Top NASCAR stories of 2014: No. 18 – Almirola, Allmendinger make Chase with upset wins

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MotorSportsTalk will be counting down the top 20 stories of the 2014 NASCAR season over the month of December. We kicked things off Thursday with No. 20, the announcement that the Nationwide Series will be renamed and rebranded the Xfinity Series starting in 2015. And on Friday, we looked at No. 19, the 2015 Induction Class for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Today, we’re at No. 18, the upset regular season wins from Aric Almirola and A.J. Allmendinger that helped them make their first appearances in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

As part of the new Chase for the Sprint Cup format, any regular season win automatically means a berth in NASCAR’s post-season run to the championship.

Almost immediately after the format’s debut, the three regular season restrictor-plate races at Daytona and Talladega, plus the two road course events at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, were grouped together as “wild card” events that could yield a Chase surprise.

As it turned out in 2014, we got two of them. The soggy Coke Zero 400 weekend at Daytona ended with Aric Almirola victorious after rain cut the race short with 48 laps to go. Later in the summer at the Glen, A.J. Allmendinger out-hustled Marcos Ambrose for the win in a frenetic finish.

Almirola’s triumph put Richard Petty Motorsports into the Chase and the fabled Petty No. 43 into Victory Lane for the first time since 1999. It was clear that being able to break such a long drought meant a lot to Almirola.

“In 2012 when I came here, Richard Petty Motorsports was on the rebound, if you will, and had been through some turmoil and came out of that…[Richard] wasn’t going to give up on it,” he said. “He was going to see it through and get the race team back to where it needed to be to be competitive.

“I was so grateful that they thought that I could be the guy that could contribute to that and could help get the 43 car back to where it needed to be – and to get the 43 car back to Victory Lane, more importantly.”

As for Allmendinger, his maiden Cup victory was also the first for his single-car JTG Daugherty Racing team.

Additionally, it was the end of a long road back for Allmendinger that began after he lost his ride with Team Penske following a failed drug test in 2012.

That road took him through part-time gigs in Sprint Cup, the Nationwide Series, and the Verizon IndyCar Series before he signed for a full-time Cup return in 2014 with JTG Daugherty.

“I learn every day,” Allmendinger said after his win. “I try to get better every day. I’m sure they’ll attest to you, there’s certain days it’s not good [and] I’m still not where I want to be. There’s other days that I’m happy and I’m where I want to be.

“But I wouldn’t go back and change the process because I know I am a happier person and I am a more centered person, and I know I need to keep working to get better at that still. But I’m surrounded by family, and to be able to share it together, we’ll never forget this. I wouldn’t change anything about this.”

Almirola and Allmendinger would be among the first four eliminated in the Chase during the Challenger Round, with the latter coming just two points shy of advancing to the Contender Round.

But despite their early exits, the fact that they were both able to simply make the post-season has to be considered a special accomplishment for them and their respective teams.

After eating just one chip, NHRA drag racer says: ‘I seriously thought I was going to die’

Alex Laughlin official Instagram page
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Editor’s note: Due to rain, Sunday’s final eliminations of the NHRA Carolina Nationals have been postponed to Monday morning at 10 a.m. ET. In the meantime, check out this rather unusual tale:

Remember the old Lays Potato Chips commercial from back in the 1980s that bragged “No one can eat just one”?

Well, ask NHRA Pro Stock driver Alex Laughlin and a few members of his team, and they’ll tell you they learned a very valuable lesson that there indeed IS a chip that you can only eat one of.

According to NHRA’s National Dragster, Laughlin and Elite Motorsports crew members Chase Freeman, Kelly Murphy and Brian Cunningham took part Friday night in the Paqui One Chip Challenge.

If you haven’t heard of the Challenge, Paqui Chips has produced a tortilla chip that the company boldly claims is the hottest chip ever made anywhere in the world. The secret is the “Carolina Reaper” pepper, considered the hottest chili pepper in the world, with a rating of 1.9 million Scoville units, according to PuckerButt Pepper Company.

How hot is 1.9 million Scoville units? Let’s put it this way: the Devil might even have a hard time taking this kind of heat. By comparison, a Jalapeno pepper only reaches 10,000 units on the Scoville rating. 

So while they were enjoying some downtime Friday night after the first two rounds of qualifying for the NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, North Carolina (suburban Charlotte), Laughlin and Co. paid $30 for one chip – you read that right, $30 for one chip, it’s THAT hot – and thought they could take the heat.

They thought wrong.

“This is the hottest chip in the world,” Laughlin said on an Instagram post that documented the entire experience, adding a warning, “What to expect: Mouth on fire, short-term loss of speech, impaired vision from tears, extreme profanity — or death.”

View this post on Instagram

Never. Ever. Again.

A post shared by Alex Laughlin (@alexlaughlin40) on

 

Laughlin’s post also includes several reader comments that Laughlin and his crew should have had milk on hand instead of water to try and cool things down because milk has a natural antidote to cool your mouth down after eating hot food.

Sunday morning, with his mouth and throat still a bit sore, Laughlin recalled the red-hot episode to National Dragster’s Kevin McKenna:

Never again. Never. Ever. Ever,” Laughlin told McKenna. “It was definitely not the smartest thing I’ve ever done.

One of our guys showed me a You Tube video and it looked like it wasn’t going to be too bad. I like spicy food and it’s usually never a problem. I’ve been to those places with hot wings where you have to sign a waiver before you eat them and that’s never been a problem.

But this? This is on a whole different level. I thought it might last ten minutes. Fourteen hours later, I was still in bad shape. I woke up at 3 a.m. and Googled “internal bleeding.” I seriously thought I was going to die. We all did.”

So if the heat from the chip was off the hotness Richter scale, where did the stunt rank on Laughlin’s own personal Richter scale?

I’ve done some dumb things, but this is right up there.

Well, I really didn’t think it would be that bad,” Laughlin told McKenna with a shrug. “I mean, it’s just one tortilla chip. Like I said, I can usually eat stuff that other people won’t eat, but I had no idea what I was in for.

“I’ve done some dumb things, but this is right up there.”

If you’re up for another challenge in the future that involves eating hot food, Alex, here’s a suggestion: Even though it’s a few years old now, maybe you should try the Ice Bucket Challenge (but fill it with milk) to cool down quick. Just a thought.

Follow @JerryBonkowski