AJ Allmendinger is off his best start as a Sprint Cup driver, currently residing 15th in the latest points standings heading into Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Raceway. Allmendinger took a few moments to talk about his season to date, what the 43 team still needs to improve on and look ahead to what he thinks of Richmond and the characteristics of the driver that will win Saturday night.
AJ ALLMENDINGER, driver No. 43 Ford Fusion
YOU ARE QUIETLY HAVING A REALLY STRONG SEASON, WHAT HAS BEEN THE KEY FOR YOU TO BE 15TH IN THE POINTS RIGHT NOW?
“We have been fortunate enough to not make any huge mistakes to take ourselves out of races. We have just kind of been there. It is a little up and down. I feel like certain places we struggled at last year we have gotten better and other places we haven’t gotten better. Ultimately if we want to be a real Chase contending team we need to get better in certain areas. The mile-and-a-half tracks are our weakness right now. We have been fast at times in those races, like Vegas and Texas, but we faded.
"That is the kind of stuff that happened last year at those places. The good thing is that a lot of Ford cars are fast there and have won those races. We have things we can look at to improve on. We as a race team with the 43 have to get better there. That is between Mike Shiplett and me. I feel like we can and have the potential to be better there. That is the thing that sticks out in my mind because we have to be better on those tracks because they make up the majority of the schedule.
"To be an elite team and contend for the Chase we have to be strong on those. At the same point we have been strong on the short tracks. I am looking forward to Richmond this weekend. The Dover tire test went really well so I am really looking forward to Dover as well. We just have to keep getting better. If we do that then we can be there. We are just on the cusp right now. We are right on the outside. We are a 12th to 15th place team that needs to improve in certain areas. If we do that and keep the strengths we have then we have the potential to be a good team throughout the year.”
YOU SAY YOU ARE ON THE CUSP, WHICH IS REMINISCENT OF THE ROUSH FENWAY GUYS LAST YEAR AND WHAT THEY WERE SAYING. DO YOU LOOK AT THEIR SUCCESS THIS SEASON AS A GOOD OMEN FOR YOU?
“I look at the Roush guys but more than anything I look at Marcos (Ambrose). Although we are in the same Ford family when it comes to everything you still have to look at your own race team personally. Marcos has finished like fourth and sixth or seventh at those places. He has been really fast. It is not like we haven’t been fast at those race tracks, we have been. We have qualified up front and ran up front but we faded as the race went on and the track changed. We can get there. Everybody looks at the Chase and that is the ultimate goal and winning races, but for me it is still baby steps. We are not quite there yet. Would I love to say that we are there and we are going to be a top-ten team or we are? Yeah, I would love to say that.
"We are just not quite there yet at certain race tracks. To me, other race tracks we are. We have some tracks coming up where I think we can be. Teams that are like that are good every weekend and we are good at times and then we are average. We are never really bad which is something that is good because even on our worst days when I think we are terrible we are inside the top-20 which is hard to do in this series. We just have to be good all the time and that is something we are working on.”
YOU HEAD TO RICHMOND THIS WEEKEND, WHAT MAKES THAT TRACK DIFFICULT FOR YOU?
“I enjoy it there. We have had our ups and down there for sure. Last year in the second race there we were really good. It is a really tough place because it gets really slick and you tend to start to get some long runs in there and if you are just a little bit off with these cars lately you can get one or two guys that get dialed in and they can lap the field real quick. You really have to have a good qualifying run and then you really have to be good from the start. From there on it is just the track getting slick and when you get in the long runs you have to conserve your rear tires. It is a tough race track.
"It is one of those places where we have been good and faded and last year we were pretty good all race. We finished eighth and we were even better than that. It is a tough place but a fun place to drive for sure. I am looking forward to it because I feel like our short track program has really improved and we have a chance to be really good there. It is definitely a tough race, especially when it is hot out. As the sun goes down it makes for a cool Saturday night short track race. I am really looking forward to it.”
IS THERE A POINT IN THE SEASON YOU LOOK TO AS A MAKE OR BREAK TIME FOR MAKING THE CHASE?
“I think for me I go in a couple of stages. My first goal was to get to Charlotte and the All-Star break. We have three races before that, two tracks I think we can be good at and one that is a question mark in Darlington. I look at that as the beginning of the season and say that we need to get to Charlotte and see where we are legitimately. If we can have three good weeks we might be able to get inside the top-10 in points or right on the cusp and have a legitimate chance at it. Then after that there is a tough stretch with tough tracks for us that can make or break our season. There is a big stretch there that starts with the 600 and then goes to Kansas and Michigan where we have never really been great at. We should be okay at Pocono and Sonoma, but that stretch before the Daytona July race is tough. Once you get to mid July that is when you make your stretch run at the Chase. I go in stages though and it starts with these next three races to get to that first stage.”
WHEN THE RACE IS OVER SATURDAY NIGHT, THE GUY STANDING IN VICTORY LANE WILL BE THERE BECAUSE OF WHAT?
“Because they are patient all night and probably have the best forward drive off the corners because that is what it comes down to. You have to get your car to turn through the center and have great forward drive off to not burn the tires up. The guy that does that and is patient all night will probably be the winner.”
Credit - Ford Racing