WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — AJ Allmendinger’s journey is almost complete.
With a new contract, sponsor extensions and a solid one-car team at JTG Daugherty Racing, Allmendinger became a winner in Sprint Cup for the first time on a somber Sunday, outdueling Marcos Ambrose in the final two laps at Watkins Glen International.
The day began on a solemn note when 3-time Cup champion Tony Stewart pulled out of the race 12 hours after he struck and killed 20-year-old sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. in a race after Ward climbed from his car on a small dirt track in nearby Canandaigua.
Allmendinger offered his condolences to the Ward family after he won, saying, “We’re a community here, we’re thinking about you.
“It’s a tough time for everybody. This NASCAR community, as a whole, we’re a family. When anything like that happens, it’s something that you don’t get time to erase and forget about. Our thoughts and prayers go to the Ward family and what happened.
“And it also goes to Tony. It’s not like he’s sitting there and forgetting about it.”
In a statement released during the race by a spokesman, Stewart wrote: “There aren’t words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr. It’s a very emotional time for all involved and it is the reason I’ve decided not to participate in today’s race at Watkins Glen. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and everyone affected by this tragedy.”
Regan Smith drove Stewart’s car and finished 37th after having to start from the back of the 43-car field and getting caught in a late accident.
It was the second straight time Stewart missed the race at The Glen, where he has a NASCAR-record five victories. Last year, he broke his leg in a sprint car accident in Iowa days before the Cup race and missed the rest of the season.