Friday Chicagoland Notebook: Allmendinger scoffs at long odds for his Chase chances

By Reid Spencer NASCAR Wire Service

JOLIET, Ill. – From a handicapping standpoint, AJ Allmendinger is realistic enough to know he won’t have the same odds of winning a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title as six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, but he took lighthearted umbrage at being considered an afterthought for the Chase.

“We’re contenders ‘cause we’re here, and we’ve got a shot at it, but I’m also not blind to the fact that, if you set myself against Jimmie, he’s more favored,” Allmendinger said. “I understand that.

“Vegas—I was laughing at it—they made odds for 14 drivers, and me and (Aric) Almirola were just ‘The Field’ for the championship. There were 14 names with odds and then ‘The Field’ at 500 to 1.”

According to VegasInsider.com, the odds for the Allmendinger/Almirola combination are now 250 to 1 as a field bet.

“I understand it,” Allmendinger said. “It’s a part of it. I relish it, honestly. I like being the underdog team. (Team owners) Tad and Jodi (Geschickter) started this (JTG/Daugherty Racing) team in a barn in ’94, so they’ve always been an underdog.

“I don’t take offense to it. I just kind of smile and say, ‘I like being under the radar.’ Hopefully, we can go make some noise and make some guys mad by knocking them out of the Chase.”

In order to escape the first elimination round of the Chase, however, Allmendinger knows what his team has to do at the tracks involved—Chicagoland, New Hampshire and Dover.

“We’ve just got to be perfect,” he said. “We’ve just got to be at our best. I look at a race like Dover, depending on how the first two have run… if we have to win it to stay in it, then you start taking some chances.

“But we’ve just got to be as close to perfect as possible.”

SAVING IT FOR THE PLAYOFFS

You can’t blame Chase teams for putting some of their best equipment to the side during the regular season and bringing it out for the Chase.

Aric Almirola’s No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports outfit is a case in point. At Chicagoland this weekend, Almirola is driving a car that was racy at both Kansas and Kentucky.

“We feel like some of our best cars we ran at Kansas and Kentucky earlier this year and were both top-10’s there—Kansas for sure, and Kentucky we were running sixth and got in a wreck late in the race,” Almirola said. “Nonetheless that car has performed really well. We pushed that one aside after we won Daytona and have been prepping it and getting it ready for Chicago.

“Our Loudon car is a brand new car, just to try something. Every time we build a new car it’s usually a little lighter, and hopefully that will make a difference. I think we’re taking our primary car from Bristol (to Dover). That was the fastest car I’ve ever had there until I crashed it in qualifying. It didn’t do any frame damage, so they put a new body on it, and that is the car we’re taking to Dover.”

NEW CARS FOR KYLE BUSCH, TOO

Almirola isn’t the only driver with secret weapons for the Chase. Kyle Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates also will have some new pieces for the playoffs.

“Our car for Chicago is brand new—it has not seen the race track yet,” Busch said on Thursday. “Fortunately, we were able to do that because we built it, tunneled it (tested in the wind tunnel) and everything, then put it on jack stands to wait for the Chase, because we didn’t need to use it to get in.

“We had that luxury. Now that we have a couple sitting there on jack stands ready to go, we just take the covers off and put engines in them and get ready to go and see how they run. This will be our first test here this weekend.”

Busch earned his Chase spot with a victory at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, in late March, but in the last six events, he has finished outside the top 35 four times.

Busch hopes his new equipment will help level the playing field between the JGR teams and the favorites for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title.

“We know our level isn’t high enough, and we know there’s room to grow because of what we’re getting beat by each and every single week,” Busch said. “The 2 (Brad Keselowski), the 4 (Kevin Harvick) and the 24 (Jeff Gordon) -- they are your favorites, so how much more can they pick up?

“I don’t know. They might have been running at 100 percent already, and if we can just get to their level and compete with them, then a driver may prevail a little more, and you can see some guys doing some good things behind the steering wheel and getting the job done there.”

Busch was true to his word on Friday afternoon. He led opening Sprint Cup practice with a lap at 191.442 mph, more than two miles-per-hour faster than Joey Logano’s 2013 track qualifying record of 189.414 mph.

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