By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
Going into the race weekend at Watkins Glen International, A.J. Allmendinger was one of the pre-race favorites to win on the road course. This was Allmendinger’s best chance to score a win and qualify for the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Allmendinger was eighth fastest in the opening weekend practice and topped the charts in the final practice. In qualifying, Allmendinger put his No. 47 Kroger Chevrolet ninth on the grid.
It didn’t take long for Allmendinger to move forward after the race started. By lap 10, Allmendinger had climbed up to the third position. The caution waved for debris a few laps later as several teams elected to pit to be on an alternate strategy.
The race went back green on lap 15 as Allmendinger fought with Matt Kenseth for the second position. As Kenseth and Allmendinger reached the Esses, Allmendinger backed off instead of forcing a fight.
Green flag pit stops began a few laps later as Jimmie Johnson was the first to peel off of the racing surface. Allmendinger pulled off the track on lap 25 for his service. Unfortunately for Allmendinger, he was busted for speeding entering pit road. Allmendinger fell from third on the running order to 36th as he served his Pass-Thru penalty. Allmendinger was not alone as Johnson, Ryan Blaney, and race leader Carl Edwards also received pit road penalties for various violations.
Allmendinger slowly climbed back up the running order, from 36th on lap 30 to 29th on lap 40. Allmendinger’s movement up the running order was in part due to drivers on a different strategy pitting off-sequence. Allmendinger was 21st when the caution waved for a loose tire on pit road.
The race went green on lap 52, but the green flag run was short lived. Two laps later, a major accident occurred just after the Carousel as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun. Johnson slammed into Stenhouse as Austin Dillon and Greg Biffle also crashed trying to avoid the accident. Luckily for Allmendinger, he scooted around Stenhouse as he slid across the track, avoiding the melee.
After a brief red flag, the race resumed on lap 56. The caution waved yet again as several crashed in the Carousel. The back-to-back cautions helped Allmendinger as he was able to jump from 21st to 11th in the course of 10 laps.
With 20 laps to go, Allmendinger finally broke back into the top 10. As the laps ran down, Allmendinger’s progress slowed, as he was only able to climb up to eighth.
Another rash of cautions presented Allmendinger with another opportunity with several restarts. Allmendinger slowly climbed up the running order, but was penalized for failure to maintain pace car speed. Allmendinger had shut his car off to save fuel, and Kyle Larson passed him as he slowed. As a result, Allmendinger lost a position to Larson just before the final restart of the race.
Allmendinger and Larson battled for the fourth position during the final four laps of the race. Larson led Allmendinger, holding the road course ace off for much of the final run.
Coming to the final corner, Martin Truex Jr. had spun after contact with Brad Keselowski. When Larson and Allmendinger reached the corner, Truex was against the outside wall.
Both Larson and Allmendinger hugged the inside corner of the track. Allmendinger got up on the curb and made contact with Larson, sending Larson spinning hard into the inside wall. Allmendinger crossed the line in fourth as Larson wound up 29th.
Allmendinger never got up to the lead. This is the first time that Allmendinger has failed to lead a lap at one of the Sprint Cup Series’ two road course events since the Watkins Glen race in 2013.
A disgusted and frustrated Allmendinger put the blame on not winning the race, and his incident with Larson on himself.
“I cost us down pit road on speeding there and I just tried to fight back and just trying to get everything I could. Our last corner there, racing with Kyle (Larson) I just… I can’t sorry enough. It doesn’t help the case, I spun him out. I didn’t mean to spin him out. The No. 78 was spinning and I was starting to get my nose under Kyle to try to drag race him to the checkered. He was turning to come back down, but it was my fault. For fourth place it would be different if we were battling for the win, but I just hate it for him. It’s not going to help to say sorry, I know, I would be pissed off. He should be. I was going to be okay with that until that.”
Allmendinger’s disgust, frustration, and disappointment keeps him from finding any good in his fourth place finish today.
“I would have been okay except for the last corner. I cost us down pit road. I sped. And I fought hard to get back and restarts, I was aggressive, but I was going to be okay with that. I don’t want to race like that. If we’re going for the win, it’s all good. But not like that. I just cost Kyle a good finish. I’m just pissed off at myself.”