NASCAR: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 13 A.J. Allmendinger

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A.J. Allmendinger

Season finish: 13th

2014 Season Stats: 1 Win, 2 Top-5s, 5 Top-10s, 0 Poles.

What went right: Allmendinger officially completed his career comeback by taking the first Sprint Cup victory for both himself and JTG Daugherty Racing at Watkins Glen. Just as important is that the 47 team’s efforts got sponsor Kimberly-Clark (owners of brands like Kleenex, Scott Towels, and Huggies) to extend their backing through 2017. That’s always important for any race team but massively so for JTG-D, which was the lone single-car outfit in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.

What went wrong: The Watkins Glen victory may have put them into the post-season, but consistency was hard to come by for ‘Dinger and Co. in 2014. After back-to-back Top-10s at Richmond (sixth) and Talladega (fifth) in the spring, the results went south in the 11 races leading up to the Glen; their best finish in that 11-race span were 18ths at both New Hampshire and Indy. Mid-pack results in the first two Chase races still gave him a chance to advance going into the Challenger Round finale at Dover, but they never got the handle on the Monster Mile and finished 23rd – causing ‘Dinger to miss the Contender Round by two points.

2015 Prospectus: With momentum on their side thanks to a Chase berth in 2014, Allmendinger and JTG-D now must focus on becoming more consistently competitive. That’s a tough order for a one-car team fighting weekly against multi-car operations with more resources. Nonetheless, thanks to the guy behind the wheel, they’ll likely continue to have a chance at cracking the post-season on the road courses.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.