It could easily be labeled as one of the most exciting NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in history. AJ Allmendinger held off a hard charging opponent in the form of Marcos Ambrose to take the Checkered Flag at Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at the Glen.
In doing so Allmendinger has laid claim to a spot in the Chase for his No. 47 JTG/Daugherty Chevrolet.
That Chase spot was one that Ambrose has also been hoping to claim with a win. Watkins Glen is one of the tracks that offers the seasoned racer, with terrific road course skills, a chance at a Sprint Cup win. Ambrose knows the track. In fact, he won the Nationwide Series race the day before. Despite trailing behind early leader, and pole sitter, Jeff Gordon when the green flag dropped it looked as if Ambrose would be able to get his win.
Gordon’s car suddenly shut down with electrical problems giving Ambrose an incredible chance at sealing a victory. The only problem for Ambrose was that Allmendinger also is a great road course driver and the 2.45-mile track was also his best chance for a Sprint Cup Series win for 2014.
After the Break
A massive, and terrifying, wreck on lap 56 in turn five brought the entire course to a stop after Ryan Newman and Michael McDowell destroyed both of their cars. Newman bounced like a pin ball against one of the retaining barriers at a high rate of speed. His spinning car bolted back into traffic as smoke billowed across the track. McDowell had no time to react as the two collided sending the entire rear portion of McDowell’s car into, and across, chain link fences and barriers.
Two more red flags were needed to repair barriers as drivers waited it out. The last stoppage set up an exciting two lap race to the finish between the two best road course racers in the field. After a couple of restarts leading up to the final try it was clear that Allmendinger would have to use everything in his playbook to hold off Ambrose.
The two traded paint on every turn as they raced to the checkered flag. Despite the hits from Ambrose in an effort to move his car out of the way, Allmendinger held on and took the victory and stated that he knew Ambrose was going to fight hard.
"Yeah, I mean I knew our car was slick on restarts on the tires, and I knew Marcos was going to try to move me out of the way if he had the opportunity," Allmendinger said. "To his credit, he didn't wreck me. He just moved me like he should have. I went down into the next corner and leaned on him a little bit to see if I could get a gap and get them racing behind me.”
Even Ambrose thought the ending of the race was exciting and he made sure to complement Allmendinger on his win and driving abilities, saying that he gave AJ everything he could short of wrecking him. Both drivers agreed that the rubbing and bumping after the caution was rough looking but also clean driving. Ambrose also said he thought the final caution sealed the victory for Allmendinger.
"If I could have held the lead when the caution came out, I would have probably had the advantage on the restart and been able to fend him off. But that's just racing,” Ambrose said with a smile. “It's what it is, what it's all about. You try to land him on a restart, take a couple of chances. I'm pleased we got through the S's side by side without wrecking the whole field, because it could have easily happened out there."
Happy Owner and Owners
ESPN race commentator, and former NBA star, Brad Daugherty does not mention it very often on the air but he’s co-owner of JTG/Daugherty Racing. As things began to shuffle out and fall into place it was only a matter of time before fellow ESPN Hosts Rusty Wallace and Nicole Briscoe started to press Daugherty on the possibility of his team being in the chase.
Daugherty talked briefly about his teams hard work and that they “we’re hoping for a top-ten… but the guys are fighting for a win,” Daugherty said before talking about the racing skills of other drivers such as Ambrose. He clearly did not want to put the spotlight solely on his team or driver as an analyst. That all faded away when Allmendinger crossed the finish line.
ESPN apparently made the call to have a camera rolling tape on Daugherty during the last two laps. It was a good decision as they showed the replay of the owner’s excitement building as it became clear that his team would win. A huge smile came across Daugherty’s face as he leaped into the air giving high-fives and hugs to Wallace.
Moments later he was celebrating in Victory Lane with his team and driver. It may have been the fastest exit from a broadcast booth in history! Before he could get there several NASCAR team owners piled into victory lane to congratulate Allmendinger.
It was an indication of how well liked the driver is in the NASCAR industry.