After eight years and 2013 race starts, A.J. Allmendinger claimed his first-career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win on Sunday, winning the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.
“Jimmie (Johnson) makes it look too easy,” Allmendinger said. “It’s hard; it’s not that easy.”
The win also put Allmendinger among the 16 drivers who will race for the championship in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup post-season.
“Honestly, the Chase doesn’t mean anything to me right now,” Allmendinger said.
On his way to the win, Allmendinger had to battle two-time Watkins Glen winner Marcos Ambrose on three late-race restarts. Ambrose wound up second.
“I tried to rattle his cage and just couldn’t shake him,” Ambrose said of Allmendinger. “We raced fair and square, there. I had a few shots at it, just couldn’t quite close the deal.
Ambrose and Jeff Gordon domianted the race early. Gordon, after starting on the pole, led 29 of the first 50 laps before a battery issue on lap 50. Most of the other laps of that first 50 were led by Ambrose.
Ambrose took the lead after a cycle of green-flag pit stops on lap 33. He was then the first driver off pit road during the caution that came out for Gordon’s stalled car. But Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne and Denny Hamlin stayed out for track position.
The yellow flag waved again soon after for a multi-car wreck involving Michael McDowell, Ryan Newman, Alex Bowman, Danica Patrick and David Ragan. The race was red-flagged for nearly an hour-and-a-half as repairs were made to a damaged guard rail.
The caution period after the red-flag put drivers in their pit window of being able to go the rest of the way after pitting under the caution. Those who stayed out during the previous caution had to stay in the pits long enough to take on fresh tires, while those who had previously pitted were able to just take fuel only.
Carl Edwards stayed out, planning to stretch his fuel. He restarted with the lead, but as soon as the race returned to green, Allmendinger moved into the top spot. Ambrose restarted ninth, but quickly worked his way back toward the front. He got up to second in just a few laps, but was unable to catch Allmendinger.
The fourth caution of the race came on lap 77, putting Allmendinger and Ambrose side-by-side on the front row for the restart. Ambrose was able to briefly take the lead, but by the completion of a lap, Allmendinger was back up front. The yellow flag waved two more times in the final laps, once for Johnson and then for Hamlin. Hamlin’s wreck resulted in another brief red flag for repairs to the pit wall.
On both of the last two restarts, Allmendinger and Ambrose battled for the lead, but each time, Allmendinger was able to maintain the position.
Kurt Busch and Kyle Larson got by Edwards on the last restart to finish third and fourth, relegating Edwards to fifth.
“If I couldn’t win, at least I got to see a good show,” Edwards said.
Finishing sixth through 10th were Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Brian Vickers.