By: Pete Pistone – @PPistone | MRN.com on April 3, 2016 | 6:00 P.M. EST
Allmendinger: “I passed Jimmie Johnson like five times at Martinsville; that’s pretty cool!” (Photo: Getty Images)
AJ Allmendinger turned in an impressive runner-up finish in Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway for his first top five since his 2014 win at Watkins Glen International.
The JTG Daugherty Racing driver qualified sixth for the season’s first short track race of the year and stayed near the front of the field most of the 500-lap grind around the historic track.
He was able to fight his way around to the second spot in the closing laps and made a valiant effort to track down eventual race winner Kyle Busch only to come up one position short of winning his second career Sprint Cup Series race.
“I had to get aggressive,” Allmendinger explained. “I thought heck with 12 to go we might have a new clock in the shop. Came up a little bit short, it’s pretty cool to be racing Kyle Busch for the win here though.”
Allmendinger tried his best to get to the bottom of the track and the preferred inside line in order to advance in the field, which is not the easiest task at Martinsville.
“With 35 (laps) to go it doesn’t matter you’ve got to do what you have to do,” he said. “We had such a good long run car I was hoping we would stay green for the last 120 laps. I thought we might really have a shot at them.
“Crew chief) Randall Burnett and all the guys and pit crew I can’t thank them enough. They really stepped it up the last two weeks and gave us a shot to win that race.”
The organization made some personnel changes in the off-season in hopes of improving its performance that dipped last year after Allmendinger made the Chase in 2014.
They’re hoping that effort culminates in another victory and more runs like the one Allmendinger had Sunday in Martinsville.
“Well, I was hoping for one more spot for a culmination,” Allmendinger joked. “But, I passed Jimmie Johnson like five times at Martinsville; that’s pretty cool! I can’t thank everybody on this team enough, especially (team owners) Tad and Jodi Geschickter. They put a lot of effort into this team. We weren’t where we wanted to be about six months ago. We brought in so many people who stepped up to embrace their new roles. I can’t thank all our sponsors enough.
“We’re getting there. There’s ups and downs. This is a long season. The biggest thing, especially with a team like ours, is when you have a good race car, you’ve got to capitalize on it. Fortunately, today we were able to do that.”