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An Interview With: JOHN PEW, OZZ NEGRI, MICHAEL SHANK, AJ ALLMENDINGER and JUSTIN WILSON
HERB BRANHAM: Here are our DP and overall winners of the 50th anniversary running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, part of a Ford sweep on the DP podium. The No. 60, live-on.com Ford Riley, co-drivers John Pew, Ozz Negri, team owner Mike Shank with us in the middle, AJ Allmendinger and Justin Wilson.
Q. AJ, how cool is it to be you right now with this last month you've had?
MICHAEL SHANK: We just talked about that.
Q. And by the way, Power Ball's $170 million, are you going to buy a ticket?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Yeah, I think so. It's always cool to be me. No, I'm just kidding. The last five years it's actually sucked to be me.
It's pretty amazing to go through the last month and a half, I mean, obviously the Penske side of it is completely different from this side of it. You know, Mike Shank is something -- we've done this for seven years. I told them we were just waiting for the 50th anniversary.
But yeah, it's pretty amazing to have the last month and a half, and I feel like over the last five years on the Cup side of it, I've worked really hard, went through a lot of ups and downs to get to that point, and the last seven years this whole team, Mike Shank Racing, went through a lot to get to this point, and it's really cool not only to win the race but to have two cars on the podium, to have really all the guys that have worked really hard. It's the same group of guys that I've seen for the last seven years, Oswaldo can attest to that and Justin can attest to that, that it's a small group of guys that Mike puts together, and they work their butts off, and it's really cool this year to have them get a well-deserved victory and a second car on the podium.
I feel very fortunate. This is one of the reasons why I love this race, because it really kicks off Speed Weeks. It's such a prestigious race. It's one of those races you want on your résumé and you want to say that you were part of a victory. Mike Shank, he's over here tweeting. He's trying to get more followers. He's up to 2,000 now, so he's pretty excited. It's amazing. I'm going to cherish this.
MICHAEL SHANK: I've got two problems. I'm trying to figure out what we did different with Ozz nine years, him seven years, and the two things we did. First of all, I promised to shave his logo into the side of my head, which I'll be doing this week. And his bus driver this morning made me do a shot of vodka --
AJ ALLMENDINGER: That was yesterday morning.
MICHAEL SHANK: I really don't like it that much, but I did it and we won. So there's something there.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: There you go.
Q. AJ, this was a fantastic race to watch by all accounts. It got really interesting with you and Allan McNish. It looked like a little bit of NASCAR racing out there. Could you speak about that? And the second part of my question, it really feels like you've got a swagger going right now; you're upbeat, happy. You always were, but --
AJ ALLMENDINGER: They'll knock me back down when I get to Speed Weeks, don't worry about that.
No, honestly, that's probably the most fun three hours of racing that I've ever had. Part of it is because we won, so if we would have lost it would have sucked. But ultimately that was -- it was just flat-out. Mike did a good job. He changed the driver lineup, said I was going to be in the car last, and gave me seven, eight hours to rest while Ozz and Justin had to do all the work in the middle of the night into the morning.
You know, I knew those last three hours I was going to go flat-out because the 8 car, the 01 at that point were really fast. And McNish, I look at, he's one of the best sports car drivers ever. He's got all the accolades when it comes to Daytona, Le Mans, everything that he's done. That was really fun. I was trying to give Shank a heart attack on the timing stand a little bit, but that was just fun. I mean, it was a good time out there.
You know, and then when Dalziel got in the car, he's one the best in these GRAND-AM cars and these Daytona prototypes right now. So I knew that every lap I had to just drive my butt off, every single lap. And I honestly feel like -- I never try to give myself a ton of credit, but I feel like that's some of the best three hours of driving I've ever done in my life, just every lap, whether it was being aggressive, whether it was trying to dodge GT traffic, I felt like that might be some of the best three hours of driving I've ever had in my life.
Q. AJ, 50 years ago, you had a guy from California named Dan Gurney got to Victory Lane here, you coming from Los Gatos, talk about book ending that for me, and the second part of that, were your ears open really wide in the last few minutes of that to hear every creek and groan of that car?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Yeah, it's what makes this race so cool, just you look at the list of winners, and it's -- from the start of it until now, 50 years, you know, it's what makes this race so prestigious to see everybody that has come here, that has won, that has been a part of this. As everybody said that's been up here, that's what makes this race so great now is you see drivers from different backgrounds, friends of mine that I used to race against, guys that I watch on TV all the time, in Europe, across the country, across the world, and to me it's just -- it's fun to walk up and down pit lane, not even driving, just as a pure fan of racing for me, just to walk up and down pit lane and see all the different drivers that are in this Series and in this race makes it fun for me.
Luckily there wasn't a lot of noise happening in the car, but there were sure a lot of cars spinning out the last 20 laps. I haven't won in five years, so I didn't really want a green-white checkered. I kept seeing guys spin. I'm like, get them behind the wall, get them going again. Luckily I pushed really hard, the guys did a good job on the pit stops and I pushed really hard to build up a gap and take those last ten laps and just kind of manage the gap.
Q. Mike, you've mortgaged, sold, leveraged everything in the world the last couple months to try and make your GRAND-AM team better and your new endeavors. Does this relieve a little bit of pressure for you for a day?
MICHAEL SHANK: I always feel like I have to prove myself every step because I came from nothing more or less because I've had great relationships with people like Ozz and John Pew that have really taken our business to another level. Mark Patterson was also involved in that early on, so was Paul Mears. These guys came in and really trusted that we could do a job, didn't go anywhere else to do it, and I always feel like I tried to over deliver for them in any way I could. Sometimes it worked out and sometimes it didn't. But I think for the most part, I have a pretty good track record doing what I say I'm going to do. I'm grateful to John for sticking with me through some trying times and the world's economy in 2008, and John said I'm committed to doing this, and it kept me on the map.
Q. AJ, can you put this in a career perspective, where this race fits? We seem to anticipate you may win a Cup race this year, but where does this fit in terms of your career achievements?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Yeah, for the last five years of -- what I went through, and as Michael McDowell said, I think the Sprint Cup racing is the toughest in the world right now. I mean, it's so hard to win, and yeah, you know, I look at this year as my best opportunity to go win a Cup race. But that's easier said than done.
You know, right now I'm just going to take this for what it's worth, not think about anything for a couple days, and just enjoy it. Right now it's the biggest win I've ever had because we've worked for seven years to get to this point with Mike Shank, and we've been so close so many times that -- it's funny, the last three hours when I got in the car, it was just like, okay, we've been here before, and there's -- something has happened to take us out.
You know, right now to have Oswaldo, which was such a big part of developing me in my open wheel racing through Barber Dodge and he did so much for me there. Justin Wilson, just as my teammate in Champ Car just made me so much better than I could have ever expected to be because he pushed me every day to limits that I didn't think I could reach, and I put Justin up against anybody when it comes to pure just road course, street course driving when it comes to any car, and he was somebody that for a couple years just made my life hell honestly because he was so good.
And John Pew, as Mike said, he's been a big part of this the last few years, and he's worked so hard to not be your typical whatever you want to call it, gentleman driver or however you want to put it. But to be a pure race car driver, he's stepped up his game in three or four years that I've seen more than anybody. To have all that together as a team, you know, it's the biggest win for me that I've ever been a part of.
Q. Later in the season or in a couple weeks, you will be even more busy when you put on an additional IndyCar team. Nevertheless, winning the 24-hour Rolex here, maybe in the future there's a possibility you will talk the Riley guys into building you a car to go to Le Mans and challenge the European guys.
MICHAEL SHANK: I'm pretty content doing what I am doing here. I love this kind of racing here. I feel like I can win almost every weekend we go, which I love. I don't have to compete necessarily against Peugeot or Audi. I love it here. A passion of mine has been IndyCar since I was seven years old and got into this. I'm pretty content doing American style racing. I've never been to Europe to race but I sure would like to go visit and try it sometime.
Q. For each of the other four drivers, John, Ozz and Justin, I would like to hear your thoughts about what this victory means to you and if you had any particular challenges over the course of the 24 hours.
JUSTIN WILSON: I think AJ said it all, didn't he? There's not much else to say.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: What about your broken back? The difference is Justin is now an inch shorter after his broken back last year, so that actually made the car a lot more comfortable, so thank you for that.
JUSTIN WILSON: It did seem to fit better. I was worried about you in those last few laps where you might be cramping up stretching for those pedals. But yeah, I think we all managed to compromise enough to get by, between all four of us, and being comfortable and being able to push to the limit every single lap because this was a tough race.
I know we were up here last night saying that maybe there's a little bit left, but next time I got in the car, it was flat-out. We gave it everything, every lap, every opportunity, and it's just the way it had to be to compete With Starworks. They were very competitive today.
I'm really pleased for Mike, the whole team, Ford. They've done a fantastic job of just working hard and making sure that we've got all the bases covered, and I think like Michael McDowell said, gave us the liability, with three Fords, three Rileys on the podium, I think that says it all.
JOHN PEW: Yeah, it means a lot to me, too. Dealing with Mike since 2006, I think it was 2006, he's a great guy to deal with on a business level, personal level, and as a race team owner. He's a straight shooter. He wears his emotions on his sleeve, which I like. There's no second-guessing, and he says what he says and he means what he says, and I really like that.
He's taken this team a long way since I first started with this team, and he wants to do things right and he wants to win. He's very competitive, and I really love that. He puts pressure on me, too, which I really like. I've got to be fast, or he's not going to let me stay in the car much. So I've got to really work on it, and I like it that way. I don't want to just go out there and drive laps for the hell of it. I feel really lucky to drive with these guys, AJ, Justin and Ozz. I've known for a while. These guys are great people and they're fantastic driver, some of the best in the world, and I learn a lot from them. I get to look at their data on their race car and see what all their speed secrets are, and they're free to share it. It's been a really great experience.
And Ozz has been a great co-driver for the last few years and a great coach. And when we're not at the racetrack, we're at the go-kart track and he's showing me things there. We work really hard at it and we take it really seriously and I appreciate the seriousness that he takes it.
Q. Mike, you've come close here a couple of other times. What does this win mean to you?
MICHAEL SHANK: It's everything I've worked for. We finished second with the same group except Mark Patterson was sitting where John Pew was. The same group finished second about a lap down to the Ganassi 01 car, and I just remember being so let down kind of like Ryan Dalziel was just describing to you guys. It's a definite letdown. I feel like we deserved it to be honest. I think we've worked hard. I don't make any excuses for that. We paid our dues for sure, and I hope it can take us so new cool places in Daytona prototype in the coming years.
OZZ NEGRI: It's a cool way to start the year, man. A very cool way to start the year. You know, being with Mike for such a long time, what makes it special is that he wants to win as bad as I do. It's just so cool, also, to have a fiery AJ, a very calm and fast Wilson, and John Pew on the team. I think we had a dream team this year.
Q. Mike, AJ drove for the King and he's about to drive for the Captain, so what does he call you?
MICHAEL SHANK: You don't want to know. I'll tell you what he calls me: He calls me Shankapotamus.
But anyway, yeah, that's what he calls me. I guarantee you, Roger won't get anything shaved in the side of his head, I'm pretty sure. That's why he likes me better.
Q. Justin, we're talking a lot about AJ and sort of what a comeback this might be for him and he's got this career opportunity with Penske. At the same time you signed with a new team, you just won a pretty big race and your first race back in six months. What can this mean for you and where can you go from here?
JUSTIN WILSON: Well, hopefully this is the start of a good season. You know, we were joking about that before the race, win this one and move on, win St. Pete, and who knows, maybe the 500. We've just got to take it one step at a time. I think we've got a good opportunity this year with Dale Coyne Racing and with the Honda engine. I think we do our homework and we do some good testing, we'll be in with a shout once we can still compete with the Ganassi guys.
We just have to work it out. I think it's going to be an exciting year. I'm really looking forward to it. This is a great opportunity and a chance to really build something, and hopefully win a few more races.
Q. Ozz, what does this win mean for you in terms of the championship quest, obviously starting the year off with a victory here is --
OZZ NEGRI: It's the best place to start, right? We've got to keep working, keep working hard throughout the year and take every race at a time. We did our homework for this race. We talked a lot about how we wanted the car for the race, and we made it happen. We as a group, we will be working pretty hard this year.
Q. AJ, you said you didn't want a green-white checkered finish. About ten minutes ago through the chicane there was an Audi stalled. Did you ever notice that car, and were you expecting the yellow to come out when you saw it, if you did?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Oh, I noticed it. I noticed for four laps that it was there. Yeah, I kept waiting for it to come out because usually kind of in that position where it's -- where it was sitting, I mean, you usually don't get a car out. But fortunately enough they were able to -- looked like it was just sitting in a perfect spot where they could open the wall there and get the car out. Yeah, it was -- honestly you get in the car, and with three hours to go and having a chance to win the race, I joke about it, but like I said, I haven't had that position in a long time.
For me it's about having confidence, but you still sit there and go, okay, can I be in this position and hit three hours of perfect laps and not make any mistakes. You know, that's -- it creeps in your mind as I'm sitting there strapping my helmet on and about to get in the car. Ozz did such a great stint at that point to hold onto the lead and with a ton of pressure, and he never put a wheel wrong before I got in the car.
At that point it was -- I felt like I had worked so hard to get that lead, and I had done everything that I sat there and thought to myself that I needed to do to get the lead. You know, yeah, I didn't want to see a yellow, but at that point if it came out, then that was just another test for myself to see where I was at as a race car driver. Like I said, I'm not only proud of this race team and everybody that's loading the car up and getting ready to go home at Mike Shank Racing and everybody at Ford and Riley, but I'm proud of myself, too, because it's tough to struggle for five years and have a chance to go win a prestigious race. It was a great test for me.
Q. 50th year of Rolex, the competition was appropriate for the 50th year, and it was a tight race all the way through. Talk about how a team like you guys and Magnus could win and take home a Rolex watch today with what that means in a series like GRAND-AM, that you guys can be competitive in this type of a Series?
MICHAEL SHANK: That's why I came here. As long as you have core group, good people, not just these guys, the guys behind us, all. That's the first thing. The second thing is having stable rules that I can afford. I can't afford to compete against Audi. I can't go for wins there. I can't hardly do the LMP2. So I went to a place that I could come in and compete with Chip and with Roger in the SunTrust and with all these guys that have been here for a long time and we were able to. From day one, when we podiumed with him for the first time at Homestead in '04, and we finished P4 my first year in 2004 here with my Doran. So it's the ability to win races without spending millions and millions of dollars. And that's the beauty of it. Anyone can do this. They can get a car and they can come in here, and if they've got good people, they can do well.
Q. AJ, you won five races in 2006. And then in 2007, you made the big career move and that's where things really became a struggle for you. What was that like, and did you ever have any regrets or think maybe you should try something different?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: 2007 was hell, honestly. It was the worst year of my life when it came to my career. You know, yeah, there was plenty of times in my bus on Friday missing a race that it was either, should I go back to IndyCar or slit my wrists honestly. We're race car drivers. That's true, right? It sounds kind of over the top, but you know, I knew I wanted to be in the Sprint Cup Series. That's where the best of the best was.
At that point with the two series still split, I didn't -- I had done what I did in Champ Car, and at the point the IRL wasn't appealing to me and I had a great opportunity to go to the Sprint Cup Series. Now, I would have liked to have done some truck races and Busch races at that point, but that wasn't the chance that I was given.
You know, it was just a tough couple of years. The last few years have been tough. I feel like the last two years I've at least got on a good rhythm, and it makes me feel good to know that a guy like Roger Penske can look at my talent and say, you know what, he might not have a Cup win and you have Shell-Pennzoil that's used to winners and champions in their cars, but if we give him the right stuff he might be able to do that.
It's been a tough time. But the fun thing was a guy like Mike Shank, no matter how I felt about myself after a tough year or tough season, he never wavered on whether he wanted me in the car. Every year we said we were doing this. That's why I love this guy so much. He's always been there for me. I would do anything for him, and I'm just happy that I can be a small part of this victory for him.
Q. Paul Tracy was in here yesterday talking about moving forward with you, and he hopes to have some deals locked up this week. If you could update us on where you think you're at and if it's on the same page Paul thinks it is.
MICHAEL SHANK: He's part of that program actually, this guy right here. He's part owner in it. We weren't really supposed to talk about that quite yet, but Paul has got a way with the words. We are trying. We're just trying to get all the sponsors in place. We're very, very close to making it happen. I talked to John Pew and Ozz about this kind of last summer about this idea. I wanted to make sure they were cool with it because this is my first thing I've ever done important to me.
But we're trying. It's a passion for me, and we've got a car, we've got a lot of equipment already. I think I have an engine contract. Marshall probably could tell me.
Anyways, we are trying very hard, and that's the answer. I hope to be in it, and we'll see where it goes. We're trying, and I'm trying with Paul.
Q. Michael, in a lot of big sports events, there's always like the turning point, the key moment. Would you call when AJ passed McNish, was that the moment of the race for you?
MICHAEL SHANK: Yeah, Justin said the finish line when it was done and over with. That was probably one of the key. I think there was a bunch of keys leading up to that. We made a shift in the driver change. I don't know what time that was.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I got a text at 4:30 when I was laying in bed.
MICHAEL SHANK: Yeah, and I think it worked perfectly. John did his stint and did perfect. From that point on we tripled. Justin, Ozz -- I mean, Justin led I don't know how many laps, probably 70, something like that, just killed it. That really got it. Once I saw Justin go out there in the lead and not get challenged too horrible, I knew we had something for these guys. Then it was just track placement and who's doing what. I can think of twice, once with you and once with you, should we pit or not? We knew if we pitted, they wouldn't. And if we stayed out, they would do opposite us. And you made a great call that one time that probably saved the day. We came in at the last minute and we were ready. So those kind of little connections all led to what you guys saw at the end of the day.
Now, watching this sports car race today, if you're not a fan of sports car racing after watching this, you know, I don't know what I can say. I mean, that was really, really exciting. I think that's what people want to see, and I hope if we can keep the rules stable here, we can do more of that. These rules breed this kind of racing.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I think as Ryan Dalziel said, me and McNish battled. You knew if you could lead the race, you had a good chance at staying ahead of the guy. That's why the fight was so hard. It wasn't just out there having fun. It was all about that car in the lead knew it was going to be tough to pass. That's why we were fighting so hard.
Q. AJ, what was your impression of Allan's move there in Turn 1 when he took you all the way out to the curb, and then four laps later, it appeared that aerodynamics had a lot to do with you getting into Allan exiting Turn 2. Your impressions of those two situations, please.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Yeah, I wasn't a big fan of the Turn 1 incident. You know, I'll take a line out of any Cup driver. I got loose in the middle of 2, and we touched.
JUSTIN WILSON: I'm buying it.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Car got free, and I touched him, yeah.
MICHAEL SHANK: Let's talk about the durability of the cars hitting each other on the banking, though. That's pretty cool. Both of them drove away.
Q. For AJ and Justin, a lot of technique that you have over here might not transfer to NASCAR, some of it might transfer to IndyCar. Could you talk a little bit about that, and how about that winning attitude, how long do you expect that to last?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: When I get to the Cup garage and they remind me I haven't won again.
No, you're right, there's no similarities when it comes to -- for being in a Cup car. Back when I ran Champ Car it was more similar. There was still a lot of differences but it was more similar. You ask anybody up here, it's not what I learned or technique, it's just confidence. You win a race, especially as big as the 50th anniversary of the Rolex, it's just confidence, and that'll take a race car driver or anybody for that matter in any career further than he can expect.
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, I think AJ said it. It's all about confidence. Hopefully that will snowball for the rest of the season. But as far as what did we learn, what can we transfer over, there's a lot of techniques that you pick up driving these cars that's very, very different to an open-wheel car, just the way you treat the brake pedal, the way you treat the spotter pedal, you've got a lot more weight, no downforce and less grip. So you've got to be very patient.
It's just a different driving style, and the cool thing is you're challenging yourself trying to work that out, trying to pick those up and use everything that you've learnt and possibly know about driving in this one race. Whether it's positioning yourself through traffic or dealing with the car when it gets loose and trying not to lose too much time, there's just lots of little things that are constantly happening.
In these cars, they're so sensitive, if you downshift a fraction too late, the weight of the car is going to take over and you're not going to make the corner. You've got to be on your game the entire time.
Q. Ozz, you came to the States here mid-'90s, I believe, from Brazil. You've been going after your dream here for a really long time. You have two famous teammates, but tell us for you, you've been going after this quest
for a really long time. What's it mean to achieve it after an extended period?
OZZ NEGRI: It's everything I've been working for, really. My career, it was -- it begun in Europe when I was trying to get into Formula 1, and it didn't happen there.
You know, moving here to the States, I was really at the right place at the right time meeting the right people, because I didn't have any money. Just being here today, it's just like a dream come true. You know, it's everything I've worked for, and I couldn't be happier.
HERB BRANHAM: There's your champions. Congratulations.