AJ Allmendinger is off to strong start in 2014. Since replacing former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte near the end of last season, the California native has carried JTG Daugherty Racing to a new level of prominence.
While the numbers were not spectacular at first – 26th at both Daytona and Phoenix, 18th at Las Vegas and 25th at Bristol – the No. 47 Chevrolet ran considerably better than it finished. Allmendinger broke through with an impressive, eight-place showing at Auto Club Speedway two weeks ago, then missed recording the team’s first back-to-back Top-10s by just one spot, finishing 11th at Martinsville last weekend.
That’s not bad for a single-car team that changed manufacturers and inked a new technological partnership during the offseason.
“So far, it’s been a good season,” said Allmendinger today at Texas Motor Speedway. “The switch over from Toyota to the RCR alliance with Chevy has been tough. We started it relatively late in December. The guys have been working really hard to catch up and the West Coast races made it tough for a one car team like ours.
“We have raced really well on Sundays,” he said. “We had good runs the first few weeks, but we just had bad luck or things that took us out of a good finish. The last two weeks, we have put Friday, Saturday and Sunday together. That is where our good runs have come (from).
“It’s six races in (and) I don’t want to get too excited about where we are at,” he admitted. “But the direction the team is headed, I feel like we are gelling together. I like what is in the future for us.”
With increased parity throughout the Sprint Cup Series garage and more teams making strong bids for Victory Lane, Allmendinger said JTG Daugherty Racing remains realistic in its expectations.
“The ultimate goal is to win,” he said. “That is why we show up every weekend. But we have got to set realistic goals… to continually keep getting better. This is a team that was 30th, 31st (in points) last year and we are 16th in points right now. We have got to become a consistent Top-15 team, (then) get inside the Top-10 and give ourselves shots to win races.
“Hopefully, we can continue to get better each weekend, keep being in the mix and keep being competitive.”
Allmendinger said climbing that competitive ladder will not be easy, even though the gap between winning and losing is smaller than ever.
“Everybody is pushing the limit,” he said. “Everybody is so close when it comes to speed (that) you are looking for hundredths of a second, instead of tenths of a second. If you find a couple hundredths of a second, that is like 10 spots. You can’t just run 90-percent for half the race and then get after it. You have to be full-tilt from the start and because of that, guys over-abuse their tires (and) over-abuse their race cars. Everybody is just so close. The way the race plays out, you never know what is going to happen.”
Allmendinger said he remains unsure whether the 2014 Chase will include drivers who qualify on points, or 16 race winners.
“The way it’s going right now, you could have 15 or 16 or 17 or 18 (winners),” he said. “That would throw a chink in the whole ‘win and you’re in the Chase’ armor. There are so many different guys that have an opportunity to win the race, but it doesn’t change my outlook. As I said, the ultimate goal is to win, but we’ve got to take baby steps to be more competitive each weekend. I won’t worry about points until we get past the All-Star Race and through the (Coca-Cola) 600. Then, teams start hitting on all cylinders and figuring out where they’re at.
“My goal is to go out there every weekend and (have) people say, `We can’t sleep on this race team. We’ve got to watch out for them.’ I think we’re slowly getting there.”