RIDGEWAY, Va. — The beginning of the season has been a struggle for JTG Daugherty Racing, but looking at Sunday’s results, it wasn’t obvious.
Their drivers, A.J. Allmendinger and Chris Buescher, combined for sixth and 11th-place finishes in Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, after both drivers ran well inside the top 10 at select points during the afternoon.
However, as seems to be commonplace at Martinsville, both drivers had to overcome their fair share of adversity.
Allmendinger began from 30th after the starting lineup was set based off of the current owner points. He drove up to the fifth position before he was involved in a late-race caution on lap 418 that bumped him back to 18th.
The Los Gatos, Calif. spent the final 74 laps of the race charging 12 positions up the field for his top 10, and Allmendinger credited both his team and Martinsville’s experience-friendly nature for his run.
“It’s a little bit like a road course race and I just think that a driver can make a little bit more of a difference here,” he explained. “When you get to the mile-and-a-half race tracks, aero is a lot of it,” he said. “That’s something that we’re continuously working on. We worked hard on the West Coast Swing and learned a lot. The finishes didn’t show it, but I felt like we learned a lot aero-wise for those bigger race tracks.”
“Coming here, you have to have a good car, and this car was friggin’ hooked up. Once we got it right, it was an awesome race car on long runs! I started at the back with old tires and I could see them getting closer and closer each lap! I wish we had stayed green for about 120 laps because I think I could have eaten these guys alive, but all in all, it was a solid day.”
Allmendinger also felt that it was important to put together a strong finish in advance of next weekend’s race at Texas after a difficult March for the team.
“Texas is so different, it’s a brand new race track now and it’s more aero-dependent,” he said. “We have to work on it, but these Cup races, they’re hard to have great runs in, so any time you can get a great run, for a team like ours right now, any momentum you can build is good. Especially after the West Coast Swing and the penalty and all that, it’s important. This isn’t going to carry over to Texas, and our car isn’t going to be awesome because we ran well at Martinsville, but it puts us back on track.”
Buescher, on the other hand, was caught off-cycle on pit road and spent a decent amount of the race’s first half fighting for the free pass, which he finally got at the end of Stage 2.
From there, the former XFINITY champion used pit strategy to stay out on old tires in the race’s closing laps and grab the 11th-place finish — his best of the season.
Buescher was quick to note how important crew chief Trent Owens’ decisions were in making his race a good one.
“Qualifying getting rained out was really a bummer,” he said. “We lost a lap there early and Trent and those guys made a really good call to stay out when a lot of the leaders pitted. We got our track position back and were able to get the lucky dog once or twice there to just kind of keep working on it. We made some really good progress with our Bush’s Baked Beans Chevrolet. We got it running so much better and really just one or two little adjustments that we kept doing were bringing it to life. It is good notes to bring for the next race here at Martinsville.”
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