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Racing to the Point: Risk Worth The Reward for JTG-Daugherty Racing

Racing to the Point: Risk Worth The Reward for JTG-Daugherty Racing

Can you imagine the conversation between the JTG-Daugherty Racing owners — Tad Geschickter, Jodi Geschickter and Brad Daugherty — and Bobby Labonte in June of last year? I assume it went something like this:

Owners: Bobby, we’re going to bring in AJ Allmendinger to run some races in order to evaluate the program.

Labonte: You’re replacing me, a former champion and icon in the sport, with the guy who recently served a drug suspension and has never won a race?

Owners: Yeah.

Awkward.

It was one hell of a gutsy move from a team that needed to take a big risk to survive. JTG-Daugherty entered Sprint Cup as a satellite team of an up-and-coming Michael Waltrip Racing and they had a driver, Marcos Ambrose, who quite frankly overachieved in his first full season in 2009. Ambrose ranked 18th in the standings that year, one spot ahead of Kevin Harvick and seven in front of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

The team began a steady decline from that point on. Ambrose bolted at the end of 2010 for slightly greener pastures, and the team inserted a past-his-prime Labonte.

The results just got worse and worse to the point that JTG-Daugherty was teetering on the brink of becoming a backmarker. There are about 28 competitive Sprint Cup teams, cars that could win given the right circumstance — outside of Talladega, the crappiest circumstance. Teams such as Furniture Row Racing border the positive sign of that line and teams such as Front Row Motorsports and Tommy Baldwin Racing border the other side. Early last season, JTG-Daugherty was on the wrong side. The team couldn’t have won a K&N Pro Series race.

AJ Allmendinger

Brad Daugherty embraces AJ Allmendinger after the driver gave him his first win as a Sprint Cup owner. (Credit: CIA)

Someone over there hit the panic button, and that’s what led to the Allmendinger move. It was a riskier than giving Alex Rodriguez a 10-year contract. Labonte might’ve driven slower than an old man on the expressway (four top 10s in his last three seasons and an average finish of 29.4 in 2013) but he was still Bobby Labonte, once a champion and a model of consistency. He still carried a legion of fans, and despite his age and results was a sponsor’s dream.

Labonte was safe. He was the complete opposite of Allmendinger, whose reputation couldn’t withstand that 2012 failed drug test. Labonte’s calling card was likeable former champion and Allmendinger’s was of the guy who tried Adderall and severely harmed his career before he ever won anything.

On paper, the move made little sense, but it proved to be the right one.

The team finally had a Sprint Cup-level talent again to bring energy and some better finishes. Allmendinger was a risk from a marketing perspective, but he wasn’t from a talent standpoint. In 2013, he proved that to anybody who wasn’t already convinced. He was a seatbelt buckle away from winning the Indianapolis 500, overachieved in his Sprint Cup stint with Phoenix Racing and won both times he was behind the wheel of Roger Penske’s Nationwide Series car. Allmendinger did everything in his power on the track to prove he was worth the risk, while at the same time explaining in interviews why he wasn’t one.

After deciding Allmendinger was there guy for the future late last year, JTG-Daugherty then made another brilliant move and formed a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing and Earnhardt Childress Racing engines, switching from Toyota to Chevrolet. As co-owner Brad Daugherty told ESPN before the start of this season, “We saw the huge holes that we weren’t able to fill in-house. We knew we had to have an alliance if we truly wanted to be competitive.”

Better driver. Check. Better equipment. Check.

It’s paid off in a big way. Even before Sunday, JTG-Daugherty Racing had reestablished itself as a competitive team again. It’s still an underdog, not an afterthought.

Clorox and Kimberly-Clark Corporation both noticed, signing multi-year extensions with the single-car operation despite little past success. At Watkins Glen, JTG-Daugherty’s risk was truly rewarded when Allmendinger outdueled Ambrose — the driver who lost a race in the 47 at Sonoma after turning the car off while going uphill — to pick up his and the team’s first Cup victory.

The story was overshadowed by the tragedy the night before, but on a day NASCAR really needed a feel-good story, Allmendinger and JTG-Daugherty Racing delivered it. A driver whose career hit rock bottom two years ago found a seat with a small team that hit rock bottom last season. On Sunday, for one day at least, they stood at the top.

Sometimes the risk is worth the reward.

About Brett Poirier

Brett Poirier
Brett starts his fourth year with the Frontstretch in 2014, writing the popular Racing To The Point commentary on Tuesdays. An award-winning Connecticut Sportswriter and Editor, Brett resides in the Constitution State while working towards his dream of getting involved in racing full-time.

3 comments

  1. The problem that I and many other Labonte fans have with JTG Daugherty is that they made the technical changes AFTER dismissing Bobby. It’s quite possible that there still would have been a marked improvement with Bobby behind the wheel. In the end, it looks like he was solely the problem and not the garbage he was given to drive prior to the changes.

  2. Interesting. JTG’s decision to hire (an albeit PR) “damaged” racecar driver that had pretty much proved that he could wheel a cup car doesn’t really seem like it was a difficult decision provided the situation they were in. In a closed minded world like NASCAR where second chances are a bit difficult to come by, lucky for him, The Dinger was simply by far the most talented driver available. I hope (but I’m not holding my breath) that he and the team can build on this. But most likely what will happen is that eventually a needy team with more resources will poach either the sponsors or the driver and JTG will fade back into the woodwork or go belly up as the general relevancy of NASCAR continues to diminish. wow, there’s some happy thoughts… maybe I need to re up my adderall.

  3. The biggest thing was getting rid of Triad engines for the Childress alliance. That was huge.