WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) — Three years ago AJ Allmendinger didn’t want the second Sunday in August to end, so he lingered in victory lane at Watkins Glen International to soak in the atmosphere with his crew.
The victory on the road course stamped Allmendinger as a threat to win every time NASCAR’s Cup series visits the two twisting layouts on the schedule. With the playoffs looming, he’s 27th in points and needs a victory to qualify for the postseason as the series stops at The Glen, his best shot left to produce that needed result.
If there’s any added pressure, he says he doesn’t feel it.
“No pressure, man. Honestly,” said Allmendinger, who drives the No. 47 Chevrolet for JTG Daugherty Racing. “I think the outside world tries to put pressure on it. All we can do is go out there and give it our best effort.
“The racetrack will always be special, obviously, being my first win, reliving those memories,” said Allmendinger, an expert road racer from his days in open-wheel racing. “But when it comes to pressure, it’s in every week. We’ll see how it plays out.”
That victory in 2014 came in Allmendinger’s 213rd Cup start, and he did it by winning a two-lap duel at the end with Marcos Ambrose, who had emerged as the driver to beat at Watkins Glen. Ambrose had been dominant in NASCAR’s top two series at The Glen, winning two straight Cup races and four straight events in the second-tier series.
The previous year Allmendinger also won on the road courses at Elkhart Lake and Mid-Ohio in NASCAR’s second-tier series, but success at the top level has been elusive. He finished fourth at Watkins Glen a year ago and never challenged winner Denny Hamlin . He qualified fifth but finished 35th at Sonoma in June and enters Sunday’s race at The Glen riding a 107-race winless streak.
“This year, we’ve been a little off on speed kind of everywhere we’ve been to,” said Allmendinger, who has one top-five finish and four top-10s in 21 starts this year. “We’re working hard to try to get better as a race team. We’ll see when we get there on Saturday what kind of speed we have in practice.
“It’s one of those things, you don’t really know until you get to the racetrack and you get to practice and qualifying where you stand on speed.”
Sunday’s I Love New York 355 at The Glen is the second straight Cup race with a condensed schedule. Teams won’t practice until Saturday and qualifying is Sunday at 12:05 p.m., three hours before the race.
“With the condensed practices, to unload well (is key),” Allmendinger said. “You don’t have that time to really work on your car. Each practice is 55 minutes long, and if you don’t unload very well, it’s one of those things that you kind of get behind real quick. The last couple of weeks we haven’t unloaded great and then it’s hard to try and catch up because the time just goes quick.”
Xfinity practice on Friday gave a handful of Cup regulars a chance for extra time on WGI’s 2.45-mile layout as they prepare to race in Saturday’s Zippo 200 with an eye toward Sunday. Brad Keselowski topped the speed charts in the first practice, followed by Kyle Busch and Joey Logano. Kyle Larson was fifth fastest, two spots ahead of Kevin Harvick.
As for that pressure on Sunday, NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace figures it’ll be ramped-up for Allmendinger.
“There’s so much a feel of, ‘I’ve got to get it done, I’ve got to win this thing,’” said Wallace, a two-time winner at The Glen who will work the race as an analyst for the Motor Racing Network. “AJ Allmendinger, he’s coming up here thinking, ‘Man, you know what, I can run good everywhere else, but I can win here and I’ve got to get it done here. I’ve got to win this race because it’s the only shot I’ve got to win all year long.’”
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