Allmendinger: Team improved even if points don’t reflect it

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – A.J. Allmendinger is ranked 23rd in the Sprint Cup standings entering Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen International — only two spots better than before last year’s breakthrough victory here.

But the JTG Daugherty Racing driver insists that much has changed about his team.

“If you look at the points, we’re probably in the same spot,” Allmendinger said Friday before Sprint Cup practice for the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen. “I look at it in a completely different way. We’ve had struggles over the last couple of months. But I think our equipment is better. The communication and the progression as a race team (are) better. It really comes down to last year, I’d never won a Sprint Cup race. I know what it feels like now, and I know what I have to do. For that reason, I think it’s a lot different from last year.

“We’re a lot closer now. We believe in ourselves. Even through the downs.”

The results mostly had been down lately for Allmendinger, whose seventh at Pocono Raceway last Sunday ended a 17-race stretch without a top 10.

That also is another way this season is different than last. In 2014, Allmendinger headed to Watkins Glen from a 34th at Pocono – his 11th consecutive finish outside the top 15.

“We’d hit a lull big time and were struggling,” Allmendinger said. “At Pocono, we crashed and it was like everything was coming apart at the seams. At that point, it was kind of one side, I was confident we were going to have a good car. On the other side, the momentum that we had, there was none there.”

The Los Gatos, Calif., native has a better frame of mind, too, particularly on arriving Thursday at the 2.45-mile road course.

“It was pretty cool driving in the racetrack and just kind of remembering the last time I was driving out of the racetrack,” he said. “The amount of joy that I had and just all the feelings and emotions that I had gone through. Those are memories that no matter what happens the rest of my life I will always have. Just to experience something that I’ve worked so hard for in eight years in the Sprint Cup Series between (team co-owners) Tad and Jodi Geschickter and Brad Daugherty and everybody on this team last year to get that win was really special.”

Allmendinger said his first win in NASCAR’s premier series elevated the team’s camaraderie and faith, but his No. 47 Chevrolet still needs to improve if he wants to advance beyond the first round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup after being eliminated in three races last year.

“We all believe in each other, and we all trust in each other as a team to know that we are all trying to go in the right direction,” he said. “We’ve just got to figure out how to get there.

“We definitely have to get better.  The great thing is the pipeline of racecars that we have through the rest of the year, for the most part, is pretty new cars.  So, our equipment is going to be a lot better if we have the opportunity to get into the Chase than it was last year.”