After finishing a career-best second in last week’s race at Martinsville Speedway, A.J. Allmendinger is confident his first win in the Sprint Cup Series is right around the corner.
Allmendinger came close to his maiden win in NASCAR’s premier series — 0.342 seconds to be exact. Ryan Newman held off Allmendinger during a green-white- checkered finish for the win.
In what has been a sluggish start to the 2012 season, Allmendinger got a much- needed boost with his second-place run at Martinsville, which moved him six positions up to 20th in the point standings. He also recorded his first top- five finish since May 2011 at Charlotte.
Last December, Allmendinger signed with Penske Racing to replace Kurt Busch in the No. 22 car. Todd Gordon also joined Penske to serve as crew chief for Allmendinger’s team. Gordon had been a veteran crew chief in the Nationwide Series.
Expectations are high for Allmendinger this year, and there’s no doubt he’s feeling the pressure.
“Ultimately for me, I put a lot of pressure on my shoulders, because I know these guys that are on this 22 car are used to running up front every weekend, and they are used to having a chance to win races or used to winning races,” Allmendinger said. “I put that on me to go out there and step up to the game.”
Allmendinger began this year on a high note by winning the 24-hour Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series race at Daytona International Speedway in January. But its been a bit of a struggle for Allmendinger since then, as he finished no better than 15th in the first five Sprint Cup races this season. He posted a 34th-place finish in the Daytona 500 and a 37th-place run at Las Vegas.
“We’ve had some bad luck,” he said. “Vegas, we were fast and had the fuel pump issue. Bristol, we were really fast early in the race and had a rear end problem that broke, and that cost us our handling.
“So ultimately, it’s just myself and Todd Gordon. It’s his first year in Cup. Obviously we would like to go out there and set the world on fire, but it’s not that easy. We are just going to keep working hard.”
During his 2007 rookie season in Sprint Cup, Allmendinger failed to qualify for 19 races, including the first four, with Red Bull Racing. Allmendinger spent one more year with Red Bull before driving for Richard Petty Motorsports from 2009-11. He finished a career-high 15th in points last year.
Allmendinger considers this year as not only his best chance to win a race but his opportunity to make the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field.
Right now, Allmendinger has accumulated 143 points, which puts him 46 markers behind 10th-place Jimmie Johnson. Twenty races remain before the Chase begins in September.
“I feel like the last two years, I’ve at least got on a good rhythm,” Allmendinger said. “It makes me feel good to know that a guy like [team owner] Roger Penske can look at my talent and say, you know what, he might not have a Cup win and you have [sponsor] Shell-Pennzoil that’s used to winners and champions in their cars, but if we give him the right stuff, he might be able to do that.”
After taking their first weekend off, Sprint Cup Series teams return to racing on Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway.