AJ Allmendinger's first career Sprint Cup win, which all but locked him into the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup, will ensure that NASCAR fans who want to root for the little guy have a driver to get behind this fall.
To see Allmendinger hold off the heavy favorite to win, Marcos Ambrose, and to also see both drivers race each other fairly cleanly over the final two laps was something that even a Hollywood scriptwriter couldn't have concocted.
Consider the elements at play in The Dinger's (his nickname) win:
After nearly a decade, the former open-wheel racer finally broke through to earn his first Sprint Cup victory, something that had been a long time coming—perhaps far too long, given the immense talent Allmendinger has.
There was also a DUI arrest in 2009 and a divorce in his private life.
Sure, he lost his ride with noted team owner Roger Penske, but Penske gave Allmendinger a number of starts in several different series last season, ultimately leading to a full-time gig this season with JTG Daugherty Racing.
And therein lies what can be construed as nothing short of a Cinderella story come true on Sunday. After all he has gone through, after wondering if he'd ever win a race in NASCAR's top series, he went out and proved not only that he could do it, but he also did it in convincing fashion by beating arguably the best road-course racer in the sport.
In a sense, Allmendinger is this year's Kurt Busch. Busch had to fight his way back after losing his ride with Penske at the end of 2011, raced for the now-defunct Phoenix Racing and later Furniture Row Racing in 2012, and then he became the first driver in NASCAR history to qualify a single-car team (Furniture Row) for the Chase for the Sprint Cup last season.
Now, Allmendinger will be behind the wheel of only the second single-car team to make the Chase.
From a personal standpoint, Allmendinger is one of the most amicable personalities in the sport. That was readily apparent when, while conducting his post-race interview on ESPN, Allmendinger paused for several seconds to receive congratulations from some of the most powerful owners in the business, including Penske, Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick and others.
What does Sunday's win for Allmendinger mean in the long term? Now that he's almost a lock to make the Chase and is the 12th different driver to qualify for the expanded 16-driver playoff field, the confidence he and his underdog upstart team have gained from Sunday's triumph is immeasurable.
He could become not only the Cinderella story to make the Chase, but he could potentially go on to be the Cinderella story of the Chase if Sunday's momentum can carry him through all four elimination rounds of the new format for the 10-race, winner-take-all playoff.
Cinderella may be nothing more than a fairy tale in the real world, but on Sunday—a day that NASCAR needed a positive, uplifting story—AJ Allmendinger brought Cinderella to life in storybook fashion.
Follow me on Twitter @Jerry Bonkowski
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