Allmendinger makes ‘Chase’
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y.—AJ Allmendinger’s journey is almost complete.
With a new contract, sponsor extensions, and a solid one-car team at JTG Daugherty Racing, Allmendinger became a winner in Sprint Cup for the first time on a sombre Sunday—outduelling Marcos Ambrose in the final two laps at Watkins Glen International.
“It’s just a dream come true.”
The day began on a solemn note when three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart pulled out of the race 12 hours after he struck and killed 20-year-old sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. in a race after Ward climbed from his car on a small dirt track in nearby Canandaigua.
Allmendinger offered his condolences to the Ward family after he won.
“We’re a community here, we’re thinking about you,” he said.
“It’s a tough time for everybody,” Allmendinger added. “This NASCAR community, as a whole, we’re a family.
“When anything like that happens, it’s something that you don’t get time to erase and forget about.
“Our thoughts and prayers go to the Ward family and what happened,” he remarked.
“And it also goes to Tony. It’s not like he’s sitting there and forgetting about it.”
“There aren’t words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.,” Stewart said in a statement released during the race by a spokesman.
“It’s a very emotional time for all involved, and it is the reason I’ve decided not to participate in today’s race at Watkins Glen.
“My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, and everyone affected by this tragedy,” he added.
Following an accident, Ward—wearing a black firesuit and black helmet—unbuckled himself, climbed out of the winged car into the night, and defiantly walked onto the track at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.
He gestured, making his disgust evident with the driver who triggered the wreck with a bump: three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart.
Ward, a relative unknown compared to NASCAR’s noted swashbuckler, was nearly hit by another passing car as he pointed with his right arm in Stewart’s direction.
As he confronted Stewart in his passing car, disaster struck.
Ward was standing to the right of Stewart’s familiar No. 14 car, which seemed to fishtail from the rear and hit him.
According to video and witness accounts, Ward’s body was sucked underneath the car and hurtled through the air before landing on his back as fans looked on in horror.
Yesterday, Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said investigators don’t have any evidence at this point in the investigation to support criminal intent.
But he also said criminal charges have not been ruled out.
Regan Smith drove Stewart’s car at Watkins Glen and finished 37th after having to start from the back of the 43-car field and getting caught in a late accident.
An expert road racer from his days in open-wheel, Allmendinger beat the best in Ambrose, who has been dominant in NASCAR’s top two series at The Glen, also winning four-straight Nationwide events.
Ambrose was going for a weekend sweep after capturing the Zippo 200 on Saturday.
“I’m thrilled for AJ,” said Ambrose, who drove for JTG Daugherty before Allmendinger.
The victory made JTG Daugherty Racing eligible for the Chase for the Sprint Cup title—and Allmendinger isn’t planning on stopping there.
“It’s huge to be in the ‘Chase,’” he said.
“I didn’t want to just say, ‘Just be there.’ We want to make some noise.”