If Sonoma is anything like the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America, then this weekend is set to be solid.
The chaotic last laps of a road course race are almost guaranteed, like a ‘buy one, get one free’ deal. “You expect to see 50 laps, but you’ll get to see _______ extra laps, too!” It’s when you buy yourself a gift for Christmas: kinda sad, yet still pleasing.
The Green-White-Checkered rule shines within the twists and turns of road courses, and it was definitely in effect Saturday afternoon. Also, fuel strategy and a driver’s brain trust is very important, more so than usual. Cars pitting on lap 2, though quite odd, was all part of the plan. Crunching numbers, teams were frantic, scared that one ounce of fuel didn’t make it in the tank. That would throw everything off.
But, the one thing that outlasts fuel strategy and havoc is simple, plentiful, and in every single driver: heart.
And AJ Allmendinger has exactly that.
The field attempted to knock Allmendinger out of the lead, and some succeeded in putting him a few spots back, but he persevered. And he fought. Hard. That led to him winning, grabbing the checkered with a huge smile on his face.
Yes, there were some guys who fought harder, but they made huge mistakes. Case in point, Billy Johnson. Not many knew who he was coming into today’s race, but they sure know his name now. Let’s just say he was “aggressive,” and that “aggression” earned him a slap from one of his victims, Max Papis.
Okay, it was a slap to the helmet, but that doesn’t sound dramatic.
Anyway, some Nationwide regulars encountered issues. Regan Smith, Trevor Bayne, Travis Pastrana. Yes, that’s terrible.
But I want to focus on Allmendinger. I also want to tell you a story.
A few weeks ago, I was invited to a media outing involving Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to promote the Diamond Cellar Classic, which was that coming weekend. It was a creative event, where we, the media, got to play miniature golf with other media members, Mazda driver Patrick Gallagher, and car owner Michael Shank.
After the fun and games were over, we were all served lunch and allowed to mingle and interview the special guests. Mr. Shank reached out to me, and we began to talk.
As many people know, Allmendinger has run for Michael Shank Racing before, and they won the 24 Hours of Daytona together in 2012. To place known ground under my feet, I mentioned this and other things about the troubled driver. At one point, I stated, “After what happened last year, it’s definitely great to see him get a second chance.”
“Yeah,” Mr. Shank agreed. “He’s such a great guy with a great personality, and it’s hard to come back from something like that… I have so much respect for him for trying again.”
In that moment, it became apparent that Allmendinger wasn’t creating harsh emotions in people anymore. His determination and unwillingness to give up motioned everyone into his corner. When his life was seemingly over, he dusted himself off and tried to set himself straight.
And it worked.
As he stood in Victory Lane, smiling wide and kissing cameras, I couldn’t help but grin with him. After all, NASCAR is about second chances. Some may abuse that privilege. Some may take it to heart.
AJ Allmendinger has that heart, and that earns my respect.
It’s only fitting that he won at Road America, since the Road to Recovery put him back on track (literally).
Sometimes life just works like that.
Point Standings after Road America
1. Regan Smith (–)
2. Justin Allgaier (-28)
3. Sam Hornish Jr. (-30)
4. Austin Dillon (-45)
5. Elliott Sadler (-48)
6. Parker Kligerman (-60)
7. Kyle Larson (-67)
8. Brian Scott (-68)
9. Brian Vickers (-74)
10. Trevor Bayne (-86)