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Allmendinger celebrates first Sprint Cup win at Watkins Glen

AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #47 Scott Products Chevrolet, poses with girlfriend Tara Lea in Victory Lane.
AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #47 Scott Products Chevrolet, poses with girlfriend Tara Lea in Victory Lane.
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The day may have started out with a dark cloud overhead as Tony Stewart withdrew from yesterday’s Cheez-It 355 race at Watkins Glen, just 12 hours after his car struck and killed fellow driver Kevin Ward Jr., who had excited his car following a collision between the two that sent Ward’s car spinning off the track at Canandaigua, NY moments before.

In a statement released during the race by a spokesman, Stewart said: "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."

Still, the race did go on without him, resulting in a resounding victory for AJ Allendinger, who won his first Sprint Cup in 213 starts after outdueling Marcos Ambrose with only 2 laps remaining . Ambrose had hoped for a clean sweep after winning the Nationwide Zippo 200 the day before.

After expressing his condolences to the Ward family, Allmendinger basked in the glow of his long sought after win.

"It's a tough time for everybody," Allmendinger stated. "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. At the same time, I dreamed about this moment (referring to his triumph) and I'm not going to forget it."

The win at Watkins Glen also symbolized a major turn around for Allmendinger, who finally seems to be getting his life back on track after being suspended by NASCAR officials indefinitely after failing a random drug test before he was due to start in a race at Daytona International Speedway in 2014. The suspension cost him his place on team Penske. He finally landed a full-time Cup ride with JTG Daugherty Racing last August.

Note: Stewart was replaced by Regan Smith, who finished 37 after having to start from thre back of the pack of 43-cars, and getting mixed up in an accident late in the race.