AJ Allmendinger (No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge Charger R/T)
“For me, I’ve always liked Texas. You know it’s kind of been hit or miss for me. There have been times I’ve been really fast here and there are other times that I’ve kind of struggled a little bit, but look forward to it. I felt like at Las Vegas, we had a fast race car until we had the fuel pump issues. Coming here, kind of coming with the same ideas and the same setups. After Martinsville, I think it was just good to have an overall good race. I mean the finish itself was good. We weren’t a second-place car, but we were kind of a top-five to a top-eight car all day. We just kind of finally had a solid day. We put everything together. More than anything, that was something I was excited about. Every weekend, for myself and (crew chief) Todd Gordon, it’s about building team chemistry and moving forward. Hopefully, the momentum that we got from Martinsville is something that we can carry. We’ve had fast racecars all year, so I feel coming to Texas that we should be pretty good throughout the whole weekend.”
DID YOU LIKE HAVING THE WEEK OFF AFTER YOUR GREAT FINISH AT MARTINSVILLE? “No, I mean, I think it was the right time to kind of take a break to just kind of look back over the first six races and see where our strengths are, where are weaknesses are, give the whole shop, the whole race team, time to kind of regroup. For me, I’m excited to come here. I was excited during the off weekend just thinking about it, but I felt overall it was a good time for us to just kind of look back. And as I said, I think every weekend it’s myself and Todd Gordon, we’re trying to find that right thing that I look for in a race car. I feel like we’re getting closer and closer to it. Martinsville was a weekend that we struggled all weekend and kind of made some big changes before the race, kind of the direction that I’ve gone in the past and it worked. We weren’t perfect by any means, but we had been a lot better than we had been all weekend. I think we carried that same idea coming here and just keep working on building it. So it was just good for us to have that time to think about it.”
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY ABOUT RACING AT NIGHT AND WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES THAT YOU FACE? “I always enjoy the night races and I think that NASCAR has got a good mix of day races and night races. Texas is always a fun race to come to at night. You get a big crowd here and there’s always a lot of energy. To me it’s a fun race to really have as our first real night race of the season.
“The challenges, I think the biggest thing is practicing during the day and then going into race conditions that you haven’t really experienced all weekend. That’s something that’s a challenge.
“You look at the schedule this weekend which is kind of a strange schedule. You’ve got one practice today. More than anything, you kind of focus on a little bit of race trim, but the problem is the track is pretty clean. You know nobody’s run on it yet, so this is a place that really gets rubbered up throughout the course of a weekend. And you look at tomorrow’s practice, that’s going to be a challenge because you’re not working on anything that’s going to be similar to race conditions. So I think that’s the biggest thing, just trying to keep up with the racetrack through the weekend and then at night, once you start the race, just how much the track changes from the start of the race to the end of the race.”
215 MPH AT MICHIGAN, THAT’S FAST EVEN FOR A GUY LIKE YOU? “It’s going to be interesting. It’s going to be, obviously, the guys that tested at Michigan and saw how fast that place is; Pocono is going to be the same way. I mean I think we saw just how much speed it added down the straightaway when they just added that patch in Turn 3. So I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited about getting there and being able to do the tire test; we’re going to be a part of that. It’ll definitely be a fast racetrack. It’ll be interesting to see how smooth it is because that was something that Pocono, especially the last couple of years, it seemed like Turn 1 was really bumpy, Turn 2 was getting bumpy. The only thing that made Turn 3 bumpy was the patch that they had put across the corner. I’m looking forward to getting there just seeing what the track looks like.”
DO YOU NEED TO SLOW THE CARS DOWN? “We’re race car drivers. Why would we want to slow down, you know? I mean, that’s what it’s all about. The speeds are what they are. To me, if the corner has grip, obviously, it’s no different than it was before. If there’s a problem at the end of the straightaway like Jeff Gordon had several years ago, it’s going to be a big hit. Ultimately, speeds are fine. It’s just a matter of whether it’s going to be good racing; whether you have multiple grooves that allows for side-by-side racing. I think that’s what we’re most focused on.”
BEING WE’RE IN TEXAS, HAVE YOU EVER HAD A DESIRE TO ROPE A COW OR GO ON A MECHANICAL BULL? ? “It was a few years ago when I was in Champ Car, they did the first year at Reliant Stadium around the stadium, they did the street course there. They brought us all in early to promote the race. The Rodeo was in town. I remember they put us next to a live bull. That thing was in a cage and ready to go. I want no part of that. Those guys are crazy. The bull riders, they make race car drivers look like sissies, really, when it comes to it. I have no desire to be on it. The closest I’ve got to one is a mechanical bull. I look good on it, but I don’t want to ride a real one, I can tell you that right now.”
YOU WERE IN HOUSTON RECENTLY; WOULD YOU WANT TO COMPETE IN THE IRL EVENT IN HOUSTON AGAIN? “I’m kind of busy with my regular job. You know, to me it’s no different than any other race. If there’s an opportunity, I’d love to race it, but I think my schedule kind of gets in the way of that. But it’s cool for them to come back. It was a big race when I was there and to have IndyCar bring that race back is going to be really cool.”
HAS THERE EVER BEEN A POINT IN YOUR CAREER THAT THE ENTIRE PACKAGE…CAR, RACE TEAM, INFRASTRUCTURE, ETC., THAT YOU’VE EVER FELT SO CAPABLE? “There are moments that I felt like okay, we’re close and then the next week, you feel that you’re not that close. I think here now at the Penske organization, the stuff is there. The package is there. We’ve just got to keep working to get to that point. You know, when you come with a brand new team and just everybody around me is brand new, compared with what I know, and Todd Gordon is brand new to the Cup series, it just takes time. It’s hard for me to try to remember, but we’ve had fast race cars every weekend. So you know I think we’ve got to keep putting ourselves in position. You look at Martinsville and you know, we weren’t a race-winning car all day. We were a good car. I felt like on long runs, we were a top-five car. Nobody was as good as the Hendrick cars, but that’s what these races are all about, putting yourself in position to have something lucky happen, to have a chance to win the race. We’ve just got to do that more and more – keep having fast cars and keep learning together.
“Obviously Brad (Keselowski) and Paul Wolfe have shown they’re capable every weekend. Todd and I have just got to get there. We’re getting closer every weekend. After six races, you know, I look at if we wouldn’t have had the problems that we’ve had, we could be right there in points. But heck, a lot of people could say that. The biggest thing that I know is that the stuff is there. I just got to keep getting there. As a team, together, we have to keep getting there. The equipment is there and once we do, we’ll be there for a long time.”