Jeff Gordon: Allmendinger the one to beat today at Sonoma

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He grew up not far away, long has considered Sonoma Raceway his home track and spent a great deal of his time there as a fan while growing up. Later as a competitor, he posted some very good results on the 12-turn layout.

While that certainly would describe Jeff Gordon, who will make his 23rd and final career start Sunday at Sonoma, it also describes AJ Allmendinger.

The pole-sitter for today’s Toyota/SaveMart 350, Allmendinger would like nothing more than to win in front of his hometown fans and friends, just as Gordon has done five times.

Having grown up about 90 miles away in San Jose, Calif., Allmendinger is one of the better road-course drivers in Sprint Cup. His breakthrough victory in NASCAR’s premier series occurred last August at Watkins Glen International, where he held off Marcos Ambrose in a classic battle.

Allmendinger has a very good chance to replicate that success Sonoma. This will be his first start from the pole since April 2012 (Kansas Speedway) and his first pole on a Cup road course.

“We know if we go do our job, and I go do my job, and we have solid pit stops and we just take care of business, at the end we should give ourselves a chance and that’s all we can ask for,” Allmendinger told Fox Sports 1 after Saturday’s qualifying session.

With Ambrose returning to his native Australia to race V8 Supercars, Allmendinger has been elevated to the driver to beat on road courses such as Sonoma.

So says Gordon, the all-time road-course winner in NASCAR with nine victories.

“He ranks up there as much or more,” Gordon said of Allmendinger. “He outran Marcos last year at Watkins Glen, which I thought was extremely impressive.

“I had been racing with Marcos that weekend up until we had our issues. He was strong, he was really tough and I didn’t think anybody was going to beat him. The fact that AJ did shows what his talents are on a road course.

“This road course, it takes a different type of driving style. AJ’s extremely aggressive, nobody drives deeper into the corners than AJ does. At Watkins Glen, that way of attacking the racetrack is very beneficial in putting lap times together.

“Here (at Sonoma), I think is a fine line and balance. I think AJ has the skills to be the fastest and best here this weekend, and certainly in qualifying, and then it’s going to come down to executing that in the race, but yeah, I would say he’s the guy to beat.”

Allmendinger embraces that type of thing. He wants to take his career, as well as the performance of his race team, JTG-Daugherty Racing, to even higher levels.

“You want to go out here and perform, but I just try to make it like any other race,” Allmendinger said. “No more pressure. No less pressure. And just go out there and do all I can and hopefully my good enough is enough to win. If not, just try to get everything we can.”

Allmendinger also won twice in 2013 on road courses in the Xfinity Series (Road America and Mid-Ohio).

His No. 47 Chevrolet team has struggled much of this season with two top-10 finishes.

“Right now, our team is just trying to improve,” Allmendinger said. “And the last six or seven weeks, we’ve kind of lost our way a little bit.

“This is probably a great race to try to get some momentum back, knowing that if we go out there and we do a good job, we should have a good chance to at least win the race or be in contention inside the top five. The guys have done a fantastic job in the off-week to really focus on this race car and get it better.

“But yeah, at the end of the day, I know what the prize is. I know if you win, you make the Chase; and that’s so important. But I try not to focus on putting the pressure on that this race is do or die, or Watkins Glen is do or die; and if we don’t, it doesn’t happen.

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Starting grid for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma

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AJ Allmendinger will start from the pole in Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sooma Raceway.

It’s Allmendinger’s first Sprint Cup pole since April 2012 (Kansas) and first-ever pole on a road course (either Sonoma or Watkins Glen).

Kurt Busch will start on the outside of the front row.

Last year’s race winner, Carl Edwards, will start 14th.

Here’s the row-by-row starting grid:


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Bowyer fastest, Danica 4th-fastest in first Sprint Cup practice at Sonoma


Clint Bowyer, AJ Allmendinger, Sam Hornish Jr. and Danica Patrick were fastest in the first of two Friday practice sessions for the Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

Bowyer (95.547 mph), Allmendinger (95.318), Hornish (95.091) and Patrick (95.012) were the only drivers to exceed 95 mph.

Bowyer’s performance is of note because his best finishing average at any Cup track is at Sonoma (9.2). Bowyer won there in 2012, while former Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. won there in 2013.

Right behind were Jamie McMurray, fifth-fastest at 94.940 mph, followed by David Ragan (94.802), Greg Biffle (94.781), Kevin Harvick (94.713), Kurt Busch (94.554) and defending winner Carl Edwards (94.497).

The second session will take place later today, running from 6:30 pm to 7:55 pm ET.

Qualifying takes place Saturday – the only on-track action for the Sprint Cup drivers that day – at 2:15 pm ET.


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A new feeling: AJ Allmendinger on how NASCAR’s rules package impacts racing

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After the first race with NASCAR’s new aero package, AJ Allmendinger had an interesting take on the new rules and what it was like in the seat.

“I definitely like the less downforce,” Allmendinger said in a team release. “It looked like on restarts in front of me and in the car, you definitely had to work. When the tires went off, you had to work the race car. I remember driving home Sunday night thinking, ‘Gosh my chest is sore, my arms are sore.’ It was a workout for 500 miles around Atlanta. It was a lot of fun for that reason.

Last weekend’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway marked the debut of rules intended to reduce downforce about 24 percent and cut 125 horsepower. Teams get another chance to see how the package works this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Allmendinger, who finished seventh to winner Jimmie Johnson at Atlanta, said the changes definitely made an impact during the race.

“The less horsepower, I’m not sure yet, honestly,” Allmendinger said. “It’s definitely a different driving style. I have to learn it. I have never liked taking away horsepower, but there are some (benefits) for the racing. When I went back and watched the race, if you got checked up, guys would have huge runs and it made passing a little easier at times. But it made it a little tougher at times because if you had to check up behind somebody when you had a run on them, it would just kill your momentum.

“The leader would still get out there a little bit and kind of drive away. Honestly, any package we have, that’s the way aerodynamics work. It’s a little too soon to say that I like this better than last year. I definitely have got to learn it. The less downforce is going to make for good racing over the course of the year. and I’m excited about that.”