Capturing his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Victory, AJ Allmendinger held off a hard charging Marcos Ambrose during the closing laps of the Cheez-It™ 355 at The Glen.
The last road course of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season at The Glen gave AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose their best chance to qualify for the Chase. They both knew the stakes were high and gave their best effort to secure a win. They bumped each other door-to-door, racing side-by-side through the esses, and amazingly did it without wrecking. To the thrill of fans they ran a clean, hard race before Allmendinger made his last pass in turn six with just over one lap left to run. From there he went on to the checkered flag and his first series’ career win.
“I was hoping to make it boring, honestly,” Allmendinger said. “I wanted to lead all 90 laps and just have a cruise control. But that’s what makes the Sprint Cup Series so fun. You know you’re not going to get that.”
Allmendinger did lead 30 of the 90 laps in the Cheez-It™ 355, but the race was anything but boring. For the JTG Daugherty Racing team, the victory was huge as this is their first time becoming eligible for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“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 of the way if he had the opportunity,” said Allmendinger. “To his credit, he didn’t wreck me. He just moved me like 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.”
“I knew if I could just get a three- or four-car-length gap, they weren’t going to get back to me. That was just a fun race. Thanks to the fans for enduring the red flags, the track workers for putting the track back together a couple of times. Everybody at home, if you didn’t love that, you are not a fan of racing.”
For Ambrose game-changing move of the race happened on the lap 86 restart, when he took the lead after a side-by-side race through the esses only to lose it when Allmendinger out braked him into turn one before two separate incidents involving Denny Hamlin and Alex Kennedy caused the third red flag and sixth caution of the afternoon.
“I slid coming off turn 11 after I got the lead (on lap 86), and he was able to get it back before the caution dropped,” Ambrose said. “That was probably the difference between winning and losing the race right there.”
“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. 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 esses side-by-side without wrecking the whole field, because it could have easily happened out there.”
The last lap battle for the lead was worth the wait, but waiting was longer than anyone might have anticipated.
A high-impact crash on lap 56, near the exit from the Carousel in turn five halted the action for an extended period as repairs took place on the severely damaged barriers between turns five and six, resulting in one of three red flag cautions.
Cars destroyed in the wreck included the No. 31 of Ryan Newman, which turned sideways, smashing into the guard rail to the right of the track. Then, the No. 95 of Michael McDowell plowed into Newman’s car as it bounced from the barrier and backed hard into the guard rail on the left side of the road course. Newman was racing behind Biffle just before the wreck.
“From my standpoint, Biffle jumped the curb and hit the splitter or something up on the curb and got out and got across the grass,” Newman said. “And I probably could have given him a little bit more (room), but I tried to time it so I could shoot past, but he slowed down when he got back on the race track.”
Newman shot across the track, into the barrier as he was trying to avoid Biffle. McDowell, however, had no chance to avoid Newman’s car.
“I’m not sure what happened,” McDowell said. “I saw the 16 (Biffle) get wide and the 31 (Newman) come back across the track. I didn’t have time to adjust or move. I tried not to hit Ryan in the door there. That was pretty much it. I was just along for the ride.”
The red flag lasted more than 81 minutes and after pit stops under caution when the race resumed, Allmendinger passed Edwards for the top spot on lap 61. He stayed out front, maintaining a lead of more than 1.5 seconds over Ambrose who moved into second place on lap 66.
Polesitter, Jeff Gordon led the first 29 laps, falling back to second and then losing power to finish 34th after getting back into the race.
Ambrose was looking for a sweep at The Glen, after winning the Zippo 200 Nationwide Series race on Saturday afternoon. He restarted ninth and in a few laps managed to take over third on the last restart. Ambrose ran as high as first place only to fall to second after battling with Allmendinger for the top-spot.
Behind Allmendinger and Ambrose to the checkered flag were Kurt Busch finishing third, series Rookie contender Kyle Larson fourth and Carl Edwards finishing fifth.
Rounding out the top-ten were Joey Logano finishing sixth, Kevin Harvick seventh, Greg Biffle eighth, Matt Kenseth ninth and Kasey Kahne came home tenth.
There are just four races remaining to set the Chase for the Sprint Cup Series Grid. For Dale Earnhardt Jr, his 11th-place finish now puts him at the top of the point standings, with a five-point lead over Gordon , which also gives him the top-spot on the Chase Grid with three wins this season.
Next up for the Sprint Cup Series is the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday, August 17th, with a green flag at 1:20 pm ET. Television coverage begins at 12 pm ET with a pre-race show on ESPN.