Aug 11, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
At any other time, A.J. Allmendinger’s triumph on Sunday at Watkins Glen International would be hailed.
His win in the Cheez-It 355 was his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.
It propelled him and his single-car JTG Daugherty Racing team into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
And it came after an electrifying battle over the last two laps with Marcos Ambrose, a driver equally skilled as he is in road racing, if not more so.
Then there’s the comeback aspect.
In 2012, Allmendinger failed a drug test and subsequently lost his full-time Sprint Cup ride with Team Penske. That led to a 2013 season in which he kept jumping between stock cars and open-wheel, where he first rose to fame as an American star in the tail end of the Champ Car era.
He then decided that NASCAR was where he needed to be and signed up for a full-time return to Cup this year with the small JTG Daugherty outfit.
And now, with Sunday’s win, they’re all going to be fighting the giants – Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and the like – for a championship this fall.
Allmendinger’s won some big races in his career, including the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona after holding off sports car ace Allan McNish in a great duel.
But considering everything he’s gone through, which he dubbed vividly yesterday as “absolute hell,” this is the topper.
When you think about it, this story has everything. Sadly, it also has unfortunate timing.
The shocking sprint car incident on Saturday night that involved SHR co-owner Tony Stewart and took the life of young Kevin Ward Jr. has become the talk of the sports world.
As investigators continue to hunt for any bits of information that can help them reach a final say on the matter, many in the fan base and in the media community have already – and loudly – taken sides.
And through it all, Ward’s family and Stewart are all having to come to grips with the fact that this will be with them for the rest of their days, no matter the final judgment from the authorities.
It’s a difficult situation that will only get tougher in the days and weeks ahead. And right now, it’s casting a dark cloud over all of motorsports.
Some could compellingly argue that it’s overshadowing Allmendinger’s moment in the sun. Other winners this year – notably Aric Almirola at the July Daytona race and Brad Keselowski at Loudon a week later – were overshadowed by accidents, so Allmendinger joins that unfortunate club.
But that doesn’t really matter in this instance. As beautiful as Allmendinger’s win was to see, it means nothing compared to matters of life and death.
However, to his great credit, Allmendinger struck the right tone on the subject after taking the checkered flag.
“This NASCAR community as a whole, we’re a family, and when anything like that happens, it’s something that you don’t just kind of erase and you forget about,” he said.
“And all of our thoughts and prayers, and it may not seem like it, or I wish there was more to do, but it goes to the Ward family and what happened. It also goes to Tony because it’s not like he’s sitting there and forgetting about it. It’s a tough scenario.
“You just try to come together. That’s all you can do. You try to be thankful every day for the things that we have, the things that we’re able to share together, and you also know that there’s a lot less fortunate out there and there’s a lot of disasters, whether it’s in racing or not.”
Think of the Wards. Think of Stewart. Be thankful for what you’ve got and who you’ve got to share them with. Be mindful of those that are troubled.
Allmendinger’s victory may not get its proper due. But he still deserves our thanks for that much-needed dose of perspective, and for lifting our spirits on what was an otherwise dreary Sunday.
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