Weekend Preview: Allmendinger ready to repeat at Watkins Glen, make Chase playoffs

WATKINS GLEN, NY - AUGUST 08:  AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #47 Scott Products Chevrolet, sits in his car in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International on August 8, 2014 in Watkins Glen, New York.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

WATKINS GLEN, NY – AUGUST 08: AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #47 Scott Products Chevrolet, sits in his car in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International on August 8, 2014 in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

AJ Allmendinger celebrated like a rock star following the perfect encore after going toe-to-toe with fellow road course ace Marcos Ambrose on the final two-lap restart and beating him to the finish line to win last year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International.

The then-32-year-old first-time Cup winner screamed “I love you guys, thank you,” slowly rose out of his seat to stand on the door of his car and belly flopped off of it to crowd surf on his jubilant crew members.

“Winning a race, no one can take that away from you,” said Allmendinger a year later. “You feel like you are king of the world for one day. At that moment, you are the best there is.”

Allmendinger will try to recreate that moment when he returns to the Central New York track for Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at The Glen (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN). He will need to if he wants to compete in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup again. Currently 23rd in the standings, Allmendinger is 99 points away from the Chase cutoff line and needs a win in the next five races to get in.

“I still believe it every day that we have a great shot to win a race and make The Chase and if I didn’t believe it, then I shouldn’t be in a race car,” Allmendinger said. “From there, it’s all about being better. Are we a championship winning team right now? Probably not, but all you have got to do is look at what Ryan Newman showed last year. All you got to do is get into The Chase and you’ve got a shot.”

For the race, the No. 47 team will bust out the same car Allmendinger drove to Victory Lane at Watkins Glen last year and earned the pole with at Sonoma in June. According to crew chief Brian Burns, the team has a twin brand new car, but it decided to use the old one.

Allmendinger has no doubt he can repeat.

“I know I believe in myself and that’s what I have always loved about road course racing, is that the driver can make a difference,” Allmendinger said. “You still need a great car, but a driver can make more of a difference by braking a little later, driving it in just a little bit more, getting a little bit more out of the car and I pride myself on that. When it comes time to do it, if we go do our job, we know we have a shot to win.”

Buescher pulls double-duty to start road course stretch

Chris Buescher will be extra busy this weekend.

The No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing driver gets to pull double-duty, running in Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series Zippo 200 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) at Watkins Glen International before making his sixth career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start for Front Motorsports in Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at The Glen.

BRISTOL, TN - MARCH 14: James Buescher, driver of the #99 Rheem Toyota, sits in his car during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Drive To Stop Diabetes 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 14, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo by Will Schneekloth/Getty Images)

BRISTOL, TN – MARCH 14: James Buescher, driver of the #99 Rheem Toyota, sits in his car during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Drive To Stop Diabetes 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 14, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Will Schneekloth/Getty Images)

“I really enjoy road racing and I am excited to get back to Watkins Glen,” Buescher said. “It is a very fast course and we had a really good car last year. I think we have some great notes to build on from last season. It will be a good weekend for us to get a top five and gain some more points.”

Buescher’s XFINITY Series standings lead over Chase Elliott has dwindled from 36 points to 20 over the last four races. He has failed to record a top-10 finish in the last five events.

Luckily for the 22-year-old Texan, three of the next four series races take place at road courses – Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio and Road America. It’s rare for young drivers to succeed at road courses, but last year, Buescher won at Mid-Ohio and ran in the top 10 at Watkins Glen before a mechanical issue and contact with a competitor relegated him to a 29th-place finish. In five road course starts in the ARCA Racing Series, Buescher earned one win (Road America, 2013) and three top-five finishes.

“I’m not a road course specialist by any means, but I really enjoy it,” Buescher said. “And each time we go out, we learn a lot, have a lot of fun and seem to do pretty decent at the same time.”

Buescher hasn’t piloted a Sprint Cup car since May 3, but believes he’s ready for Sunday.

“I’m really excited to go racing again in the Cup car,” he said. “I had some success on road courses last year, and I think Watkins Glen was a good track for us. I didn’t get to do Sonoma earlier this year, but I feel like we can get back into it at Watkins Glen and have a good day.”

NASCAR Race Weekend Guide

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Race: Cheez-It 355 at The Glen

Track: Watkins Glen International

Date and Time: Sunday, Aug. 9 at 2 p.m. ET

Distance: 220.5 miles (90 laps)

Tune-In: NBCSN, 1:30 p.m. ET, MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90

What to Watch For: AJ Allmendinger attempts to defend his 2014 Watkins Glen victory and make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. … Kyle Busch goes for his fifth win in the last seven races after coming up just short of four straight victories at Pocono last weekend. … Watkins Glen wins leader Tony Stewart (5) and Jeff Gordon (4) try to get back into Victory Lane at the Central New York road course and lock up spots in NASCAR’s playoffs. … Chevrolet needs one more NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win to reach 750. … Toyota has won 12 of the last 16 NASCAR national series races, including nine of the past 11.

NASCAR XFINITY Series

Race: Zippo 200 at The Glen

Track: Watkins Glen International

Date and Time: Saturday, Aug. 8 at 3 p.m. ET

Distance: 200.9 miles (82 laps)

Tune-In: NBCSN, 2:30 p.m. (ET), MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90

What to Watch For: Chase Elliott continues to cut into Chris Buescher’s XFINITY Series points lead. The 19-year-old defending champion has cut Buescher’s advantage from 36 to 20 over the last four races. … Watkins Glen begins a stretch of three road courses in the next four races. … NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regulars Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard and Kyle Larson will compete in Saturday’s Zippo 200. … Road Course specialists Boris Said and Kenny Habul will pilot the No. 54 and No. 20 Toyotas, respectively, for Joe Gibbs Racing. … New York natives Regan Smith (Cato) and Todd Bodine (Chemung) return to their home state to compete at Watkins Glen.

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