The Drive to 35
Life’s pretty good these days for gamer/driver AJ Allmendinger. Madden NFL 09 goes on sale Tuesday at midnight, AJ’s man crush, Brett Favre, graces the game’s cover and then there’s that little career hurdle called the top 35.
AJ’s No. 84 Red Bull Toyota finished 11th in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen, moving up two spots to 35th in the car owner standings and eight points out of the red. It was AJ’s fourth consecutive finish inside the top 20, and finally, for the first time in nearly two seasons, he can have a stress-free qualifying day.
“When we get to Michigan I’ll be a lot happier when we don’t have to qualify on time,” AJ said. “Right now, I’m just a little disappointed because I wanted that top 10 and I wanted to finish off strong, but 11th … I will take it.”
Crew chief Jimmy Elledge’s pit strategy again propelled AJ toward the front. After starting 37th, he was the first car to pit on lap 16. He returned to the track in 43rd, but by the time competitors’ stops cycled through on lap 30 he was 19th. Another pit sequence sent AJ to 12th, and he just missed a top-10 finish on the final lap.
“We’re in the top 35 and that’s been our big deal,” AJ said, “and I know once we get in we’re not going to fall back out. The car was good. Jimmy, like usual, used awesome strategy.”
Teammate Brian Vickers is still within striking distance of the Chase, mostly because the No. 83 team performed major surgery after the car was slow in Saturday practices. The crew changed the transmission, shocks, springs and much more, and an 18th-place finish has Brian 17th in points — 210 out of the top 12 with four races remaining before the Chase begins Sept. 14 at New Hampshire.
Michigan is one of the team’s better tracks. Brian led 44 laps and finished fourth in Red Bull Racing Team’s last visit there in June. He has four top 10s in nine Michigan starts.