was able to fight back. If you look at (owners) Tad and Jodi Geschickter and Brad Daugherty and this team, it started in a barn in 1994 in the Busch Series (now the Nationwide Series). They were just trying to get better to make it to the next year.
“I think we are made for each other because we are all underdogs. We are all a little bit of misfits that have come together and made something great happen.”
Allmendinger’s No. 47 team is the second one-car team to make the Chase in the 11-year history of NASCAR’s postseason. Kurt Busch and the No. 78 team finished 10th in the championship last year.
In the new format, if Allmendinger doesn’t win at Chicago, New Hampshire or Dover and automatically advance to the second round, he’ll need to post some top-five or top-10 finishes to avoid being one of the first four drivers eliminated before the Chase reaches Kansas Speedway.
Allmendinger finished 21st at Chicago in 2013. He was 18th at New Hampshire and 21st at Dover in the first races there this year.
“We definitely have to run better,” said Allmendinger, who won the pole at Kansas Speedway in 2012 in the last race before the repave. “In this new format, you don’t have to be great for 10 races. “You just have to be good enough in each segment.
“We tested at Charlotte to get ready for the 1.5-mile race tracks, and we just have to go to Chicago and kick off the Chase the way it needs to be. We’ve got a brand-new racecar, and if we go there and make no mistakes, and do everything possible to run up front, that’s all you can ask for. If we can get through the first three races, run well and make it to the second group … we’ll have Kansas, we’ll have Charlotte, and Talladega is up for grabs for anybody.”
Allmendinger, a former open-wheel racer who finished third in the 2006 Champ Car World Series, likes the new Chase format.
“It makes every race that much more exciting because there’s so much on the line,” Allmendinger said. “You look at the Chase format over the last few years … really except for the Tony Stewart-Carl Edwards year (2011), when it went down to the last race, you go into Homestead pretty much with Jimmie (Johnson) having a 25-, 30-point lead, knowing all he had to do was finish 20th. … The suspense wasn’t there.
“To have a knockout format every three races and go to Homestead and know it’s four drivers, whoever beats who, that’s the championship. That’s going to make every race critical now.”
CHASE FOR THE SPRINT CUP FORMAT
The 16 NASCAR drivers in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup were seeded by season victories, giving Brad Keselowski a three-point lead over three-time winners Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano.
Two-time winners Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards are six points backs. One-time winners Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Aric Almirola and AJ Allmendinger are nine points behind. The winless Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman are 12 points back.
The Chase field will be cut to 12 after the third race, to eight after the sixth race and to four after the ninth race. Championship-eligible drivers will get a spot in the next round with a victory. Points will be reset after each round and the championship will be decided by finishing order in the Nov. 16 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
| The Associated Press
Sprint Cup data
The race: MyAFibStory.com 400
The place: Chicagoland Speedway, a 1.5-mile oval in Joliet, Ill.
The distance: 400.5 miles, 267 laps
The time/day: 1 p.m. Sunday (ESPN)
2013 winner: Matt Kenseth
Friday: Camping World Truck Lucas Oil 225, 7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1.
Saturday: Nationwide Jimmy John’s Freaky Fast 300, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2.
Sunday: NHRA Carolina Nationals, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2.