WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (WETM-TV) – There’s two levels of excitement, the usual, and the level that A.J. Allmendinger was on Sunday.
There were few words for the driver of the No. 47 car, after arriving in Victory Lane. “Whew, disbelief, excitement, thought maybe it’s still a dream? I didn’t know. All I knew was I told the guys, ‘Get to the start/finish line because we’re going to celebrate cause this is a team and family effort.'”
But that wasn’t always the case. Just two years ago, Allmendinger was without a family, after a drug suspension, which cost him a spot at Penske Racing.
The Cheez-It 355 Champion knows that it helped become the man he is today. “I would have loved to win back at Penske Racing, but at the same point, to be able to share this, the first cup win, with the 47 team, I wouldn’t change it.”
Allmendinger went through NASCAR’S Road To Recovery program, which included counseling and rehabilitation.
“I’m so much better of a person, for what I went through. I’m so much happier, more centered, and it’s still a daily process,” said Allmendinger.
Allmendinger worked on improving himself as an human being, the next question, was who would help him improve as a driver. An injury to Bobby Labonte opened that door.
“You know, Bobby broke his clavicle or whatever, i just know he was the right guy for this team. we try and run it like a family, and he was looking for a home,” said JTG Daugherty Racing Co-Owner, Tad Geschickter.
Brad Dougherty recalled meeting him for the first time. “I saw a competitive young man, with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, felt like he had the rug yanked from under him, and he had learned a valuable lesson.”
JTG Daugherty Racing has had some ups and downs as a young underdog team. One of their best, if not thee best moment came on Sunday, and it’s signaled to other drivers, that Allmendinger’s road to redemption, has started a new chapter.
“Sunday’s third place finisher, Kurt Busch noticed a difference. “When you’re cultivating that hard work, and now it’s starting to turn around for you, he deserves it, he put himself through all those mental challenges. He persevered. He didn’t break down, so we’re all very proud of him.”
It’s up to Allmendinger and his new family to continue, where the cheez-it 355 left off.