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Allmendinger outruns Ambrose for Watkins Glen win

Watkins Glen, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - On a somber day of racing on Sunday, A.J. Allmendinger became a first-time race winner in the Sprint Cup Series after holding off Marcos Ambrose in a two-lap shootout to the finish in the Cheez-It 355 at the Glen at Watkins Glen International.

Allmendinger's maiden Sprint Cup victory in his 213th career start and an almost guarantee that he will qualify for this year's championship Chase made this a feel-good story less than 24 hours after three-time series champion Tony Stewart struck and killed a competitor, 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. of Port Leyden, N.Y., during a sprint car race at nearby Canandaigua Motorsports Park.

On Sunday morning, Stewart opted not to compete in this 90-lap race at Watkins Glen. Regan Smith, a Nationwide Series regular, substituted for Stewart in his No. 14 Chevrolet. Prior to the start of the race, Stewart issued a statement offering his condolences towards Ward and his family.

"There aren't words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr," Stewart said in his statement. "It's a very emotional time for all involved, and it is the reason I've decided not to participate in [Sunday's] race at Watkins Glen. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and everyone affected by this tragedy."

Allmendinger expressed his sympathy as well during his celebration in Watkins Glen's Victory Lane.

"All of our condolences here in NASCAR and this whole NASCAR family to the Ward family," Allmendinger said. "We're racing with heavy hearts today. I can't even imagine what they are going through. We're a community here, and we're all thinking about you."

This is Allmendinger's first full season driving the No. 47 Chevrolet for JTG/Daugherty Racing, a single-car Sprint Cup team co-owned by Tad and Jodi Geschickter as well as former NBA star and ESPN race analyst Brad Daugherty. Allmendinger shared driving duties with Bobby Labonte in the No. 47 during the 2013 Sprint Cup season.

In July 2012, Allmendinger suffered a major career setback when he was suspended by NASCAR for failing a drug test. It eventually led to his dismissal from Roger Penske's team in Sprint Cup. Allmendinger completed NASCAR's Road to Recovery program and went on to compete in four of the last five races of the '12 season for Phoenix Racing.

Allmendinger won his first career Nationwide Series race in June 2013 at Road America, a 4-mile road course in Wisconsin. Now the 32-year-old driver from Los Gatos, Calif. has a Sprint Cup victory to his credit. He also gave JTG/Daugherty Racing its first victory in the series.

"My gosh, I can't believe we won a NASCAR Sprint Cup race," he said. "I just wanted it so bad for this team. They deserve it. They work so hard. I wasn't going to let Marcos take this from me."

Allmendinger, who started sixth, passed Carl Edwards and took the lead for the first time on lap 61. He ran in front for the final 30 laps around this 2.45- mile, 7-turn road course.

The sixth and final caution of the race for separate accidents involving Denny Hamlin, who spun and plowed into the safety barrels at the entrance to pit road, and Alex Kennedy, who crashed into the barrier in turn 1, set up the green-white-checkered finish.

After the final restart, Allmendinger and Ambrose battled hard on the penultimate lap, as both road-course experts ran side-by-side and slightly bumped into each other multiple times.

Allmendinger pulled away from Ambrose on the last lap and then beat him to the finish line by 1.16 seconds.

"I knew our car was slick on restarts on the tires, and I knew Marcos was going to try to move me out of the way if he had the opportunity," Allmendinger said. "To his credit, he didn't wreck me. He just moved me like he should have. I went down into the next corner and leaned on him a little bit to see if I could get a gap and get them racing behind me. I knew if I could just get a three-or-four-car-length gap they weren't going to get back to me. That was just a fun race."

Allmendinger became the 12th different driver to win a race in the series this season. He also joined Aric Almirola, who is Ambrose's teammate at Richard Petty Motorsports, as first-time Sprint Cup race winners this year. Almirola won the rain-shortened 400-mile event at Daytona International Speedway in July.

Ambrose drove for JTG/Daugherty Racing full-time in Sprint Cup during the 2009 and '10 seasons. He has driven the No. 9 Ford for Richard Petty's team since the start of the 2011 season.

"Congratulations to A.J. and the 47 team," Ambrose said. "They're good friends of mine over there. I drove for Tad and Jodi Geschickter and Brad Daugherty for a long time, and I wasn't quite able to seal the deal for a race win for them. I'm really pleased that they got their race win like that. Thrilled for A.J. too, his first big win. Disappointed for me though, I've got to tell you. We threw everything we could at it. We knew what was at stake, and we had a great race car, led a lot of laps, just came up a little bit short."

Ambrose has two career Sprint Cup wins, with both of his victories occurring at Watkins Glen in back-to-back seasons (2011-12). He led 19 laps in this year's race.

Kurt Busch finished third, while rookie Kyle Larson took the fourth spot. Edwards, who won the first road-course race of the season in June at Sonoma Raceway, was fifth.

Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Brian Vickers completed the top-10.

Jeff Gordon started on the pole and led the first 29 laps. While running second to Ambrose on lap 50, Gordon experienced an electrical problem and had to go behind the wall briefly for repairs. He finished four laps behind in 34th.

Gordon entered this race as the points leader, but Dale Earnhardt Jr., his teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, took over the top spot in the standings after his 11th-place run. Earnhardt, the winner of last weekend's race at Pocono Raceway, holds a five-point advantage over Gordon.

Smith finished 37th after he was involved in an accident with Jimmie Johnson following a restart with nine laps to go. Flying up here from North Carolina in the morning, Smith arrived at this track at 11:55 a.m. ET, about an hour and 25 minutes before the start.

"It's my job to be able to drive a race car, and it took me a little longer to get acclimated than I would have hoped it would and felt like at the end there I was finally starting to make some progress," Smith said. "I was able to get consistent with the car and understood the car a little better and what it was doing. These guys build fast race cars at Stewart-Haas, and I was thankful to get in one. Definitely not under the circumstances."

On lap 56, a horrifying accident involving Ryan Newman and Michael McDowell forced NASCAR officials to stop the race for about an hour and a half to allow track personnel to repair a damaged guardrail and clean up debris.

Neither Newman nor McDowell was injured during the wreck.

Newman, who made contact with Biffle while the two were battling for position between turns 5 and 6, lost control and slammed hard into the outside guardrail. His No. 31 Chevrolet ricocheted off of the guardrail and spun around on the track multiple times before collecting McDowell's No. 95 Ford.

McDowell's car spun around and went airborne before the back of it slammed hard into the inside guardrail, which was heavily damaged.

The rear of Newman and McDowell's cars were severely damaged as well. Danica Patrick and rookie Alex Bowman were also caught up in the wreck. Patrick and Bowman had slight damage to their vehicles, but they were able to continue in the race.

Newman was critical of the track's "antiquated" safety features. This road course does not have SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barriers installed.

"The SAFER barrier doesn't exist here," Newman said. "There's no concrete walls. It's a very antiquated racetrack, and the safety is not at all up to NASCAR's standards. It's a shame that we have to have accidents like that to prove it. Hopefully, something will change the next time we come back here."

08/10 20:46:52 ET


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