Roundtable: Allmendinger's in -- but can he contend?
August 14, 2014, Kenny Bruce, David Caraviello and Alan Cavanna, NASCAR.com
MORE: NASCAR Illustrated - Allmendinger: No illusions about Chase title
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1. AJ Allmendinger almost certainly qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with his victory Sunday at Watkins Glen. So what might the No. 47 team be capable of in the playoff?
David Caraviello: Well, as in any playoff in any sport, it's one thing to get in -- and quite another altogether to contend. Given that this team has just two top-fives all season -- the victory being one of them -- it would certainly be a surprise to see them still in the mix four races in.
Kenny Bruce: A quick exit. OK, that's a bit harsh. But if we're talking Chase, the first three races -- at Chicago, New Hampshire and Dover -- aren't among AJ's best. Chicago is his fifth-best, as far as average finishes, but New Hampshire and Dover are 18th and 15th.
Alan Cavanna: Well-said, Kenny. Look, AJ's spot in the Chase is well-earned and he deserves it. But there's a reason the team is so far back in points. It just doesn't have the resources and capabilities of the other teams.
David Caraviello: Man, you guys are brutal today! AJ is a likeable enough guy; let's go easy on him. Easier than Jimmie/Jeff/Junior and the like will when the Chase begins, at least.
Cavanna: JTG Daugherty Racing co-owner Brad Daugherty joked (but, not really) that Richard Childress Racing -- with whom JTG has a technical alliance -- is going to have to give the 47 car a lot more horsepower come Chase time. And he's right. Daugherty was optimistic, but realistic.
Caraviello: AJ's other top-five finish this season was at Talladega, so maybe he gives himself a chance to keep hanging around if he can get through that first round. But let's be honest, those are very long odds.
Bruce: He had 11 straight finishes of 18th or worse before winning at Watkins Glen. Only four top-10s this year. I hope I'm wrong -- it would be a good story if someone unexpected advances once the Chase gets underway. But it's not much different than an average team winning in a weak division. You make the playoffs, but …
Caraviello: You know how every Speedweeks you have those stories on the guys who celebrate just getting into the Daytona 500? This is like that, on a larger scale. Give credit to crew chief Brian Burns and that 47 bunch -- they knew their chance was on road courses, and they went after them hard. Give credit to AJ, who held off a very aggressive Marcos Ambrose when few thought he could. They earned it. But it's a whole different ballgame come Chicagoland, unless Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca are somehow added to the Chase.
Cavanna: The victory for JTG and Dinger is making the Chase. He'll be in while some big drivers, teams and sponsors are out. That's huge for the team, and will come with a few weeks of great attention. They should be proud.
Bruce: Good point, Alan. I don't want to take anything away from the team or driver, what they accomplished at Watkins Glen was special. But as you say David, it's a whole different ballgame from here on out.
Caraviello: Sorry, but I've lost focus fantasizing about the idea of Laguna Seca in the Chase. Down through the corkscrew turn with the championship on the line. ey, hey hey, a guy can dream ...
2. It's back to Michigan International Speedway, where Greg Biffle leads all active drivers with four victories. Will the Roush mainstay fare any better -- and perhaps bolster his Chase hopes -- this time around?
Caraviello: So, an interesting time to be Greg Biffle this week, given the news that his primary car sponsor is heading to Hendrick and Jeff Gordon next season. It would make for one of those oh-so-NASCAR coincidences if he could win the first race in the wake of that announcement. And he has been running better the past few weeks, so I wouldn't rule it out completely.
Cavanna: This is a big topic on our Preview Show this week. Does a "non-winner" have a shot this weekend? The first race was dominated by Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Gordon and Joey Logano. Biffle may run well, but that team has to shoot for the win. And I don't think it happens.
Bruce: Given that the organization went back to Michigan to test, and seemed to think it produced positive results, there's a good chance Biffle could be more of a factor. But those other teams haven't exactly been on vacation since the June stop in the Irish Hills.
Caraviello: We tend to put a lot of stock in history when we go to race tracks, and as the first Michigan race this season showed, that can lead you down the wrong path. Biffle and the Roush guys were out to lunch at Brooklyn in June, but so were a lot of teams. You'd have to think they'll be better this time around, given that they went back to test. But Marcos Ambrose also tested at both road courses and went 0-for-2.
Bruce: The sponsor news has got to have some effect, DC. Maybe it doesn't impact the performance of the car, but it can't be ignored. And Ambrose wasn't exactly a non-factor at the Glen. Had the team not tested there, who knows?
Caraviello: Biffle's been in the top-10 the past two races, but is he really a threat to win? All of 20 laps led since Talladega in early May. Only one more top-five than Allmendinger, who wouldn't be in the conversation at all if not for road courses. And as we've spoken of often, teams don't radically change course this late in the year. By this point, you've got what you've got.
Cavanna: Short list of drivers who beat Biffle in the first Michigan race: Trevor Bayne, Juan Pablo Montoya, Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier. It shouldn't be hard for Biffle to improve on that, but moving all the way to contend for a win is far-fetched.
Caraviello: Then again, this is Michigan, and all it takes is a few guys to run low on fuel and the whole ballgame may change. If you're the No. 16 guys, why not play the strategy game at this point. Especially if you get through Friday and know from practice the car isn't good enough to win.
Bruce: Chances are that's a possibility, David. But as we've seen this year, few teams have a strategy that no one else is considering. So Allmendinger won't advance and Biffle won't improve, at least enough to contend. We're a harsh bunch, guys.
Caraviello: Reality can indeed be such a buzzkill sometimes!
3. The Nationwide Series is bound for Mid-Ohio, the road course where Allmendinger won last year. Is Sam Hornish Jr. in that powerful No. 54 car the driver to beat?
Caraviello: No! He will fail, and fail miserably! (Sorry Sam, just trying to keep up with the harsh theme of this edition.)
Cavanna: Ha. Hold everything! I'm optimistic about Hornish's chances. He only gets a few shots this year, and he's seemed to rise to the occasion better than others in a similar situation. And he's an Ohio guy. He'll be good.
Bruce: He's definitely a favorite. But we're starting to see some others prove they aren't too shabby on the road courses, too. I think the Glen brought a few names to the front that could give him a run for the win.
Caraviello: Actually, for a guy with such limited seat time, Hornish is doing a great job in that No. 54 car this season. Take away the engine failure at Chicago, and his worst finish would be 12th. So yeah, given his background particularly, you'd have to think the pride of Defiance, Ohio -- which is also the name of an alt-country band -- would have as good a chance as any. Trying to update my pop culture references after dropping John Houseman on our poor readers last week.
Cavanna: Still scratching my head on that one, David. Anyway, Hornish will have some competition from Alex Tagliani in the Penske car. Same team won the race last year with 'Dinger.
Bruce: Not exactly Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., eh DC?
Caraviello: Kenny, still hoping to see a track put on a double bill of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. and The Wood Brothers -- the Americana blues band, not the race team. Though they should get free tickets. As for Mid-Ohio, don't forget that Chase Elliott kid was fourth earlier this season at Road America. Not saying that result will directly translate to another road course, but we do know that Awesome Chase can wheel it right as well as left.
Bruce: Tagliani? Elliott? Road America? And the winner there was … that's right, Brendan Gaughan.
Cavanna: This two-week stretch is crucial to the Nationwide regulars. Chase extended his point lead at the Glen. If he lets Hornish and Co. do their thing, Elliott can focus on beating the cars he needs to.
Caraviello: You know, the Glen this past Sunday showed everyone how wonderful road-course races can be. The Nationwide Series is the only national circuit with three road-course events, and the series could really hang its hat on that, and boast about how well-rounded its drivers are. Elliott is certainly a prime example of that.
Cavanna: Wait -- I think we've actually ended on a positive note!
Caraviello: In the meantime, I'll agree with Alan -- it's races like these, in a tight championship hunt, that could really swing the Nationwide title. And after the race in Mid-Ohio, maybe a little live music from The Wood Brothers. Who knew Glen and Leonard could play guitar?