Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Allmendinger Optimistic Heading To Sonoma

With two Top-10 finishes in five career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Sonoma Raceway, Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 could rank as AJ Allmendinger’s best opportunity yet to win a race and qualify for the 2014 Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Despite those numbers, however, Allmendinger insists that Sunday’s race is not all-or-nothing for his JTG Daugherty team.

“We can’t put every egg in one basket and say we have to win this race,” he said. “Because if we do, then it’s just disappointing if we don’t (win). If we go there, have a solid day and have a chance to win the race, that’s all we can do.”

Allmendinger said he tested at Sonoma recently and came away encouraged about his changes at the Wine Country circuit.

“With our race team being as small as we are, we don’t get much test time,” he said. “So any track time we get helps us focus on the weekend and future. These tests are good because as a driver, you don’t have to focus on other people. You just focus on your car and what feels good.

“We had two days of testing there and we had really good speed in the Kingsford Chevrolet.”

Allmendinger said success at Sonoma boils down to two variables; grip and horsepower.

“It all comes down to rear grip at Sonoma Raceway,” he said. “ECR Engines have a lot of horsepower and you want to put it down to the racetrack. Especially if it gets hot, it’s so easy to burn off the rear tires in five or six laps. Then it’s a long stint when you do that.

“You have to just ease the rear tires. If you can make your rear tires last longer than most people, then you have a shot to win the race.”

The JTG Daugherty driver said there are differences between Sonoma and the other road course on the Sprint Cup Series schedule, Watkins Glen International.

“Sonoma is narrow and slick and it is so easy to make a mistake,” he said. “I think it’s about not locking up the tires, because if you lock up a tire in the brake zone, it just kills the tire. Other than that, if you have a fast car, you have a shot to win it. That’s all you can really ask for during your day at Sonoma.”

The California native said that road racing demands more of a driver, and rewards those who can manhandle their car through the demanding Sonoma turns.

“In road-course racing, you can wring a bit more out of the car,” he said, “whether it’s braking, or how you use the curbs or the lines you choose. That’s why I enjoy it and that’s why I feel like we can come here and have a shot to do well.

JTG Daugherty Racing co-owner Tad Geschickter said the track’s location also makes it an important venue for his team.

“Sonoma Raceway is not far from the home office of one of our largest sponsors -- The Clorox Company -- and it's a home track for AJ", he said. “We will have all of them out there cheering for us and we want to do well in front of a group of people that have supported us through thick and thin for nearly two decades. 
“We’ve almost won that race before,” he said. “We would like to give them something to cheer for again this time with AJ.”

Team co-owner Brad Daugherty agreed, saying, “AJ is really good at Sonoma Raceway. We feel like it’s one of the racetracks – and there’s several, not just the road courses - - that AJ and our team can win. We’re going to go out and be as prepared as we can possibly be. We built him a car specific to Watkins Glen last year and we had a great run there. We feel if we do the same for Sonoma, it gives him a great opportunity.

“We need to qualify well, run up front all day and have great pit stops. All we need is a chance on that last green-white-checker to have an opportunity to race to the checkered flag."

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