CONCORD, N.C. -- A.J. Allmendinger won for the first time in his NASCAR career Saturday night, winning the Sprint Showdown to earn a berth in the All-Star race.
For Allmendinger and Hornish, it was their best showing yet in their short NASCAR careers. Granted, it came in a 40-lap sprint absent of NASCAR's biggest stars. They were already qualified for the All-Star race and sat out the preliminary, which was for drivers not already in the show.
But it didn't matter to Allmendinger, who has struggled mightily since moving to NASCAR from the now defunct Champ Car Series. He had a difficult rookie season with Red Bull Racing, and the team pulled him from the car for five races earlier this season so he could learn while Mike Skinner temporarily filled his seat.
"Heck, I feel I won the Daytona 500," Allmendinger said. "Nobody understands how much this means to me after what we went through as a team. It may be just an All-Star challenge, but it means the world to me."
Allmendinger had a tremendous lead on the field until a late-race challenge from Hornish. The three-time IndyCar Series champion picked off David Ragan for second place, which was good enough to get him into the All-Star race.
But instead of staying pat, he ran Allmendinger down and made several looks at the lead before finally accepting second place.
"I was trying to get there for sure," Hornish said. "I didn't know if we would have a good chance to actually get around him or not. Actually, the last two laps I could have tried him on the inside of [Turn] 3. I figured if I could get the pass done easily and not take a chance of wrecking the car, that would be great."
Allmendinger didn't make his way to Victory Lane without incident -- contact with Elliott Sadler sent Sadler into the wall, ending his night. Sadler was angry after, referring to Allmendinger as "What's his name." But Allmendinger quickly apologized.
"It's my bad. I messed up. I'm sorry, but I know that doesn't help him right now," Allmendinger said. "I don't want to race like that, I don't want to be known to race like that. But there's no defense, that was my fault."