WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – When a beaming Brad Daugherty sat down to address the media at Watkins Glen International after AJ Allmendinger had given JTG Daugherty Racing its first Sprint Cup triumph, the former NBA star couldn't curb his enthusiasm.
"We're coming for you Jimmie!" Daugherty belted out, gleeful about being able to challenge six-time champion Jimmie Johnson for the season title.
Yep, an underfunded single-car team with around 40 employees has made NASCAR's coveted 10-race Chase for the championship, and it's not just happy to be there.
"We've got a shot," said Allmendinger, whose first Cup win came in his 213th start. "It's huge to be in the Chase. This doesn't automatically make us a championship contender. We're still a small team. We're still building. To get that exposure by saying we're a Chase team is big for us because of our sponsors. It gives them more exposure, and that's what it's all about."
After Allmendinger took the checkered flag, Daugherty, who worked the race as a television analyst, began jumping up and down, grinning from ear to ear as he hugged fellow analyst Rusty Wallace. He then departed to Victory Lane and hoisted Allmendinger off the ground as a wild celebration got underway.
Allmendinger's life changed 2 years ago in the hours before the July race at Daytona International Speedway. NASCAR officials had just kicked him out of the track, suspending Allmendinger indefinitely for failing a random drug test.
The failed drug test sidelined him for more than 3 months, and cost him his job with Penske Racing. It also spurred much soul searching, and after a handful of one-off Cup rides, he eventually landed a full-time Cup ride last August with JTG Daugherty Racing.
That Penske was among those to congratulate Allmendinger in Victory Lane spoke volumes.
"I knew he was the right guy for this team," said Tad Geschickter, a co-owner of the team with wife Jodi. "We try and run it like a family, and he was looking for a home."
Allmendinger's victory was timely. It came just 2 days after the team announced that Kimberly-Clark had extended its sponsorship through the 2017 Sprint Cup season with their SCOTT, Viva, Kleenex, Cottonelle, and Huggies brands. Kimberly-Clark has been with the team for 5 years.
"The significance of this win goes without saying how big and how important it is to this race team," said Allmendinger, who told his parents to make the trip because he felt good about his chances. "You know, to be able to share it with Tad and Jodi and Brad and everybody at this whole No. 47 race team, they make this team feel like such a family, like we're their own. To be able to share that together, that was what to me rolling into Victory Lane meant, that I was pulling into Victory Lane with my family."