AJ Allmendinger, driver of the No. 43 Best Buy Ford Fusion, is coming off an 11th-place finish in last week's Daytona 500. Allmendinger, who earned the first pole of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in this race a year ago, spoke with the media before Friday's first practice session at PIR.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT LAST WEEK AND THIS WEEK? "It was crazy last week. I didn't really know what to expect. We were fast early on. Mark and I got hooked up and we led a few laps early in the race, and then we got caught up in that big wreck a little bit and got some damage to the nose, and then after that it seemed like every wreck that happened I was around it, so it was strange, definitely. I think at the end of the race, for what we went through, we had fenders folded in on the tires - the car looked like you got done racing at Martinsville than Daytona, but to come out 11th - I wanted to come out with a solid top-15 finish, compared to last year when we started bad, so I was decently happy with it. I felt like we could have been a little bit better, but to come out 10th in points, there's no disappointment there. I look forward to this race track. Last year, we probably had the best car for qualifying at both races, but in the race we were just a little bit off. I felt like we were on the edge of a top-10 car both races. Things that we've had to work on, Mike Shiplett and I, we've tested a little bit. I felt like the things we struggled with here last year we kind of worked on, so I'm looking forward to getting on the race track."
HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT THE $5 MILLION INDY CAR PURSE AT LAS VEGAS IN OCTOBER? "It's definitely interesting. Five million dollars isn't anything to shy away from. The way I look at it, and it's something I learned in racing a long time ago, is you don't ever say 'no' to anything. You never just say 'no' and you never turn it down. It would definitely be interesting. The guys and girls that are in that series, I've raced against a lot of them and I've beat a lot of them, so it's definitely something that I know I can go out there and compete with them since I've done that in the past, but, at the same time, it's so early on. We're only at race two here in the Sprint Cup Series and that's my focus. As that would get closer, I would look at where I'm at and what's going on with this side of it and how the season is going, and then you start making a judgment off of that and whether I would want to go and do that race or not, whether it would be smart or not. But you never say 'no' to anything, so we'll just leave that open."
WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT THE TWO-CAR RACING AT DAYTONA? "It's a different way to racing, definitely. It's not any worse, it's not any better, I don't think. There's a lot more strategy that goes into it, and that was something everybody heard on the radios - whether it was spotters having to spot two cars or just drivers having to spot for themselves and the guy behind him. It was funny because multiple times I had some voice come over my radio and ask me to work with him. I'm like, 'Who the hell are you? Who's talking to me?' 'Oh, this is David Ragan.' I'm like, 'Oh, OK.' The next yellow I'd be like, 'Who in the hell is this?' 'Oh, it's Carl. It's Carl. Do you want to work together?' I'm like, 'How do you keep getting my radio channel? Leave me alone.' (laughing) I mean, it was strange. I don't know. In one way, because you're not three and four-wide all the time it's better, but in other ways you know that you have to be pushing somebody, otherwise you're left out to dry and you're just gonna be driving there by yourself. There is good and bad to both of that, but the way I looked at it, I needed something different because I think my average finish on superspeedways were like 35th, so I needed something different to happen. We finished 11th, so that was a good thing, but it'll be interesting at Talladega, knowing what we've learned at Daytona, how much Talladega will be different compared to the way it has been. We'll find out more. NASCAR, I commend them. They tried to do a lot of things to help it, but until you stop making the bumpers line up so closely, you're not gonna stop it, so we'll see how Talladega goes when we get there."
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR YOU AND MARCOS TO GET OFF TO A GOOD START FROM HERE ON OUT? "For myself and Marcos, just working together has been a lot of fun in the short amount of time. We both have personalities that like to have fun or are always joking around, so, for that reason, it's been a lot of fun. When it just comes to my side of it on the 43, you have to have a good start to the season. Last year, I felt like from midseason on we were a solid, top 15 race team, but we started the season so bad - I think five out of the first 10 races we finished outside the top 25 and you just can't do that. You're not gonna make up points, especially the way the points are now, you can't make that up and think you can make the chase. So Daytona was a big step. I was really nervous about Daytona and just trying to get through there smooth and not have anything happen and get a solid finish out of it, which we did. We've got some good and bad race tracks. Phoenix, I feel we've been pretty decent, but Vegas is a place we've really struggled. Fontana, for us, has been hit or miss, just like Bristol, so I look at those five races. If we can get through there with good runs, I think it'll give this race team and myself lot of confidence and that will just carry us through the rest of the year."
DO YOU SEE THIS TWO-CAR DRAFT HAPPENING OTHER PLACES? "No. We've been to places like Fontana and Michigan. Those are probably the two closest race tracks when it comes to that. Yeah, if you come off the corner and you can get hooked up with somebody and push them by somebody, you'll do that, but it's not gonna be anything like that, except at Talladega and Daytona. Daytona, the only reason it started happening is because we repaved the race track, so it's definitely strange. It's a different way of racing. Talladega will be interesting. It's funny, the track is only just over a tenth-of-a-mile longer, but it seems so much bigger and the cars heat up so much quicker there, so it will be a lot different when we get there. The way I look at it, I've got six or seven races before I've got to worry about that again."
HOW ABOUT RACING HERE AT PHOENIX? "For me, it's a fun race track. I like the miles and the shorter race tracks. They're a lot of fun. Phoenix has always been a good race track for myself and for this race team. Ever since Mike Shiplett and I joined together at the end of 2008 when I came over to the race team and did five races, he's always had really fast race cars at these flatter kind of race tracks. He's found something in the front end that's always been good for this type of race track here and at Loudon. I like this race track. I like the fans. We always get a big crowd here. The weather is always sunny and it's not too cold right now. It's just a fun place to go to. I like that we kind of changed the schedule around and we come here the second race now, so there are a lot of good things. For us, the biggest thing was coming out of Daytona we have a little bit of momentum. Obviously, we'd like to be where Trevor was standing, but at the same time, to come out of there with a solid finish, which is something we haven't done a lot of at the beginning of the year was big for us. So I'm excited to get on the race track here. This new practice format is gonna be a little bit different. Today is all about getting your car set up for the race and qualifying. We don't have much to do tomorrow, except for qualifying, so we'll see how that plays out and how we want to use these practices. Mike and I have talked about it a little bit. We'll just see how the track plays out. With this place, the track is always changing a lot as more rubber gets built up, so I think it's gonna be a little bit different knowing the fact that we're not really on the race track tomorrow, and then on Sunday, when the track is all rubbered up, it's gonna be a lot different than anything we've practiced on so far."
HOW DIFFERENT IS IT TO BE HERE NOW AS OPPOSED TO WHEN WE WERE HERE IN NOVEMBER? "This is a lot better feeling than this time last year when we were ending the season trying to figure out what was going on. For me, just like everybody else, I stressed about it during the week, but once we got to the race track, it's more credit to Mike Shiplett and the crew guys for showing up and having their mind set on the job at hand and that was making the race cars fast. I think, more than anything, I don't know if I ever got that mindset of, 'This team is not gonna be here.' I always felt like something was gonna work out and they were gonna figure something out between the King and the tradition of the 43. Robbie Loomis and those guys were working so hard, so I never had in my mindset that this team is not gonna be here, it was just 'how is it gonna be here, what's it gonna look like, what's gonna be the background.' At that time, Best Buy was still trying to figure out whether they were gonna stay in the sport, what was going on through everything, so I was worried more about that because I built such a good relationship with Best Buy and had so much fun with them the whole year. We were running so well together and that's what I was more worried about, was trying to make sure that they were still a part of the race team. It's a lot better feeling now. I think there are still things that can obviously always need to be sorted out and can be better, but it's a lot better than where we were at this time last year. The biggest thing I saw at Daytona, and I think a lot of people saw it, the King is just smiling again. He's having a good time laughing and when the King is smiling, the rest of us are smiling. That was more cool to see than anything."
HAVE YOU SEEN ANY EXAMPLES OF TREVORMANIA THIS WEEK? "If you turn on every TV show you see it. For me, it's cool in one way because you get at team like the Wood Brothers, I look at the Wood Brothers kind of like Richard Petty Motorsports and the King in general. They went through some hard times and to get somebody different up there winning with the rich history of them being in the sport and seeing that 21 in victory lane was really cool. It would be the same thing as trying to get the 43 back in victory lane. It was fun to see a different race team, a different person step up and go out there and surprise everybody. That was really cool to see that. At the same time, I'm not gonna lie, I was a little jealous. To go out there and to win your second race and get your first career victory at Daytona, that was something that I was dreaming of and sitting there watching him celebrate it was cool in one way, and in another way I was sitting there just kind of 'what could have been.' That's the way racing is, but I think it was just really good for the sport to get a team like that. Hopefully, more than anything, that propels the Wood Brothers to be able to maybe do more races and maybe do a full season. All in all, that would just be great for the sport to have that happen, but it's been definitely good to get a new face out there and have all of that happen for the sport."
WHERE DID YOU START RACING? "I started with BMX bicycles. My dad was a local dirt track racer in California and we just grew up at a race track. I went from bicycles to quarter midgets to go karts, up through the open-wheel ranks and switched to NASCAR in 2007 with the association with Red Bull. For me, it's not probably the normal path that you would take, but I don't know if there is a normal path anymore."
HOW DO YOU NEED TO SET YOUR CAR UP HERE AT PHOENIX AND WHAT IS YOUR MEMORABLE MOMENT HERE? "The biggest thing, and it's something that we have fought, is when the track starts getting a lot of rubber on it - more in turn three, it starts building up on the race track and when your right-front kind of hits that it gives out. I think you've got to set your car up a little bit free to get turning through the center of the corner, especially in three and four, and you need really good forward bite off. When we've been our best, we've had our car turning after about 20-30 laps in a run and you still have decent forward drive off. At our worst, we've had it where it feels like the right-front tires just blows out in the center of three and four. You've just really got to work on getting your car through the center and that's something as the tires get older it gets a lot harder to do. That's something we've focused on in testing is working out a package to keep the car turning, help it stay free in the center, and still have that good bite off the corner. For me, I have great memories of winning my first career pole here in the spring race. That's something that as I'm coming up and getting better in this series and getting better in Sprint Cup in general, you start checking off things you've got to do first and to get my first career pole here was something that was really cool. And then we came back for the second race and almost did it again. I really enjoy the surface. The way it will probably work is I'll probably win this weekend and that's why they're changing the race track, but I really like this place. It's a fun place to get around."
HOW HARD WOULD IT BE TO FIND AN INDY CAR RIDE FOR OCTOBER? "It's just like anything, it would take a little bit of getting used to as far as going out and doing it again. I don't think I'd try to show up on Sunday to Vegas and go try to win the race without testing it. But it's just like anything else, it comes back to you. On an oval like that, it's flat out. More than anything, I would just have to be comfortable in the car and getting used to it again and know how much is too much when it comes to being loose there. It's just like anything, it comes back to you. You offer somebody like Chip or Roger a chance to win $5 million, they might jump at it."
WOULD WEATHER THROW A CURVE BALL AT YOU GUYS IF IT RAINS AND IS COLD HERE? "I think just everything between the potential weather and the practice schedule, it's gonna be a lot different. I think if the weather happens the way they're talking about, to go out in this first practice schedule when there's the least amount of rubber on the track that there's gonna be and it's gonna probably be the coolest that it will be on the race track before the race, it'll be a big deal. It's just like anything else. Fortunately, the track is gonna be the same for everybody else as it will be for me, but it's definitely gonna be a different weekend than we've had before."
Credit - Ford Racing