AJ Allmendinger knows it took a little green-white-checkered craziness for him to finish second Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, but for a team desperately needing some good news, he’ll take it.
“I don’t know if we had a second-place car, but with the way these races play out, you’ve got to put yourself in position,” Allmendinger said after the race. “It was definitely a top-10 car.”
Ryan Newman didn’t have a winning car, either, but that’s how it turned out after Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson — driving the two best cars in the field Sunday — got wrecked on the first overtime restart.
Sometimes things don’t go your way in the end, and sometimes you catch a break. Allmendinger got one Sunday for a career-best finish and his first strong showing since making the move to the No. 22 Dodge for Penske Racing.
“We’re getting better together,” Allmendinger said. “It’s frustrating at times. It wasn’t a good feeling around here. I was kind of lost, so I’m really thrilled with the finish, but I’m happy with how we ran all day.
“I want to be up there every weekend. I’m trying my butt off, trying everything I can to get these guys up front. They’re behind me. It feels good to have an organization behind you even when you feel like you’re struggling a little bit.”
Allmendinger feels the pressure to perform as the guy who replaced Kurt Busch, a former Sprint Cup champion who made the Chase four times in his six seasons at Penske and has 24 Cup victories.
Allmendinger still is looking for his first Cup win. He came close Sunday, but couldn’t get by Newman on the final restart.
“I knew on that restart to hang on the outside of Ryan,” Allmendinger said. “But he ran me really clean and I thank him for that. We were just a little too tight. We had a really good car on the long run.”
Crew chief Todd Gordon said one good run can work wonders for the team’s confidence.
“It’s big for both AJ and myself,” Gordon said. “Obviously, this 22 car is known for winning races. This kind of gives us a step in the right direction to having the success that we both know we can have.”
After fuel system problems in Las Vegas and a 37th-place finish, Allmendinger has improved in each of the past three events — 17th at Bristol, 15th at Fontana and the runner-up showing Sunday.
Allmendinger has moved up 10 spots in the standings from 30th to 20th. And for those who are comparing, he’s six spots ahead of Kurt Busch and the underfunded Phoenix Racing team.
But Allmendinger realizes he’s on a team now that belongs much higher in the standings than 20th.
“I’m working so hard,” Allmendinger said. “I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself because these guys are used to running up front and deserve to run up front. I’m trying to learn as quickly as I can, just like Todd is. We’re trying to learn together.”
Allmendinger had his best race of the year on a day when he wasn’t feeling his best. He welcomes the off week for Easter before heading to Texas for the next event.
“I think we all need a rest,” he said. “I need to get healthy. I’ve been traveling so much doing a lot of fun things for Shell/Pennzoil and for AAA. I’ve been worn out. I think this is the right time to get a weekend off, take some notes that we learned from this weekend and go to Texas and be ready to go.”