KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- JTG Daugherty Racing took a chance on AJ Allmendinger two years ago, and now the driver has returned the loyalty by signing a five-year contract extension with the single-car team.
Allmendinger made the announcement Saturday at Kansas Speedway, hours before the SpongeBob SquarePants 400. The extension will keep him with JTG Daugherty through the 2020 season.
It's a pairing that has worked well for both a driver and a team looking to take the next step. Allmendinger was seeking a full-time ride after a violation of NASCAR's substance abuse policy led to a 2012 suspension that cost him his seat at Penske Racing.
JTG Daugherty, owned by Tad and Jodi Geschickter and ESPN basketball analyst Brad Daugherty, was looking to elevate its program while moving on from veteran driver Bobby Labonte.
The marriage has worked well thus far as Allmendinger and the team both won for the first time at the Sprint Cup level last August at Watkins Glen, earning a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup in the process.
This year, Allmendinger sits 19th in points entering Saturday night's race with just two top-10s in 10 races.
Still, with the team having recently expanded its relationship with Kroger, and having a longstanding relationship with Clorox/Kingsford, its sponsorship is virtually set through 2017, a position of strength for a small team. Allmendinger's goal is to post results that cause people to stop looking at the team as an upstart.
"It's huge, the sport's not easy in this day and age. It's so competitive and it's so brutal when it comes to trying to find sponsors and keep sponsors," Allmendinger said of having the extension locked down. "This is home, and I know it's the right place for me. To have a long-term deal is great, but I look at it as something that I'm going to be here, hopefully, until my career is over.
"... In a way, it makes things a little easier, because I know it's a long-term deal. But at the same point, I put a lot more pressure on myself because I want to keep getting better and better and make us better and better."
Allmendinger joked that he signed the extension without reading all the fine print, which included a clause that he has to call Tad Geschickter "The Man" going forward. But Geschickter makes it sound as if he considers Allmendinger the one to build the team around.
"AJ has done a tremendous job for our team and for our sponsor partners. More importantly, he is family," Geschickter said. "We have all decided that he is our guy and that we are going to work together to build this racing organization to deliver results on the track and in the marketplace."
Allmendinger says his goal is to quiet those who thought he'd use JTG Daugherty as a step back to an established powerhouse team.
"I want this to be 'the team.' I don't want this to be a steppingstone to a big team," he said.
"... There are a lot of benefits to being on a team like Penske with all the resources, but there are a lot of benefits to being this underdog team that keeps building and shows great things. ... I feel like this is the right place, the right role, for me."