By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
A word that once again defined the annual Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida Saturday.
Unless its JTG Daugherty Racing, who were not only among a dozen cars without terminal damage, the two-car operation scored their first-ever double top-five finish with drivers A.J. Allmendinger and Chris Buescher finishing third and fifth respectively.
During second overtime, both drivers were in solid position to possibly stop the Toyota duo of Martin Truex, Jr. and Erik Jones, and perhaps bring the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1’s second win of the season.
However, their bid fell short as Jones scored his maiden win, but it didn’t dampened Buescher’s spirits after the race.
“Yeah, it was a wild night overall. Just proud of everybody on our Kleenex Wet Wipes Camaro ZL1. We fought hard today and stayed out of trouble and were there at the end with our teammate AJ (Allmendinger),” said Buescher. “We got a good run on the outside, we were able to give (Erik) Jones a good shove down the back there and got him clear. We just couldn’t quite clear with him. So, congrats to him on his first win.”
For Allmendinger, its his fourth straight finish inside the top-10 at Daytona, and certainly a huge boost to his frustrating season after a heartbreaking DNF at Sonoma Raceway three weeks ago.
“You know, tonight was strange,” Allmendinger on his first top-five finish this season. “Tried to ride at the back early on, and still got wrecked and had a lot of damage on the left rear of the race car, so my guys did a good job to fix it good enough. Heck, I probably missed another seven wrecks after that. It was just kind of chaos out there.”
Allmendinger said his left-side damage created a lot of drag, and wasn’t sure if it hurt his chances of scoring his second career Cup win.
“You know, it was a little bit of survival, and there at the end it was just trying to make the right moves,” said Allmendinger. “With that damage on the left side of the race car, it put a lot of drag in it, so I didn’t really know if we had a great shot to win it. I knew my only shot was going to be off of Turn 4 and try to make the right move.
“Going down into 3, Martin (Truex Jr.) was battling with Erik there and made a move and tried to push Martin and obviously get as much as I could, and we salvaged a great result out of it. We had two cars in the top 5 out of our race team. You know, I mean, it’s just a solid night. It’s one of these nights where you’ve just got to survive. It’s not pretty. I think that was a lot of crazy racing, but we survived.”
Allmendinger described his success at Daytona during the post-race conference.
“No, I mean, we’ve — for whatever reason, we run well here,” said Allmendinger. “My guys, they — we really work hard on setup and trying to get at least a good handling race car, especially in the 4th of July race, and Daytona, the last, I think, four races I’ve had a shot to win the race.”
Allmendinger also equaled his career-best at Daytona for the third time, and scores his first top-five since last year’s Daytona 500.
Buescher on the other hand, equaled his finish from February for his fourth career top-five, with his last three also being fifth-place efforts.
“Proud of our operation and what we were able to accomplish today,” said Buescher. “Wish we could have lined up and tried to get it, but that’s always easy to say after Daytona you go back and would love to replay it, but a good day for us.”
The JTG Daugherty duo are now 23rd and 24th in points with the senior driver leading the way. With the carnage at Daytona over, they’ll look to carry their momentum at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta for the 8th renewal of the Quaker State 400.
In their last trip at the ‘Bluegrass State,’ the team brought both of their cars home with top-20 efforts as Buescher finished 16th while Allmendinger ended up 20th.