AJ Allmendinger remembers special day with Darlington throwback

AJ Allmendinger
Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

Nearly seven years later, it’s still sweet for AJ Allmendinger.

On Aug. 10, 2014, Allmendinger claimed his lone NASCAR Cup Series win at Watkins Glen International after a thrilling battle with fellow road course ace Marcos Ambrose.

That win is being commemorated with Allmendinger’s throwback paint scheme for Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway.

His No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet, which starts on pole, will mimic the JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet he took to victory at the Glen.

The gesture was a surprise for Allmendinger, one that was deeply appreciated.

“(Team owner) Matt (Kaulig) and Chris (Rice) asked me if I wanted to do a throwback and I said, ‘Well, if it’s something important to the team or a sponsor that we have or to Matt personally, sure,'” Allmendinger said in a Wednesday teleconference.

“But for me, it wasn’t that big of a deal. For them to surprise me like that … Really show how they appreciate (me) and how important I am to the team, to go through all the work to talk to (JTG Daugherty Racing co-owners) Tad and Jodi (Geschickter) and go through the steps they had to do to get the OK when it came to the logos and everything – that meant a lot.”

For Allmendinger, the Watkins Glen win marked the end of a two-year saga that saw him lose his full-time ride at Team Penske after failing a drug test, spend 2013 between part-time rides in Cup, Xfinity and IndyCar, and then restart his full-time Cup career with JTG Daugherty Racing in 2014.

At Watkins Glen 2014, a string of late yellows set the stage for Allmendinger and Ambrose to have it out in a two-lap sprint to the finish. Ultimately, Allmendinger took the checkered flag to complete his comeback.

And now, this weekend’s throwback has brought it all back.

“When you’re at the elite level in any form of motorsports, whether it’s NASCAR, IndyCar or Formula 1, to be able to do that especially with a smaller team like we did with JTG – there were so many people on the team that it was their first Cup win ever,” Allmendinger said about that day.

“And the way it went down, to have to lay it all on the line against Marcos Ambrose, who I always thought was one of the best we ever had when it came to road course racing – it’s always special.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t go back and watch the video every now and then when I need that little pick me up to go out there and know I can get the job done.”

Allmendinger acknowledges that there’s a similar “family” vibe between JTG Daugherty Racing then and Kaulig Racing now.

But there’s a key difference with himself.

In 2014, he fretted over restarting his career and keeping it alive. Now, he’s unencumbered by worries of the future.

“This side of it with Kaulig Racing – to me, it’s a bonus because I didn’t expect it initially,” he said. “Matt has so much fun with it and Chris Rice has so much fun with it, and that trickles down into the race team. Yeah, the ultimate goal – we’re out there to win. But it’s kind of a more loose feeling about it.

“We know we’ve got each other’s backs and that makes it a fun atmosphere, in that sense. … I don’t really look towards next season and what that might look like.”

Having competitive race cars brightens his outlook even more. Allmendinger clinched a playoff berth with a win at Las Vegas and has posted three additional top-five finishes in the four races since.

Darlington will be a stiff test. Allmendinger hasn’t raced there since 2018 and he admits it’s been one of his worst tracks (average finish of 26.1 in 11 Cup starts).

But knowing he has race-winning equipment, Allmendinger is meeting “The Lady in Black” with confidence.

“We’re at the point now that I feel like when we show up at the race track, we are one of the organizations to beat,” he said. “That makes it very enjoyable when you show up to each race track.”

COTA Xfinity starting lineup: AJ Allmendinger takes pole


AJ Allmendinger, who won this race a year ago, will start on the pole for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas.

Allmendinger earned the pole with a lap of 92.173 mph Friday on the 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Xfinity starting lineup

He will be joined on the front row Sammy Smith (91.827 mph).
Ty Gibbs (91.665) will start third. Sheldon Creed (91.652) qualified fourth. Parker Kligerman (91.195) will start fifth.

Cup driver William Byron will start ninth. Byron’s time was disallowed for cutting the esses. Cole Custer, who will start 10th, didn’t make a lap in the final round of qualifying.

Cup driver Aric Almirola (91.269) qualified 13th. Truck Series racer Carson Hocevar (90.669) will start 17th. Alex Labbe (90.476) will start 23rd. He’s filling in for Josh Williams, who is serving a one-race suspension for parking his car at the start/finish line of last weekend’s race at Atlanta.

COTA Truck starting lineup: Ross Chastain wins pole


Ross Chastain will start on the pole for Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas.

Chastain earned the top starting spot in Friday’s qualifying with a lap of 91.877 mph. He’ll be joined on the front row by Kyle Busch (91.490 mph).

More: COTA Truck starting lineup

Ty Majeski qualified third with a lap of 91.225 mph. Rookie Nick Sanchez (90.993) will start fourth, and Christian Eckes (90.937) will complete the top five.

Alex Bowman failed to make the race. Bowman had a flat right front on his qualifying lap.

Tyler Reddick leads Cup practice at COTA


Tyler Reddick posted the fastest lap in Friday’s Cup practice at Circuit of the Americas.

Reddick, who won two road course races last season, topped the field in his 23XI Racing Toyota with a lap of 92.989 mph. Kyle Larson was next, posting a lap of 92.618 mph around the 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Cup practice results

Ross Chastain, who won this race a year ago, was third on the speed chart in practice with a lap of 92.520 mph. He was followed by Kyle Busch (92.498 mph) and Daniel Suarez (92.461 mph).

Jordan Taylor, subbing for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports, was 10th on the speed chart in practice after a lap of 92.404 mph.

Former world champion Jenson Button, driving for Rick Ware Racing, was 28th in practice with a lap of 91.759 mph. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, driving the Project 91 car for Trackhouse Racing, was 32nd in practice after a lap of 91.413 mph.

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, driving in his first race for Legacy Motor Club since the Daytona 500, was 36th in practice after a lap of 91.072 mph. IndyCar driver Conor Daly was last among the 39 cars in practice with a lap of 90.095 mph.

Cup qualifying is Saturday. The series races Sunday.


Saturday COTA Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather


Austin Hill, the dominant driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series through the early weeks of the season, will be looking for his first Xfinity road course win Saturday.

Hill has won three of the season’s first five races, scoring victories at Daytona, Las Vegas and Atlanta.

Hill has been close in previous road course runs. He has a second at COTA, a third at Portland, a fourth at Road America and a ninth at Indianapolis.

MORE: Dr. Diandra takes a look at top Cup road course drivers

Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger own wins in the previous Xfinity races at COTA.

Allmendinger and three other Cup Series regulars — Aric Almirola, William Byron and Ty Gibbs — are scheduled to race in the Xfinity event.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 5:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled at 5:19 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 2 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Jordan Thiessen of Pit Boss Grills at 5 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by recording artist Payton Keller at 5:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 46 laps (156 miles) on the 3.41-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 14. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 5 p.m. … NASCAR RaceDay airs at 4 p.m. on FS1. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and can be heard at goprn.com. …SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mainly sunny. Temperature of 82 at race time. No chance of rain.

LAST TIME: AJ Allmendinger won last March’s Xfinity race at COTA. Austin Hill was two seconds behind in second place. Cole Custer finished third.