By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
SONOMA, California — The quest for a hometown victory for Los Gatos native A.J. Allmendinger went up in smoke on Lap 34 during Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.
Allmendinger, who started fifth, is always a threat to win on the road courses and things were going well in the opening stage that after ten laps, he was trailing race leader Martin Truex, Jr.
However, as the run went on, Allmendinger struggled finding speed to compete for the race lead. Then with three laps to go in Stage 1, several drivers pitted before pit road closed the following lap.
Both Truex and second place Kevin Harvick pitted together, giving Allmendinger the race lead, which he was able to keep a tight grasp on to close out the first stage, holding off Brad Keselowski to score an important playoff point.
In Stage 2, Allmendinger was beginning to work his way inside the top-15, battling Jimmie Johnson for a couple of laps. Then an unusual error from Allmendinger occurred at Turn 11, the road racing ace missed a shift and triggered a puff of smoke which turned out terminal.
His No. 47 Kroger/Clicklist Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 came to rest further down the track and brought out the second caution of the afternoon. Allmendinger will be credited for a 38th place finish.
“I missed a shift. I haven’t missed a shift in 10 years on a road course. Best gearbox that I’ve had since I’ve ever been here,” said Allmendinger. I was trying to be patient back there, and setup each move. Car was pretty good. I don’t know if it was race-winning. We needed to work on the long run.
“Believe me when it happened, I was in a lot of disbelief and shock. I wasn’t ready for it. I let everybody down on this race team. All the hard they’ve done, and pretty much let everyone down.”
His retirement marked his third of the season, and for the second straight year at Sonoma, finishes outside the top-30.