May 6, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
Chances are you haven’t noticed much, but one of the surprise and better stories the last several weeks from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage is the progression of AJ Allmendinger and the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet team.
This time last year, Allmendinger was ramping up for his Indianapolis 500 debut in a third Team Penske Chevrolet. He’d driven in two Verizon IndyCar Series races prior to that and had also made several starts for James Finch’s Phoenix Racing team, which is now HScott Motorsports.
Towards the end of the year, the brief open-wheel dalliance ran its course – Allmendinger started only the IndyCar season finale after a nightmare weekend at Roger Penske’s promoted race in Detroit when he crashed out on the first lap in both races.
His NASCAR presence intensified, with a higher volume of starts coming for both Finch and in the No. 47 car, which he now drives full-time. In total, Allmendinger started 18 of 36 Cup races last year, nine apiece with the two teams, and posted a 10th place finish at Watkins Glen for JTG as his best.
The No. 47 team, now running Chevrolets and with ECR engines after switching from Toyotas over the winter, has been a quiet surprise the last several weeks.
In 10 races this year, Allmendinger has not finished worse than 26th. In the last six races, Allmendinger has five top-15 finishes, and three top-10s; the best of which was a fifth he just posted this past Sunday in Talladega. He now sits 15th in points, only 18 out of the top 10.
“Heck, I just wanted to finish this race because I haven’t finished much here,” Allmendinger said in the team’s post-race release. “I was close to two of the wrecks. I was coming to the checkered flag thinking, ‘Please, let’s just roll this thing back up on the hauler with all four tires rolling.’
“It’s just a testament to this team. They work hard and all the credit goes to my guys. We only have about 35 employees and they keep busting their butts. Tad Geschickter his wife Jodi and Brad Daugherty have such a great ownership and it’s a lot of fun. They make me feel like family. This whole team is like family. This is probably the best team I have driven for when it comes to the unity of the team making me feel important.”
It’s not something to overlook, the progress of a motivated driver on a single car team looking to overachieve. Kurt Busch‘s efforts for Furniture Row Racing were among the great stories of 2013.
Now, the guy who replaced Busch at Penske, and is now going through his own rebirth, is starting to write the chapters of his own great story.