NASCAR on NBC podcast, Episode XXVI: A.J. Allmendinger

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A.J. Allmendinger returns to his hometown track of Sonoma Raceway this weekend with the same winner’s confidence but a much different championship attitude.

After virtually needing a victory to qualify for the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup, the JTG Daugherty Racing driver said on this week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast that his No. 47 Chevrolet can make the 2016 playoffs on points this season – lessening the pressure of last year’s win or bust approach.

“By the time we came to Sonoma, we were already out of the points” last season, said Allmendinger, who was ranked 21st and 79 points behind the cutoff spot after 15 races last year. “That made Sonoma just that little bit more pressure knowing if you went there and won, it was great. But if you went there and finished second, it was a good day, but it really did nothing for us in points.

“This year, we’re right on that 16th place cutoff.”

Through 15 races this season, Allmendinger already has matched last year’s total for top 10s (three), including a season-best second at Martinsville Speedway. He is ranked 19th in the standings and a manageable 27 points behind Ryan Blaney, who holds the provisional cutoff spot for the Chase.

“Right now every week is a points race,” Allmendinger said. “It’ll make Sonoma a little bit easier knowing you come and have a solid day and finish second or third, that’s still big for us in the points. That’s how I look at this year. We’re stronger everywhere we’ve been.

“I don’t doubt Sonoma, even though we’ve had fast race cars the past two years, we’re not going to be stronger. I really feel confident that we will be, but it is a slightly different outlook than in the past. … You try and maximize each weekend. At this point last year, it wasn’t about maximizing Sonoma, it was about winning. Ultimately believe me, that is my goal. I would love to win my hometown race. I’d love for it to be a win. That’s still the ultimate goal, but it’s a slightly different outlook. If we have a 2nd or 3rd place finish, it makes a big difference in points, and that’s what we want.”

Last year, Allmendinger, whose lone Sprint Cup win in 2014 at Watkins Glen International catapulted him to the playoffs, swept the road-course pole positions at Sonoma and Watkins Glen. But he finished outside the top 20 in both because of mechanical problems.

“Last year we shot ourselves in the foot,” he said. “Our race cars, our attention to detail are a lot better.”

Allmendinger also discussed on the podcast:

–His racing roots in Northern California, and why the native of Los Gatos doesn’t have strong emotional attachments or memories of home;

–How his single-car team has been able to excel this season despite the odds;

–A poor round of golf with car owner Tad Geschickter that convinced him he had found the right team in Sprint Cup.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking below or download the AudioBoom app and listen there. You also can download and subscribe to it on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here.

Stayed tuned for time cues to provide easy referencing while listening to the episode.