Great stories are a part of what makes sports great. You have your stories of competitors rising to greatness from humble beginnings. There’s the David vs. Goliath story lines, where a seemingly over-matched challenger topples a heavily favored champion. Let’s also not forget the stories of fulfilled potential, of strategic brilliance, and stories of redemption.
After making headlines of an unwanted variety, it’s heartwarming to see A.J. Allmendinger quietly spark a trend of progress at JTG Daugherty Racing. While Denny Hamlin made headlines for winning, and Brad Keselowski made headlines for wadding up the competition, Allmendinger crossed the finish line fifth at Talladega Superspeedway in understated fashion, and his team happily rolled up the 47 into the hauler, looking to keep a good thing good this Saturday at Kansas.
Owners Tad and Jodi Geschickter and Brad Daugherty pressed all the right buttons to set up an encouraging start to the 2014 season. They’ve made the move to Chevrolet from Toyota, hitched their wagons in a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing, and they brought on board a hungry and grateful Allmendinger to pilot the car with Purdue graduate and former National Guard sergeant Brian Burns atop the pit box. Burns took over as crew chief after Todd Berrier moved on to pursue other endeavors.
Heading into Kansas, the 47 team has a top five and three top tens in ten starts, good enough to put Allmendinger in 15th. It’s a definite step forward for JTG Daugherty, who found themselves making steps backwards after the departure of Marcos Ambrose to Richard Petty. Bobby Labonte was unable to recapture the magic of his days racing for Joe Gibbs, prompting a switch.
Just when it appeared Allmendinger was starting to put it all together while racing for Richard Petty, personal setbacks overshadowed his on track performance. There was a drunk driving offense in 2009, a divorce in 2012 and the hammer fell hard for the former Champ Car stalwart as he attempted a fresh start at Penske Racing in the 22. He failed a drug test before the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona and was suspended by NASCAR. Allmendinger says he made the mistake of taking Adderall for energy, and submitted to the governing body’s “Road To Recovery” program. He was reinstated by NASCAR by September, but ultimately, Allmendinger found himself looking for new employment.
The native of Los Gatos, California took on a couple of short-term gigs with Phoenix Racing and dabbled in Indy Car. Allmendinger led laps and finished seventh in the 2013 Indianapolis 500, making the most of an offer of another chance from Roger Penske. In a couple of NASCAR Nationwide Series road course stints, the diminutive (5’6″) Allmendinger captured his first NASCAR victories- an emotional win at Road America and a dominating victory at Mid-Ohio. The wins opened the door for a new start at JTG Daugherty.
After two 26th place finishes to open the 2014 campaign, Allmendinger and company have made strides. Allmendinger and the 47 crew finished 8th at Auto Club, and 11th at Martinsville. After a pair of quiet finishes, Allmendinger and JTG Daugherty have made big time steps with their runs at Darlingtonand Talladega, two very challenging tracks for entirely different reasons.
If you’re inclined to root for the little guy, AJ Allmendinger and the 47 gang just might be who you are looking for. By every indication, he’s put his past behind him, and this current climate of super teams, a single car team is racing towards relevance.
Making that next step towards being a bona fide contender cna look like a quantum leap at times. Nonetheless, people, talent and resources are converging at JTG Daugherty, shaking things up in what has been an unpredictable season. That, in and of itself, provides a jaded fan incentive just to see what could happen next. Don’t be surprised if this team makes headlines of a positive variety soon.