While 35 of the 40 drivers got caught up in at least one crash during the race, and 15 of those found their days done early in the garage, A.J. Allmendinger wasn’t among those drivers – which was a nice change of pace compared to the past couple of years.
Over the previous five years, every trip to Daytona International Speedway except last July has resulted in a finish of 20th or worse (last July he finished 13th). It also seemed every year when they came down for Speedweeks, he wrecked in practice or Duel, forcing the team to unload a backup car. Instead, he managed to avoid all three big wrecks today en route to a third place finish.
“If you don’t win, it doesn’t feel like an achievement. It’s just a solid day,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “The last couple of years here, we’ve come out with 20th-place finishes and went to our backup car every time. It was just a solid Speedweeks, and that was a bigger deal.”
Throughout the race, Allmendinger ran towards the middle to the back of the field, keeping himself in contention but not up there dicing for the lead. After completing the second segment in sixth for four points, he managed to thread the needle through the second half of the event, missing both wrecks which took out over 10 cars apiece.
With many of his fellow contenders eliminated, Allmendinger worked his way back into the top-10, poised for a strong result. Knowing he lacked the outright speed compared to his competitors, he made the decision to ride as the laps closed near the end, saving fuel.
“I knew everybody was close,” he said. “I knew my best chance to have a good result was to sit there and try to run half throttle. Stay in line and not let anybody kind of slide up. Every time Ryan (Blaney) and Joey (Logano) would make a move, I tried to keep the gap close. I was just kind of holding half throttle there. And knowing this would probably come down to fuel or if somebody tried to check up in front of us, who could miss it.”
It worked out as he had enough fuel at the end, unlike some of his competitors, allowing him to break into the top-five and finish third.
Now Allmendinger will look to carry the momentum into the next couple of weeks, where Allmendinger feels his team can do well after having a fast car there last year despite a bad finish.
“These races are hard to get great finishes in. Any time you get one, you take it. It helps a ton,” he said. “The Daytona 500, it’s the biggest. It’s at least a kickstart into Atlanta for our team knowing we don’t have to do anything crazy. We just keep doing what our jobs are and see where we fall into place, see where that is.”
*Jason Schultz contributed to this article
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