Spoils of victory: Special mementos highlight JTG Daugherty’s Watkins Glen victory last year

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AJ Allmendinger tucked away his helmet and gloves. Crew chief Brian Burns grabbed a tire. Engineer Tony Palmer walked away with an empty champagne bottle.

Such mementos prominently are displayed in the homes of JTG Daugherty Racing members who celebrated the first Sprint Cup victory for Allmendinger and the team last year at Watkins Glen International.

They return this weekend to try to win for the first time since in today’s Cheez-It 355.

Burns, whose pit strategy put Allmendinger in position to win and earn the team’s first Chase for the Sprint Cup berth, took the right-rear tire from Allmendinger’s car as a keepsake. He wanted the left rear as well, but it was too badly damaged after Allmendinger’s burnout.

Burns had the team sign the sidewall of the right rear, set a photo from victory lane in the middle of the tire and placed the burnt rubber on a stand.

“I just wanted something to remember it by, and I thought it would be the coolest thing,’’ Burns says of the personal trophy for his first Cup win.

Allmendinger placed his gloves and helmet in a case at home with the gloves and helmets from other special moments in his racing career.

“That one went right to the top,’’ he said.

Palmer, who also celebrated his first Cup win last year, took one of the champagne bottles he and others sprayed after Allmendinger exited the car in victory lane. Team owner Tad Geschickter keeps a hat that Allmendinger personalized with a “heartfelt” message on his desk at the shop.

Michael Klein, jack man and pit crew coach, had been to victory lane three other times in his Cup career, but last year’s trip was special with the single-car team. While he has a replica checkered flag signed by his teammates and a ring – given to each team member by Allmendinger and team co-owners Tad and Jodi Geschickter and Brad Daughterty as a Christmas present last year – Klein says something else from that day means the most.

“The sense of pride,’’ he said. “To be able to build the team up and be able to accomplish our goal was big.’’

With those special items are the memories. For Burns, it was the numerous text messages about race strategy from Daugherty, who was in ESPN’s on-site studio that day.

“He was so nervous throughout the entire race from the first pit stop on,’’ Burns said of Daugherty. “Every time we had a caution or the red flags, he texted me like crazy. I was constantly having to calm him down.’’

No, Daugherty had not sent texts to Burns during a race before that day.

While Burns sought to soothe his co-owner’s nerves, Allmendinger tried to keep the pack behind him during the final 30 laps of the 90-lap race.

His late duel with Marcos Ambrose featured the beating and banging most often associated at short tracks.

“It’s one of those things that you get in that moment, and everything is a reaction,’’ Allmendinger said. “After it’s over, you almost forget that moment that it happened. It’s all of a sudden you’re in it and you cross the checkered, and it’s over, and (you’re like) ‘How the hell did that happen?’ ’’

A year later, the reaction is the same for Allmendinger when he sees the finish of that race.

“I still get chills,’’ he said. “I question myself a lot every day, how do I get better, can I get better? When it’s time to step up in those moments can you do it? On that day, I did.’’