AJ Allmendinger (No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge Charger R/T)
YOU RECENTLY WON THE ROLEX 24 AT DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY. WHAT WOULD MEAN TO WIN THE DAYTONA 500 ON SUNDAY?
“To come back to a race track after going out there and having a great race, a fun celebration with Michael Shank, to roll into the tunnel and remember what it meant to win (the Rolex 24) and possibly have a chance to do something that I don’t think a lot of people have done – win the Rolex and Daytona 500. There’s a lot that goes into that race for the 500 miles and playing it out right. Obviously the Shootout was crazy. Overall for me, I think the Shell/Pennzoil Dodge is quick. We have a fast race car. We’re going to have a shot at it, but there are a lot of guys that will too. Hopefully, we’ll play it smart and be in the right position at the right time at the end of the race.”
WHAT’S BEEN THE BIGGEST SURPRISE SINCE BEING AT PENSKE RACING?
“I don’t know if there are huge surprises. I think how open the team was when I got there and excited the team seemed to be. In that big race shop, there’s a lot of people in there and to walk in there everyday and have people say they can’t wait for the season to start and we’re so happy to have you here, we’re looking forward to it and that kind of stuff. I always knew that their team was run well and the way that they went about things, but just to see how clean that race shop is and see how smooth everything is run amongst the team. Everybody knows their role there and is doing their jobs. It’s fun to see and be around it. It makes me walk in and be even happier to be there.”
IT WAS ROGER PENSKE’S 75TH BIRTHDAY THE OTHER DAY. WHAT DID YOU GUYS GET HIM?
“A couple wrecked race cars from the weekend (laughs). Sweet. Happy Birthday to you Roger! (laughs). Just like I tell everybody else in my life, just love.
“It is kind of funny though, he called me on his birthday. To me, that shows me just how impressive Roger Penske is. He’s out on vacation on his birthday with his family, supposed to be relaxing, and he’s texting me. I’m sure he’s doing the same to Brad (Keselowski) and the rest of the race team. He was telling me he’s sorry that he wasn’t at the Shootout. Hopefully we put last week behind us and all the wrong places that we put in and have accidents.”
SO YOU DIDN’T GET HIM ANYTHING?
“Yeah (laughs). What do you get someone that has everything?”
WHAT WILL YOUR APPROACH BE FOR THE DUEL TOMORROW?
“I don’t know because, so far, my approach hasn’t worked. I think with the Shootout, it’s tough to call. It’s going to be interesting to see how everyone is going to race. In the Shootout, it’s like we dropped the green and everybody had all this anxiety and hadn’t raced all winter and it was time to go. I think that if everybody just plays it a little bit more cool for the Duels, maybe I’ll try to get up there in the mix (it up) and maybe go for the lead. If not, maybe just hang back again. Of course you’d like to win the Duel, but the thing coming out of the Duel is not having a wrecked race car. I look at it with 10, 5 to go, kind of that opening, try and take the lead and go for the win. If not, maybe make one run at it and if that doesn’t work, bail out and at that point it doesn’t matter. To me it’s still open, still tough to figure out how it’s going to play out. It depends on how everyone wants to race and how aggressive they want to be.”
HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT HOW DIFFERENT THINGS WOULD BE FIVE OR SIX YEARS AGO IF PENSKE WAS INTERESTED IN YOU?
“No. I think every step of the way, for me, I’ve grown as a person and learned life lessons. I enjoy being in the Sprint Cup Series. This is the place that I really want to be. I’ve always been excited about it. Obviously there have been some ups and downs to get to this point right now. I think that everything happens for a reason. It’s the same thing three-years ago when I was calling Tim Cindric trying to get a ride and it didn’t work out. I never look back and think where I could have been five or six years ago. I just know that where I am, I’m very happy. I’m excited about the opportunity. For me now, it’s looking forward and trying to do everything that I can to keep this opportunity and do the right things with it.”
WHAT’S THE BEST PART OF MOVING TO A NEW TEAM?
“I think it’s the same thing, good and bad. It’s always a little bit scary to make change; at least it is for me. You get into a place where you’ve been for a while and get comfortable and use to how everything is run. You get use to the people, good and bad. You know how everything daily is going to run and where you need to be. You make a change and everything is different. You have to go out there and figure out where you need to be, new schedules. You try to learn everybody and everybody’s tendencies and understand what they want. At the same time, that’s the exciting part. To see everybody new, to see the excitement and see things are run at a different race team. To me it’s been really, really good. At RPM, I really enjoyed the people there. At the end of the year when (Penske) wasn’t even on my radar, I was happy to be (at RPM). When you get an opportunity like this with the Penske organization, to be a driver of Mr. Penske, for me to walk into the shop, you just see all the pictures from (Mark) Donohue on down to Rick Mears and continuing, that to me is exciting.”
WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS THIS YEAR?
“For me it’s simple; win races and make the Chase. And when you get into the Chase, it’s just like any other playoff format in other sport, anything can happen. I look at it as I was 13th when the Chase started last year, I missed (the Chase) by one spot, finished top-15 in points. To make this change and the reason I made it was to go out there and raise my game to the next level, become one of those drivers who contend for race wins every weekend. It’s so tough to win these races. You have to put yourself in position at least 20 to 25 times during the year to maybe win a couple of them. You can’t put yourself in position four or five times a year and expect to win one. Hopefully we can do that. With the change being so late to start the season, we got to hit singles before we expect homeruns, to go to Daytona and win the 500, go to Phoenix and win that race. Ultimately it’s tough to do that. You have to be consistent and not make mistakes and put us in position to win races; anything less than that will be a disappointment. That’s not the outside world, that’s me personally, that’s the way that I look at it. Shell/Pennzoil has had a lot of drivers that have won championships, a lot of races in their race cars. They expect a high level. Mr. Penske himself expects a high level. Nobody put that pressure on me as I do.”