AJ ALLMENDINGER, No. 43 Best Buy Ford Fusion
DO YOU FEEL THAT YOU GREW INTO A LEADERSHIP ROLE WITH THIS ORGANIZATION BASED ON THE WAY LAST YEAR ENDED?
"Well, I kind of had to because everyone else left. Everybody else on the team, driver-wise, was going their separate way. It was a tough time for everybody. More than anything, I felt that I had to step up, not for the heads of the race team, not for the Robbie Loomis and guys like that, but for my crew guys. They were the ones busting their butts everyday and it was so difficult for them because they weren't getting told any information and I was getting told very limited information. They are the ones that worked the hardest and make the least amount of money. They needed to know what they needed to do. The group of guys I had on the 43 specifically, I loved them to death and I wanted them to stay around. It was both things, trying to take care of them and keep them here so that we could start this year out strong. It was a tough time, but we got through it. In the end, I think it will only make us stronger. I was proud of my guys that whole time for how they kept fighting. I think potentially now, we have better race cars. Doug Yates, Ford, everybody that puts the engine behind us, they are going to have more horsepower and the potential is there. We just have to live up to it now."
THIS RACE A YEAR AGO YOU WERE REALLY GOOD. YOU WERE UPSET THOUGH BECAUSE YOU HAD A GREAT CAR THAT DAY AND DIDN'T GET THE FINISH YOU EXPECTED.
"The Sprint Cup Series is so tough now that you have to start off strong. I knew we had a great race car last year and we didn't finish the deal. I felt like that was my fault. Whether it was the pothole or not, I was the one that was controlling the steering wheel. It was a tough deal. The first 10 races last year we had 25th or worse finishes and you can't have that. I look at this year and you have to get through Daytona. Of course you want to win it, and I think that we have a great car to go here and win it, but you have to go out there and finish strong and get a good result. You go to Phoenix from there and you have to keep that momentum going. I am excited because it is my second year working with Mike Shiplett and it is the same core group of guys that we worked with last year. Like I said, the word I hear and use a lot is potential. We are going to be better, we just have to live up to where we belong. I think that is right there, contending for wins, getting wins and contending for the Chase."
YOU SHOWED FLASHES LAST YEAR, IS THERE ANY DOUBT WITH YOU THAT YOU CAN GET TO VICTORY LANE THIS YEAR?
"There is no doubt, we just have to learn how to do it. We have to learn how to seal the deal. The only way you learn that is to run up front more consistently. You saw that at the end of last year, that we could do that, we just never finished the deal. It was our own fault at times and at other times, like at Dover, we had a 10-cent washer get in the tire and make it flat and went two laps down. Things like that are things that we just have to learn how to work with and deal with better. I am the first guy that needs to step up and do that. We are going to have the stuff to go out and win, no doubt in my mind. Mike Shiplett as a crew chief is one of the best out there. We have a great relationship. The tools are there, we can go out there and win, we just have to learn to do it and do it consistently."
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST KEY TO GETTING CONSISTENCY?
"I think the biggest thing for us last year was that most of the races, even the ones we finished well, there was a time in that race where we had a dip. For whatever reason, we would lose the handling. I just felt like the car was on a knife's edge the whole time to making it good or making it bad. These cars are difficult; don't get me wrong, everybody is on a knife's edge. We have to round that a little bit more, get a consistent car and make an adjustment and know it isn't going to turn the car to crap. That is what happened last year at times where we would be running fifth and then make an adjustment and be running 25th. Then you are back in the pack, struggling with air, and trying to get back to the front. There were times we got back and times that we didn't. If we can make the car consistent, we are going to have a good package, and that is what we need."
HOW DO YOU FEEL AFTER LAST YEAR'S RUN HERE?
"It gives me a lot of confidence, but the race track is so different now. The way this race is going to be ran is a lot different now. Last year doesn't really mean anything; it is going to be that different out there. At the same time, we have faster race cars and faster motors now. We had a car to beat last year, and I know we will have one of the cars here to beat this year. It is all about who you hook up with at the end of this race. Which two cars are going to get locked together bumper-to-bumper and can push each other and break away. More than anything, it is about making friends. I was trying to do that at the test, talking to Jeff (Gordon) and Kyle (Busch) and trying to sweet talk them. That is what it is going to be about, finding the right guy at the right time and staying out of the mess to do that."
HOW DO PREPARE FOR THIS RACE?
"You go step by step. With the way the rules package is, there is not a lot you can do to the car. We had three days here to test, and there is not a lot we are going to do to the car. Mike is going to get it on the race track and go through the inspection and there are some small little things we are going to try. Doug Yates and the engine shop brought a lot of stuff to the track for the test that we tried and I think we have a pretty good idea what the best engine package is. There is not much we can do from that aspect. It is more going step-by-step, getting through qualifying. If we have a chance at the pole, then great, if not then it doesn't really mean anything. Going in Wednesday and getting in a big group of cars, which is something I haven't done on this race track yet, because I was only here at the second test when we basically only had two-car drafting. That will be my first real attack mode chance where I can learn how to draft in a big pack on this track. Then we will go through the duals and I want to go out and win the thing. I want to be in victory lane for Best Buy and Ford and everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports. If not, I want to get out of there unscathed and keep building the week up. It is such a long time here that you can't just come in here full bore. You have to keep ramping up and ramping up, learning each thing that happens. You have to get into Sunday and try to make the right decisions then."
ARE YOU THE GLUE HOLDING THIS TEAM TOGETHER?
"No. If I am the so-called leader then great, I am plenty happy to be the leader. I have the ability to lead this team and I feel like at the end of last year I led this team and helped keep it together, but there are a lot of great people on this race team to help keep that glue together. You have Robbie Loomis, our new CEO Lisa Brown who has been amazing. She has come in and helped steer the team in a new direction. There are a lot of people on down than can help keep this team together. Not one guy can keep a team together, that is not what it is all about. We have a great leader in The King. It is everybody working well together. That is what happened at the end of last year. Everybody wanted to be here. All the crew guys wanted to keep working hard and win races. That is what it takes. I feel like we have a great group of guys on both race teams. Guys back at the shop. For me, it is a whole total package."
DOES THIS GROUP HAVE STABILITY NOW?
"Well, it is the start of it definitely. It is not like the Medallion Group came along and all those guys came in and we thought we were saved and everything is great now. It is a stepping stone. You have to keep building. Going to the shop now, it is a small group of guys, it seemed like we had so many people from so many different race teams, whether it was just Ford in general or Roush Fenway or Yates, it seemed like you saw a new guy all the time before. Now you look at it and it is a small core group of guys that are working on two cars. Everybody seems to just be a lot calmer, and the shop has a different attitude around it. I feel good about it going into this year. We aren't out of the woods. Everything isn't rainbows and blue skies. You see the light at the end of the tunnel and I joke that the light used to be a train coming to hit us. Now it is a real light at the end of the tunnel and everyone seems to be happy about it. We have been through so much. Now it is time to get on the race track and see where we belong at the beginning of this year and going forward. We have new cars in the shop and a lot more tools than we had at the end of last year. The way I look at it, at the end of last year we came to the track with an attitude that we wanted to win, but even more we wanted to just survive. Now we just want to win."
Credit - Ford Racing