Sonoma Raceway weekend turns focus to AJ Allmendinger

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It’s quite simple. This weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway is one of AJ Allmendinger’s best chances of winning and returning to the Chase.

As the most recent Cup winner of a road course event – he won last year at Watkins Glen – his road-racing background and how well he’s run on such tracks before, it’s not a stretch to think he could win.

“We all know it’s going to be one of our best opportunities to win,’’ Allmendinger said in a team release. “Last year, it was heartbreaking, but in the end I don’t think we had a car good enough to win the race with the way the race played out. So, we’ve got some good ideas this time around that will help us.”

Allmendinger has not finished better than 13th since March. Sonoma offers hope for a driver 22nd in the points. He has two top-10 finishes at Sonoma and led 35 laps last year. Contact late in last year’s race with Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended any hope for Allmendinger to win, while Earnhardt went on to finish third, his first career top-10 at Sonoma.

“It is more like a short track there, but in the end, track position is so critical and making sure you put tires on at the right point,’’ Allmendinger said of succeeding at Sonoma. “I would say strategy is almost more important at Sonoma than Watkins Glen because at Watkins Glen the race kind of just plays out and you know if you are going to do two or three stops. Your strategy in a certain way, everybody is kind of close to each other.

“At Sonoma, tires means so much. Look at a guy like Dale Jr. last year, I think he said he pitted five times. He said forget it we are not staying out we are pitting every time and it worked out for him. Strategy is important and track position is really important there.”

Crew chief Brian Burns also has another strategy in mind this year.

“Last year, I would say we had a very strong car on short runs,’’ he said in a team release. “Our focus is to put a little more into the car for long runs without sacrificing front speed. At Sonoma, you don’t want to fall off as much and struggle with rear grip.

 “We will treat this weekend like any another race, but everybody in our race shop knows this is a place we can go to and win. We want to stay calm, focus on a solid weekend and doing the easy stuff right.”