AJ ALLMENDINGER -- No. 43 Best Buy Ford Fusion
HOW WILL IT BE TO HAVE THAT YATES HORSEPOWER? " You're gonna be pushing down even harder because you know what's under your right foot. It was something that for the last three races of the season last year I got to feel, and when you've got Doug Yates building your horsepower and everybody at that engine shop, you know getting in the race car that's something that you don't have to worry about. That's not on your mind like, 'Man, do I have enough horsepower?' You know you've got the horsepower there and it just makes your job a little bit easier. It took us last year from running 15th-20th to running 8th-12th -- just by putting a bigger motor in our race car. That was something that you know coming to Daytona you're not gonna have to worry about."
IS THERE ANY WAY OF QUANTIFYING HOW MUCH THOSE THREE RACES HAVE HELPED AS FAR AS PREPARING FOR THIS SEASON? "It was a big deal. We've changed our race cars a little bit to try and make them better with being part of the Ford Racing family, trying to take all of the resources that we had there to make our race cars better, but just getting there and doing those three races, I think it relaxed everybody just a little bit. Elliott got to run it at Talladega. He was fast there and almost won the race there, and it was a big deal to show our team, 'OK, this is where we can be already, and now we need to improve from there.' We took those notes from those three races, kept fine-tuning and tried to make our cars better coming into this season. We come to Daytona and Daytona is its own race. I think once we get past this race, I know we're gonna have a great opportunity to go out there and try to win the 500, but once you get to Fontana that's really when the season starts, so I'm really looking forward to that."
GREG BIFFLE WAS SAYING THERE ARE ALREADY THINGS THAT YOU GUYS WERE DOING LAST YEAR THAT THEY'VE INCORPORATED AT ROUSH FENWAY. IS THAT RECIPROCAL? "Of course. Roush Fenway is one of the best organizations around in Cup racing and has been for the last how-many years, but, obviously, they weren't where they wanted to be last year either. Hopefully, we can help them a little bit and, for them, hopefully they can help us. I think we're gonna see that. We're taking notes from both race organizations to try and make everybody's car a lot better. For me, still being fairly young at this, yeah, it's coming into my fourth year but I've only had 2.5 years of racing, so with that stable of drivers they have over there and the guys I've got to work with at Richard Petty Motorsports, it's just gonna help me all-around inside and out of the race car. I'm gonna get better talking to guys like Greg and Carl and David and Matt. Obviously, that experience with Kasey last year helped me a ton and, hopefully, in return I can do some things that they learn from and I can help them. But I know right away that they're gonna help me more than I'm gonna help them."
DO YOU FEEL ANYTHING SPECIAL PRESSURE DRIVING THE 43 CAR? "Of course, and I've always been the one to put the most pressure on myself. This just adds a little bit of it, but, at the same point, being part of Best Buy and knowing what they've meant to this sport, it's just everything. I know that this really is my best opportunity this season to go out there and shine and show them what I can do. I'm in the 500. We've got the full season locked in. We're ready to go and I know this is my best chance. I try not to put too much pressure on myself, but the end result is I always do. But knowing that I'm in the 43 it's an honor for me just to be a part of Richard Petty Motorsports, but now to be in the 43 and to have Richard personally pick me to be in his race car, it's an honor. I'm a big auto racing fan. I'm probably as big of a fan as I am a driver and I love the history of this sport. The 43 is probably the biggest history that it has, along with the 3, so it just means so much and I want to go out there and represent Richard in and out of the race car the best that I can. I'm not speaking on his behalf, but, to me, I know that if I could get the 43 back in Victory Lane it would mean the world to him. He was in Victory Lane last year with Kasey, but I think to get his own number back into Victory Lane would mean so much to him. Whether I go out there and win one race for him or 100 races, to get that 43 back in Victory Lane would mean the world to me. It would be something whether I won a ton of races or I never won again, I could take that and just be proud I was able to accomplish that."
JUST DON'T WIN MORE THAN 200. HE MIGHT GET A LITTLE MAD. "If I could get a quarter of the way or a third, I would be OK with it. (laughing)"
DO YOU RECALL YOUR FIRST TRIP TO DAYTONA? "It was just nerve-wracking in general. Coming to Daytona, the history of this place, what it means to be in the 500. I spent three years trying to be in the show and last year, luckily, made it. For two years I had to go through watching driver introductions, watching all the famous people and know that technically I wasn't a part of it because I was just another fan being around there, I was wasn't in the show. Last year, to finally be a part of it and to go through the whole day on Sunday -- waking up and doing the sponsor things, going through the autograph sessions, driver intros, driver's meeting, just everything -- getting to see everybody that is a part of this great race it was just so cool. I can't really describe into words what it felt like, but I'm never gonna lose that feeling. Everytime I come back here it's gonna be the same thing. I'm just happy now I don't have to fight to get into the show anymore because that was the most gut-wrenching, mind-numbing, just the worst thing as a race car driver I've ever had to go through. So I'm happy I get to skip that part, but still be part of the show."
DID YOU DO ANYTHING FUN IN THE OFF-SEASON? "I tried to race some go-karts. That was supposed to be fun, but I got my butt kicked a lot by a lot of 15 and 16-year-olds. That was at the PRI show in Orlando and here for WKA kart week. That was awful. I've already told my race team, I said, 'We need to have a good year because between December I got my butt whooped enough by people. I don't want to experience that anymore. I've already had enough of that this year, so that was supposed to be fun. It wasn't a lot of fun, but I'm not a vacation guy. I don't like going on vacation. I like working out. I feel like I'm always active. If I could drive something everyday of my life I would, so I got to do some go-karting, a little bit of testing and obviously did the Rolex, so, to me, that's my fun."
Credit: Ford Racing