Former Chase contender AJ Allmendinger has set his sights on finishing the year in the top ten in the Sprint Cup standings, and he's hoping that a strong result this weekend at the half-mile Martinsville Speedway will go a long way in securing that ambition.
"Martinsville Speedway is a real rhythm race track where you try to find your braking points and let the car roll through the centre of the corner," Allmendinger said. “You need to get into a rhythm there. The biggest aspect is that you have got to have a car that brakes well and rolls the centre to get the car pointed in the right direction.
"It took me a while to adjust because it is a tough race where so many things can happen," he recalled. "You can get bunched up on a restart or moved out of the way. You just have to be patient because it is a long race.
"It's tough but I've always enjoyed racing there," he added. "I have a lot of fun around that place. We had a good car there the first time around and finished 11th, but lots of things changed. Hopefully, we can have another good run."
He confirmed that he would be using the same chassis for his primary car this weekend as his last visit here. In 12 starts at Martinsville Speedway, Allmendinger's best finish was in April 2012 when he picked up second place, and he is hoping to go one better this week with the help of additional data collected by Richard Childress Racing during a test session.
“Our RCR alliance partners tested here recently," said Allmendinger's crew chief Brian Burns. "They learned a lot of things that we should be able to apply to our baseline package. The test went really well for them. We should be able to improve on our previous 11th-place finish earlier this year."
Currently the JTG Daugherty Racing driver is listed in 12th position in the championship standings but he's just 11 points behind Jimmie Johnson who currently holds that coveted tenth place, so tenth seems like a realistic ambition for Allmendinger whose previous best season result was 15th in 2011 when he was driving for Richard Petty Motorsports.
"I feel like we are on pace for a top ten finish in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings at the end of the season," said Burns. “That's our goal.”
"For a company our size, we set a goal when we got knocked out of the Chase to finish top ten in points," concurred team owner Tad Geschickte.
Thanks to a road race win at Watkins Glen in the summer, Allmendinger was one of the 16 drivers in the initial Chase line-up under the new format being used for the first time in 2014, but he was eliminated along with Greg Biffle, Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch after the first three play-off races. However Allmendinger can still finish as high as fifth place under the new system, which sees all the other drivers knocked out of the Chase before the season finale lose their temporary 'points boost' for being in title contention and drop back within range of Allmendinger.
Allmendinger's hopes of making it into the top ten almost went off the rails at Talladega last week when the #47 car was involved in a wreck, but the team managed to get it patched up again and as a result turned what would have been a 34th place finish into 23rd.
"That's 11 or more points than what we were going to get. It's a big deal because every point counts," Allmendinger explained. "Honestly, I thought we were done because aerodynamics are so important at superspeedways. I thought we were in trouble.
"I was doing everything right and running where I thought I was safe and I didn't do anything wrong," he insisted. "The wreck just happened around us and we got caught up in it. I was pretty down about it, but the guys did such a good job of getting the car fixed and the toe lined up. I was so surprised how much speed we had and then it was all about trying to get two laps back. We were able to do that."
That finish saw him ahead of Biffle, Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., and it's that sort of effort that's going to be required if he's to finish ahead of them and other former Chase contenders to pick up that top ten spot by the end of the season which is just four races away.
"Hopefully there are some guys that are not making the [Eliminator 8] Round that don't have the energy level to go into the final four races and we can pick off a couple more [positions]," said Allmendinger.
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