Allmendinger’s win was a positive on challenging weekend (VIDEO)

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At any other time, A.J. Allmendinger’s triumph on Sunday at Watkins Glen International would be hailed.

His win in the Cheez-It 355 was his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.

It propelled him and his single-car JTG Daugherty Racing team into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

And it came after an electrifying battle over the last two laps with Marcos Ambrose, a driver equally skilled as he is in road racing, if not more so.

Then there’s the comeback aspect.

In 2012, Allmendinger failed a drug test and subsequently lost his full-time Sprint Cup ride with Team Penske. That led to a 2013 season in which he kept jumping between stock cars and open-wheel, where he first rose to fame as an American star in the tail end of the Champ Car era.

He then decided that NASCAR was where he needed to be and signed up for a full-time return to Cup this year with the small JTG Daugherty outfit.

And now, with Sunday’s win, they’re all going to be fighting the giants – Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and the like – for a championship this fall.

Allmendinger’s won some big races in his career, including the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona after holding off sports car ace Allan McNish in a great duel.

But considering everything he’s gone through, which he dubbed vividly yesterday as “absolute hell,” this is the topper.

When you think about it, this story has everything. Sadly, it also has unfortunate timing.

The shocking sprint car incident on Saturday night that involved SHR co-owner Tony Stewart and took the life of young Kevin Ward Jr. has become the talk of the sports world.

As investigators continue to hunt for any bits of information that can help them reach a final say on the matter, many in the fan base and in the media community have already – and loudly – taken sides.

And through it all, Ward’s family and Stewart are all having to come to grips with the fact that this will be with them for the rest of their days, no matter the final judgment from the authorities.

It’s a difficult situation that will only get tougher in the days and weeks ahead. And right now, it’s casting a dark cloud over all of motorsports.

Some could compellingly argue that it’s overshadowing Allmendinger’s moment in the sun. Other winners this year – notably Aric Almirola at the July Daytona race and Brad Keselowski at Loudon a week later – were overshadowed by accidents, so Allmendinger joins that unfortunate club.

But that doesn’t really matter in this instance. As beautiful as Allmendinger’s win was to see, it means nothing compared to matters of life and death.

However, to his great credit, Allmendinger struck the right tone on the subject after taking the checkered flag.

“This NASCAR community as a whole, we’re a family, and when anything like that happens, it’s something that you don’t just kind of erase and you forget about,” he said.

“And all of our thoughts and prayers, and it may not seem like it, or I wish there was more to do, but it goes to the Ward family and what happened. It also goes to Tony because it’s not like he’s sitting there and forgetting about it. It’s a tough scenario.

“You just try to come together. That’s all you can do. You try to be thankful every day for the things that we have, the things that we’re able to share together, and you also know that there’s a lot less fortunate out there and there’s a lot of disasters, whether it’s in racing or not.”

Think of the Wards. Think of Stewart. Be thankful for what you’ve got and who you’ve got to share them with. Be mindful of those that are troubled.

Allmendinger’s victory may not get its proper due. But he still deserves our thanks for that much-needed dose of perspective, and for lifting our spirits on what was an otherwise dreary Sunday.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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