VICTORY — AT LAST!
AJ Allmendinger never needed the go-for-broke attitude in the Sprint Showdown. The No. 84 Red Bull Toyota was that good and so, too, was the driver.
With a berth into Saturday night’s All-Star Race on the line, AJ was at his best. He fought double-file restarts and led the final 19 laps of the second 20-lap segment in earning Red Bull Racing Team’s first victory of any kind at the NASCAR Sprint Cup level.
“I feel like I won the Daytona 500,” AJ, still sweating, told reporters. “Nobody understands how much this means to me after what we went through as a team. These guys — everybody at Red Bull Racing Team and Toyota — they’ve stuck behind me.”
The Red Bull Toyotas dominated the Showdown. AJ’s No. 84, after starting fourth, led 21 laps and maintained decisive track position when opting not to pit between segments. Brian Vickers’ No. 83 paced the other 19 laps before finishing fourth.
AJ’s voice erupted on the radio as the checkered flag waved, and his teammates poured onto pit road in celebration. Some chased AJ to his car and the winner’s circle. Others began preparing for the All-Star Race.
Through a flurry of photographs, answering questions about hard-charging second-place finisher Sam Hornish Jr. and a sprint to driver introductions, somehow all AJ wanted to know is if his hat looked OK.
“Man, I wanted to win,” he said. “I thought if (Hornish) gets there and gets under you don’t be stupid and try to race him hard and possibly wreck. But don’t just give in to him. He was really cool and could have forced the issue.”
The All-Star Race was a bonus. AJ finished 17th in an uneventful, caution-free race. But bigger things were at stake. Like next week’s 600-miler. The LMS notebook is a little heavier now that the No. 84 has seen day and night in the month of May.
“We definitely learned a lot about what the race track might do,” AJ said. “We’ll assess what we learned and make those adjustments coming back for the 600. It all starts again, got to qualify to get in the show. It’s a long race.”
AJ’s victory capped off quite a week for Red Bull Racing Team. On Thursday, the No. 83 Bull Crew claimed the Sprint Pit Crew Challenge.