AJ Allmendinger, driver of the No. 43 Best Buy Ford Fusion, is one of two Ford drivers currently in the top 12 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings. Allmendinger, who holds down the ninth spot, held a Q&A session Friday morning before practice.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS GOING INTO THIS WEEKEND? “It’s one of my favorite places. It was the first race I ever made in the Sprint Cup Series, so it has some meaning for me. Once you get to Bristol, for me at least, you kind of see where your short track program is at. Last year, we weren’t very good here. We struggled a little bit in both races for two separate reasons. One, the first race we were tight and the second race we were loose, so it’s something Mike Shiplett and I really focused on in the off-season to figure out why we struggled here and we think we at least have a handle on it, so I’m looking forward to getting out on the track here in a couple hours and seeing where we’re going to be. Overall, I’m excited about the start.
HOW DOES BRISTOL RANK IN TERMS OF DIFFICULTY TO LEARN AND WHAT ARE SOME OF THE TECHNICAL CHALLENGES FOR YOU BEHIND THE WHEEL? “It’s a tough place to learn. It’s a tough place to race. I loved the place when I showed up to it. I still do and I’m always excited to come here, but I honestly haven’t had a great race here. I think my best finish is like 17th. We’ve had times where we were really fast here and something goes wrong, and I think that’s probably the most difficult thing is you can have a great race car all day, you can do all the right things and just one bad move by you or one bad move by somebody else completely takes you out. There’s not a lot of room for error, where you can save a race car, or, if you get turned, you’re not gonna get wrecked. It’s a tough place and when they re-did it, both corners look the same, but there is just a little bit different ends on both sides. One and two kind of gets tighter in the center, but it seems like on the exit it seems like it opens up just a little bit more for whatever reason. Three and four doesn’t seem as tight right at the center, but right off of four it gets really narrow. Last year, this place it seemed like the first race it rubbered up really bad, so your car got really tight over the rubber. The second race it just seemed really loose to me all weekend, so it’s very temperature sensitive. Although it’s concrete, it seems like just the way the rubber builds up on the race track is real critical, so it’s a tough place to set up for and you continually have to throughout the weekend and throughout the race keep adjusting.”
WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO KEEP WORKING ON HERE? “I think it’s just ultimately getting a good balance. I’ve gotten myself in trouble here before where you start being able to run up against the wall and, right away during a weekend, maybe my car is not great on the bottom and I start moving up top, and do the middle and up top and I can be really fast in practice doing that, but you can’t do that in the race all the time. When you’ve got cars lined up on the inside of you it’s hard to be able for you to choose your line, so I think it’s just getting a good balance. Last year taught me a good lesson of what we needed overall because, like I said, the first race we were OK but we weren’t great, and the second race we came back and I just said, ‘Man, I need the car to turn. As long as you make the car turn, we’ll be OK.’ Well, we made it turn and I wrecked three times during the weekend, so I think it taught me a lot about just what kind of overall balance we need and just have a solid race car. Everytime I come here I learn a little bit more about how I need to drive it and what I need to make the car better to drive it right, so it’s just a good overall balance. You need to be maybe just a tick tight, but you can’t be too tight. You definitely need the back end in the race track through the center and up off the corner.”
IS IT MORE DIFFICULT TO SET THE CAR UP FOR A SHORT TRACK VERSUS BIGGER SPEEDWAY? “I think the biggest deal with the shorter race tracks is you get a lot more rubber build up on the race track than say a mile-and-a-half or a two-mile. You get rubber built up on every race track, obviously, but at these shorter ones it just seems like the rubber builds up little spots in the race track where when you hit it, the front end gets really tight. A place like here, Martinsville does it really bad, Phoenix does it, so it’s these type of tracks – Dover is another place with the concrete where you get a lot of rubber build up. When it comes to a mile-and-a-half or anything like that, every place the driver wants it solid in to turn through the center and have good grip off, I mean, that’s what we’re always complaining about and we never have it good enough, but I think on the short tracks it makes it a lot more difficult just because of how the rubber actually builds up on the race track and you’re fighting that more than anything.”
CAN YOU DIVIDE A RACE LIKE THIS UP IN STINTS AND HOW TO YOU PLAN OUT A RACE? “You’ve just got to be patient. In an open-wheel race, you know there are gonna be three stints during the race most likely. There are gonna be two pit stops and you divide up the race. The first stint was always based on fuel mileage, but these races you’ve just got to be patient. You’ve got to see where you’re running on the race track. If you’re inside the top 10, you can kind of take it easy all day and just get to the last 100 laps here. If you’re fighting right on the edge of getting lapped, you’ve got to race tooth-and-nail and try to get everything you can, so it’s more based on how the car is, where you’re running and you’re always trying to get to the last 100 laps of a race or the last 50 laps and really go racing from there, but it’s all judged on how your car is throughout the whole race. If you’re inside the top 10, it makes it a lot easier.”
IS IT MORE IMPORTANT TO COME OUT OF THIS WEEKEND WITH A SOLID RUN AND WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO TO CONTINUE THE FORWARD PROGRESS YOU’VE SHOWN? “I’ve just got to take everything that comes. Vegas has been my worst race track. We were good at times throughout the race and then we got bad at the end, but there were times in the past where I maybe would have gotten frustrated and tried too hard and got up in the wall and really hurt us. We finished 19th. It’s not where we want to finish, but as long as you can kind of finish inside the top 20 on your bad days, that’s gonna be alright. The same thing here. We’re just gonna work on being solid and see where we are after Saturday practice and how good we are in the race. For me, it’s just continuing the same growth of learning just to get through this race and be smart about it. If we’re good, then we’re gonna run really hard. If we’re not, we’re just gonna try to survive and get all the points we can. The fortunate thing for us so far is all of the Fords have been fast – RPM, Roush Fenway – all of the Fords have been really fast, so Vegas, for instance, we weren’t great but Carl and Marcos were really good, so we’ve got good notes to go off of. Hopefully, we’re the good car this weekend and we just keep doing the right things.”
Credit - Ford Racing