Allmendinger: With favorite’s role comes pressure

SONOMA, CA - JUNE 27:  AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #47 Kingsford Charcoal Chevrolet, qualifies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 27, 2015 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

SONOMA, CA – JUNE 27: AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #47 Kingsford Charcoal Chevrolet, qualifies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 27, 2015 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

SONOMA, Calif. – AJ Allmendinger comes to Sonoma Raceway under the weight of great expectations.

Last year, he drove his No. 47 JTG/Daugherty Chevrolet to victory at Watkins Glen and used that race as a springboard to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Allmendinger is realistic enough to know that the road course races at Sonoma and Watkins Glen offer him the best chance to win a race and make the Chase, but he’d also like to deflect some of the pressure by refraining from putting the team’s sole focus on the road races.

“I know the format—if you win, you’re in the Chase,” Allmendinger said. “Right now, our team is just trying to improve. And the last six or seven weeks, we’ve kind of lost our way a little bit. This is probably a great race to try to get some momentum back, knowing that if we go out there and we do a good job, we should have a good chance to at least win the race or be in contention inside the top five.

“The guys have done a fantastic job in the ‘off’ week to really focus on this race car and get it better. But yeah, at the end of the day, I know what the prize is. I know if you win, you make the Chase; and that’s so important. But I try not to focus on putting the pressure on that this race is do or die, or Watkins Glen is do or die; and if we don’t, it doesn’t happen.

“We’ve just got to get better every weekend. I know that’s kind of cliché, but right now that’s really our goal. If we go out here and have a great run and build some momentum, that’s all we can do. Like I said, for me, I just try to drive my butt off. And if it’s good enough, it’s good enough. If it’s not, it’s not.”

Allmendinger added to his expectations Saturday when he won his first career road course pole and will lead the field to the green Sunday.

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