ELKHART LAKE, Wis. — Team owner Roger Penske gave AJ Allmendinger a second chance.
Now they both have a trophy to show for it — and, perhaps, the foundation of a rebuilt racing career.
Allmendinger took the lead from Justin Allgaier with seven laps to go in regulation, then didn’t get rattled through a late restart and two nerve-testing green-white-checkered overtime finishes, holding on to win Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America.
Afterward, he expressed appreciation for Penske, the team owner who originally let him go last season after he was suspended for violating NASCAR’s substance abuse policy.
“It’s just meant the world to me,” Allmendinger said. “This was the only way I could repay him. I was trying so hard out there — and, at times, probably over-trying.”
Allgaier finished second, followed by Parker Kligerman, Owen Kelly and Sam Hornish Jr.
Allgaier won a road course race at Montreal last season but still tipped his cap to Allmendinger’s road racing skills.
“I’m still not a road racer, I can assure you of that,” Allgaier said. “Just watching AJ in front of me and seeing some of the places he was able to get away from me on that last green-white-checkered, I still have some stuff to learn.”
It’s Allmendinger’s first win in NASCAR, but not his first at Road America. He won at the four-mile road course in Central Wisconsin in 2006, racing in the Champ Car Series.
“It’s my favorite track now,” Allmendinger said.
Billy Johnson led on a restart with eight to go, but he slid wide in Turn 5 and was passed by Allgaier and Allmendinger. Allmendinger then made the decisive move one lap later, snatching the lead from Allgaier at the top of the hill in Turn 6.
He’d have to defend his lead on three more restarts, fending off a charge from Allgaier with three laps to go and then facing two green-white-checkered finishes — NASCAR’s version of overtime.
SONOMA, Calif. — As Jamie McMurray turned a corner on the season with a string of solid finishes, he picked Sonoma Raceway as an upcoming track he was looking forward to racing.
It seemed like a strange selection considering McMurray has just one top-10 finish at Sonoma in 10 career starts.
But he showed his comfort level on the 1.99-mile road course Saturday with a surprise pole-winning run. He topped Marcos Ambrose, a race favorite, with a lap at 94.986 mph.
It was McMurray’s ninth career Sprint Cup pole, but first of the year. He also won the pole at Sonoma in 2007.
Ambrose wound up second with a lap at 94.924 in NASCAR’s first use of the group qualifying format. Both Ambrose and McMurray were together in the final group, and Ambrose initially had the pole position. But McMurray snatched it away, and Ambrose made a second attempt to grab it back but came up just short.