Having started on the outside of the front row and in the lead for a race-high 35 laps, everything was seemingly coming together for AJ Allmendinger on Sunday at Sonoma Raceway.
If the plan came to fruition Allmendinger would win his first ever Sprint Cup race. More importantly, that victory would all but cement a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, a significant accomplishment for the single-car JTG Daugherty Racing team.
It all unraveled, however, with 35 laps remaining. That was when Allmendinger and Dale Earnhardt Jr. made contact coming out of Turn 11 and onto the front stretch. Allmendinger was squeezed into the wall with his No. 47 car suffering heavy damage.
Not high in points and not competitive enough most weeks on the predominant number of ovals on the Sprint Cup schedule, Sonoma, one of two road courses, represented a prime opportunity for Allmendinger to grab an unlikely victory.
In an instant that fleeting chance for a Cinderella-esque win and Chase berth disappeared.
"We led a lot of laps today and we were good enough to win the thing no doubt," Allmendinger said. "It's just disappointing the way our day ended and to leave Sonoma with a car that's tore up. I'm proud of my guys and all the hard work they put into this weekend. It's just tough."
If there was someone who could relate to Allmendinger's feeling of discontent it was Marcos Ambrose. Like Allmendinger, Ambrose drives for a smaller team (Richard Petty Motorsports) and is regarded for his road course prowess.
Despite a lackluster effort qualifying (23rd), Ambrose quickly demonstrated the speed Sunday that had many tabbing him as the favorite to win the Toyota/Save Mart 350. With little haste the Australian moved toward the front, and 30 laps from the finish was in the lead.
But it wasn't to be. The handling of Ambrose's No. 9 Ford quickly went away, and he backslid down the running order to finish eighth.
"We came here with a commitment to try to look after our tires and had a package that wasn't necessarily the fastest, but we thought might have kept our tires better than the rest," Ambrose said. "It didn't quite work out that way. We had to hang on all day. The car was loose. The car was tight. The car was sliding around, but that's what Sonoma is all about."
Sprint Cup standings
|3||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||555||2|
|25||Martin Truex Jr.||360||0|
|27||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||320||0|