WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – AJ Allmendinger would like nothing better than a good, strong case of déjà vu.
“Hopefully, we’re reliving last year,” Allmendinger said after putting his No. 47 JTG/Daugherty Chevrolet on the pole for Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at The Glen (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
Last year the road course ace barged into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup by winning at Watkins Glen from the sixth starting position.
On Saturday at the 2.45-mile road course, Allmendinger posted the only sub-69-second lap (1:08.993) to win the pole at 127.839 mph, edging Martin Truex Jr. (127.569 mph) for the top starting spot in the 22nd NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season.
Tony Stewart (127.481 mph) qualified third, followed by Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick (127.416 mph) and four-time Watkins Glen winner Jeff Gordon (127.181mph), who is making his final start at the Central New York road course as a full-time Sprint Cup driver.
The Coors Light Pole Award was the fourth of Allmendinger’s career, his first at Watkins Glen and his second of the season — and it marked a dramatic turnaround from a disappointing final practice on Friday afternoon, when Allmendinger was 28th on the speed chart.
“I didn’t do a good job (on Friday),” Allmendinger said. “They saved me. They gave me a good race car… I don’t know if I’ll sleep any better tonight, but I’ll be ready for tomorrow.”
As he tries for a repeat performance, Allmendinger will have a familiar chassis under him.
“It’s the same car we ran last year, the same car we ran at Sonoma,” said Allmendinger, who also won the pole for the West Coast road course race in June. “But they put a lot more work into it over the winter to make sure it was lighter, we got the right tools that we needed into the car to make it faster.”
Clearly, there’s pressure on Allmendinger to qualify for the Chase, but most of it is self-generated.
“There isn’t any more pressure than I put on myself,” he said. “These guys (his team) deserve it. I want to lift them on my shoulders and carry them to Victory Lane. Last year was special and it just makes you want to do it more and more.
“But the outside, there ain’t nothing there (in terms of pressure). It’s all inside here that I put the pressure on myself, and I’m going to go try to make it happen. These guys deserve it.”
Kyle Larson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Austin Dillon will start from positions six through 10 on the grid. TJ Bell failed to make the 43-car field.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying – Cheez-It 355
(47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 127.839 mph.
(78) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 127.569 mph.
(14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 127.481 mph.
(4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 127.416 mph.
(24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 127.181 mph.
(42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 126.948 mph.
(88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 126.912 mph.
(18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 126.868 mph.
(48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 126.828 mph.
(3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 126.788 mph.
(2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 126.112 mph.
(51) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 125.980 mph.
(11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 126.826 mph.
(41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 126.790 mph.
(19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 126.677 mph.
(22) Joey Logano, Ford, 126.610 mph.
(1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 126.595 mph.
(15) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 126.584 mph.
(55) David Ragan, Toyota, 126.533 mph.
(31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 126.488 mph.
(43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 126.092 mph.
(10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 126.068 mph.
(5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 126.040 mph.
(9) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 125.995 mph.
(16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 125.923 mph.
(20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 125.890 mph.
(83) Matt DiBenedetto #, Toyota, 125.849 mph.
(27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 125.781 mph.
(13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 125.775 mph.
(17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 125.616 mph.
(95) Michael McDowell, Ford, 125.573 mph.
(34) Chris Buescher(i), Ford, 125.452 mph.
(35) Cole Whitt, Ford, 125.217 mph.
(6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 124.744 mph.
(33) Alex Kennedy #, Chevrolet, 124.615 mph.
(40) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 124.068 mph.
(38) David Gilliland, Ford, Owner Points
(32) Boris Said(i), Chevrolet, Owner Points
(7) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, Owner Points
(46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, Owner Points
(26) Jeb Burton #, Toyota, Owner Points
(23) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, Owner Points
(98) Timmy Hill(i), Chevrolet, Owner Points
1 drivers failed to qualify.
(62) TJ Bell(i), Chevrolet, 123.607 mph.
Reid Spencer – NASCAR via Getty Images
Image: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images