Monday, December 21, 2009

AJ Allmendinger: 2009 Year in Review

There is only one thing that’s been constant for AJ Allmendinger since moving to the NASCAR Sprint Cup ranks in 2007—Change.

And the 2009 season was no different as AJ campaigned in his third full year of NASCAR Sprint Cup competition. Despite the dynamics of the season, the year was his best to date as he collected six top-ten finishes, including three in the final nine races of the season.

He also became the first-ever NASCAR Cup driver to score the highest finish for two different manufacturers in one season.

That strong close pushed him ahead of some of the biggest and most established names in the sport as he finished 24th in the year-end points. Not bad for a team that originally only planned on racing five times in 2009.

2008 saw AJ grab an opportunity with both hands as he made the most of a five race run with Evernham Motorsports, earning him a shot with the team for 2009. But once again, it was all change as a merger with Richard Petty Motorsports, a tough economic climate, and a variety of driver contract developments saw the new RPM Motorsports organization commit to just five races with the California youngster.

Working with a crew that hadn’t expected to be out racing week in and week out, the team got off to a fast start at Daytona, taking 5th in the Shootout, 10th in the Duel, and then when it counted, an outstanding third in the Daytona 500. That strong finish—and the prize money the team earned—went a long way to making the 2009 season a reality for AJ.

Ever since moving to his first professional race series in 2002, taking the money that he won and using it to race more--racing to race-- has been nothing new to AJ, whose parents took out a second mortgage on their house just to get him the chance to prove himself on a big stage after proving him self in karts with countless championships.

Once again in 2009, AJ was putting his money where his ambitions were, pouring the race winnings directly back into the race budget to help keep the #44 on the track week in and week out.

A top ten at Bristol, and another in just his second start at Infineon were some mid-season highlights as Hunt Brothers Pizza also signed on to keep the #44 on the track and in competitive form. After a crew swap with the #43 reunited AJ with his 2008 Evernham Motorsports crew chief Mike Shiplett, the year picked up even more momentum.

And with AJ being picked to move to the Ford Fusion for the final three races of the year, his 2010 season got off to a fast start as he finished 10th, 13th, and 10th in the final three events of 2009 as he got familiar with the Ford machine, adorned in traditional Petty Blue livery.

Now as the drivers, crews, and teams take a brief respite from the long and intense season, AJ is looking forward to 2010.

Highlight of 2009 for AJ:

“Making the Daytona 500. Just the process we had to go through to even get into the race. Getting down to Daytona, thinking that we were in based on the 35, and then finding out that no, we were going to have to race into it, and then going out and doing it, that was really cool. To just get into that race, you feel like you’ve already won.

“For me, to get into that race for the first time--to be up there and go through the driver introductions with that huge crowd with my parents being there, that was really cool. It was great to get that monkey off my back and get into the race. I had confidence that if we did well in the 500, that we could keep going, and we kicked everything off with that 3rd place.”

Biggest Surprise of 2009:

“We struggled a lot more on the big tracks than I think we expected to this year. Our package just didn’t work as well at places like Fontana and Vegas as we were hoping and expecting. I was also a bit surprised with how things went in the middle of the year, it was a pretty big struggle as well-we had a lot of races where we were running outside of the top 15, and we lost a lot of spots in the points. It was tough.”

“I was also pretty surprised when we went out at Texas for the first time with the Ford, and we were 44th in the first practice! But its one of those things that you know you can’t just plug in this new car and just hit everything right out of the box, and obviously we made up for our slow start in the race!”

About the strong (10th/Texas, 13th/Phoenix, 10th/Homestead) finish to 2009:

“The way we ran at the end of the year, that gave me a lot more confidence, just feeling like I belong here and can run well here against these guys. I was really proud about what we accomplished this year—taking a car and team with one of the smallest budgets out there, and ending the season ahead of a Hendrick car. You can’t complain about that. Sure I look back and can’t help but think ‘if this hadn’t happened at that track, or we had just a little bit different luck with the fuel there,’ what the points would be like. But that’s just me. I’m always trying to figure out how we can be better, but to do what we did this year was pretty cool and it was great to close out the season the way that we did. ”

About working with Mike Shiplett again:

“I really like the effort that Mike puts into what he does, and we’ve got good communication. But we are still working on it--you have to. You look at what guys like Kasey and Kenny or Jimmie and Chad have going in terms of how they work together, and you have to remember that they’ve been doing this for 6, 7 years. Mike and I still have just a handful of races working together, so that kind of thing takes time. There are still things that we are both working on to get better, and I’m really looking forward to next year to keep improving.”

About racing with Ford power:

“Its no secret-Yates cars have some good power. The tools are all there for us, and I’m excited to be there and to see what we can do. Ford is strong in the (automotive) market, and I know they are going to be a great partner and I just want to go out and do a good job for them and the whole team. And, the best thing is that for the first time I’ll have the same manufacturer in my Daytona Prototype (Michael Shank Racing Ford-Riley) for the Rolex 24 as I will have in my Cup car!”

AJ’s off-season will see him barely slow down, as he will compete in several karting events before testing and then racing in Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car competition with Michael Shank Racing ahead of the the Daytona Shootout on February 6.

About Walldinger Racing, Inc.:
Walldinger Racing was formed in 2006 to support AJ Allmendinger’s motorsports career by developing commercial opportunities and partnership programs.

AJ Allmendinger/2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Richard Petty Motorsports:

5th / Budweiser Shootout / February 7 / #44 Valvoline Dodge
10th / Gatorade Duel / February 12 / #44 Valvoline Dodge
3rd / Daytona 500 / February 15 / #44 Valvoline Dodge
29th / Auto Club 500 / February 22 / #44 Charter Communications Dodge
33rd / Shelby 427 / March 1 / #44 Harrah’s Dodge
17th / Kobalt Tools 500 / March 8 / #44 Charter Communications Dodge
16th / Food City 500 / March 22 / #44 Charter Communications Dodge
9th / Goodys 500 / March 29 / #44 Charter Communications Dodge
34th / Samsung 500 / April 9 / #44 Super 8 Hotels Dodge
35th / Subway Fit Fresh 500 / April 18 / #44 Charter Communications Dodge
35th / Aarons 499 / April 26 / #44 Hunt Brothers Dodge
21st / Crown Royal 400 / May 2nd / #44 Paralyzed Veterans of America King's Cup Dodge
17th / Southern 500 / May 9th / #44 Best Buy Dodge
32nd / Coke 600 / May 25 / 44 Richard Petty Motorsports Dodge
29th / Autism Speaks / May 31st / #44 Auto Value/Bumper to Bumper Dodge
30th / Pocono 500 / June 7 / #44 Stanley Tools Dodge
39th / LifeLock 400 / June 14 / #44 Stanley Tools Dodge
7th / Toyota-SaveMart 350 / June 21 / #44 Best Buy Dodge
32nd / Lennox 301 / June 28 / #44 Berlin City Auto Group Dodge
17th / Coke Zero 400 / July 4 / #44 Paralyzed Veterans of America Dodge
13th / LifeLock 400 / July 11 / #44 Hunt Brothers Pizza Dodge
20th / Allstate 400 / July 26 / #44 Hunt Brothers Pizza Dodge
17th / Red Cross 500 / August 3 / #44 Valvoline Dodge
13th / Heluva Good! Glen / August 10 / #44 Stanley Tools Dodge
22nd / Carfax 400 / August 16 / #44 Super 8 Dodge
37th / Sharpie 500 / August 22 / #44 Hunt Brothers Pizza Dodge
20th / Pep Boys 500 / September 6 / #44 Hunt Brothers Pizza Dodge
23rd / Rock and Roll 400 / September 12 / #44 Paralyzed Veterans of America Dodge
25th / Sylvania 300 / September 20 / #44 Berlin City Auto Group Dodge
7th / AAA 400 / September 27 / #44 Super 8 Dodge
17th / Price Chopper 400 / October 4 / #44 Valvoline Dodge
33rd / Pepsi 500 / October 11 / #44 Dassault Systemes Dodge
23rd / Nascar Banking 500 / October 17 / #44 Best Buy Dodge
34th / Tums Fast Relief 500 / October 24 / #44 Coleman Natural Foods Dodge
33rd / Amp Energy 500 / November 1 / #44 Hunt Brothers Pizza Dodge
10th / Dickies 500 / November 8 / #44 Ford. Drive One. Ford
13th / Checker Auto 500 / November 15 / #44 Ford. Drive One. Ford
10th / Ford 400 / November 22 / #44 Ford. Drive One. Ford

Credit: Walldinger Racing, Inc.