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article imageNASCAR: Allmendinger in the 'Chase' after first Sprint-Cup win

By John Duarte     Aug 11, 2014 in Sports
Watkins Glen - AJ Allmendinger won his first ever Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday and secured his place among the 16 drivers who will battle for the series championship during the final 10 races of the NASCAR season.
Allmendinger did it in dramatic fashion too, battling Marcos Ambrose during the closing laps of the Cheez-It 355, at Watkins Glen International. The two drivers actually traded paint scrapings during the white-flag lap before Allmendinger pulled away for the win.
Allmendinger said he has a lot of respect for Ambrose as the latter could have caused a wreck and sped off to the win and a place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. But the two drivers didn't wreck because they “know what the limit is,” Allmendinger said, and they gave the fans a show.
“We're going to take it right to the edge of that limit, but to be able to lean on each other but mot to wreck each other and have such a great finish for us,” the race winner said. “I hope to win a lot more, but, if I don't, to be able to remember it like this, it's pretty awesome.”
Ambrose said he could “remember much” of the bumping with Allmendinger, but “I know there was a lot of door banging going on.” Ambrose was able to pass Allmendinger, but only momentarily, as Allmendinger came right back and take the lead back.
“That's just racing. It's what it is, what it's all about,” Ambrose said. “I'm pleased we got through the S's side-by-side without wrecking the whole field, because it could have easily happened out there.”
Sitting behind the two was third-place finisher Kurt Busch. While at the end of the day a driver's performance is measured on winning races, he said he has to remain focused on the end goal.
“I'm sure we're going to see, as the races get closer, people doing more dramatic things to have a chance to make a run at the championship,” Busch said. “You just keep plugging away and wish you were in a better position. That's what the Chase id all about. It's win and you're in.”
NASCAR officials stopped the race just past the halfway mark to clear the track after a violent wreck that saw Ryan Newman's car hit a barrier and spin back across the track and slam into a car driven by Michael McDowell. Neither driver was seriously hurt and the race resumed after a stoppage of 1 hour and 21 minutes.
Although little changes at the top of the Chase grid, the fight is on for the final four spots on which drivers will make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Allmendinger became the 12th different driver to guarantee a place in the list of 16 drivers who will battle it out for the NASCAR title. The final four spots on the grid are held by drivers yet to win a race in 2014.
Under the ranking format implemented by NASCAR this season, drivers winning races are seeded according to the number of wins and followed by the drivers with the most points. Matt Kenseth, Newman, Kyle Larson and Clint Bowyer have not won races this year and currently occupy positions 12 to 16, based on their points in the Sprint Cup standings.
The closing portion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule begins with Pure Michigan 400, at Michigan International Speedway on Aug. 17, 2014. The Chase for the Sprint Cup, the 10 race shootout for the Sprint-Cup championship, begins on Sept. 14 at Chicagoland Speedway and ends on Nov. 16 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The weekend's events Watkins Glen International were overshadowed by an incident involving NASCAR driver and team owner Tony Stewart while he was taking part in a sprint-car race at nearby Canandaigua Motorsports Park. Stewart had made contact with another car, driven by Kevin Ward Jr. Ward took exception to the move and walked away from his wrecked car toward Stewart's to confront him as the latter was driving by. Stewart's car struck Ward Jr.
Learning of Ward's death, a distraught Stewart issued a statement about the incident, saying, “There aren't the words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.” He immediately decided not to race in the Cheez-It 355 Sprint Cup race.
On Sunday morning, NASCAR officials issued a statement that read, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends and fellow competitors of Kevin Ward Jr. We support Tony Stewart's decision to miss today's race and we will continue to respect the process and timeline of the local authorities and will continue to monitor this situation going forward.”
The local sheriff's department investigated the incident and ruled out “any criminal intent” after a short investigation that included an interview with Stewart.
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