AJ Allmendinger: A personal preview for the Daytona 500

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AJ Allmendinger has nine starts at Daytona International Speedway, one top-five and two top-10 finishes. His average start is 19.000 and his average finish is 24.444. He has led 15 laps. Allmendinger’s best finish at Daytona is third.

Dream big: “Daytona, you say the name and people know what it is,” AJ Allmendinger said. “Our fans or not even a fan, you can say I won at Daytona and they understand the meaning.

A.J. Allmendinger, JGT Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
A.J. Allmendinger, JGT Daugherty Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

I won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and it was so cool to roll into Victory Lane because of all the history and what it means to be in Victory Lane no matter what car you are driving.

To win the Daytona 500 - if we are fortunate enough - means so many things with this group of guys I’m driving for at JTG Daugherty Racing. I don’t think any one of them has been to Victory Lane. Well, maybe one now that I think about it. It just would be very special.

If you win Daytona, with the new rules, you are automatically in The Chase and that sets the tone for the year. If we would be lucky enough to win the Daytona 500, it would be a dream come true. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I go to bed thinking about rolling into Victory Lane with the No. 47 Kroger/USO Chevrolet SS. I can’t explain the emotions until it happens and what it would mean to the team and sponsors.”

Branding: "It's so cool to see the Kroger Co. partnering with the USO again this season to Honor Our Heroes," Allmendinger said. "It's a nice way to recognize America’s troops and their families. I believe this is the fifth season Kroger has been a partner of JTG Daugherty Racing. We're hoping to bring home a great finish for everyone. To find out more about USO's mission to lift spirits, please visit HonoringOurHeroes.com."

Confidence: “We have the confidence in ourselves that if we get everything right, we can compete with the best of the best,” Allmendinger said. “I truly believe that.”

Preparation: “It’s been a tough off season as we switched over,” said crew chief Brian Burns. “It’s not much different because all off seasons are fairly tough when you are scrambling to do updates for new rules. Additionally, this time around we were receiving new equipment with all the things coming into the shop from RCR (Richard Childress Racing) and putting cars together.”

Keep an eye on 47: “Winning the Daytona 500 would be huge for us,” Burns said. “AJ is trying to break through to his first win and we are as a team. We have been given everything we need this year by the owners (Brad Daugherty and Tad and Jodi Geschickter) to win races. The ball is in our court because we have the tools. It is all on us.”

New faces: “We have a lot of different faces on the team and in the shop,” Burns said. "We are working with a new group of guys and so far everyone is bonding well and it was evident at a test we did recently at Nashville Superspeedway.”

This is the year: “This is the best time to get a driver like AJ at this point in his career,” Burns said. “He is the most mature and aggressive driver and has something to prove. We have the ingredients to win races this year.”

Alliance: “RCR has welcomed us with open arms,” Burns said. “When we ask questions, they treat us as one of their teams. It is going to be a big deal and this year we are not on a desert island. We will get to be a part of their practice meetings before we hit the track and post happy hour meetings and post race meetings. The post happy hour meeting will be where we walk into the room and all the engineers and drivers will be debriefing.

Also, we will go to a meeting at RCR each Monday to recap the weekend. Basically, we are invited to all meetings and we even have an engineer (Joey Cohen) camped out at their shop in Welcome, N.C. Additionally, there is a database that is shared with all the teams and we are connected to their network and we can see changes they make. They have been great to work with and we are looking forward to things to come this season.”

Making things a reality: “I am happy to be back full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series,” Allmendinger said. “I feel lucky; very fortunate to be back full-time and with the JTG Daugherty Racing team. In a short amount of time, Tad Geschickter has become a close friend of mine. He is a great guy. He has made me feel a part of their family and made me feel like I have some sort of ownership with this team. I can talk about anything with him. To me, I like that friendship and knowing we are all working in the same direction. With our RCR alliance, we know our equipment will be better.

We have a good relationship with RCR and are looking forward to finally beginning the season at Daytona International Speedway. We know we have to manage our expectations early on. We have potential to do great things, but we cannot look at the big picture. We have to look at the small picture. To win a race or a championship for that matter, we have to take baby steps to get there. We cannot go from 30th to fifth in the first couple of weeks.

We can be a really solid race team and one of those teams that cannot be overlooked. We need to go from being a 20th-place team to being inside the top-15 and then the top-10. I am just ready to start and these guys really make it fun. The energy in the shop has started to be so good and you can see the potential. We now have to make it a reality.”

All about attitude: "With the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, you try to keep an even attitude,” Allmendinger said. “You can quickly get yourself too confident after a great finish and if it starts going bad, the season is so long especially during the summer months. You can easily dig yourself in a hole. It’s really hard to do, but you really have to take one race at a time because every weekend is new.”

The Chase format: “Now with the Chase format, you can be having a terrible year and all the sudden you win a race and the next thing you know that can light your season up and you’re in The Chase,” Allmendinger said. “Then you gain some momentum, you’re right there and you have a shot at the championship. I think that’s what makes the new format fun. It’s cool to see what NASCAR is doing whether it’s the Chase or qualifying format. It leads to so many more variety of things that can happen. For us, I think it gives us a good chance. It is just such a long season. It is all about pacing yourself and taking everything as it comes. Each year that I have done this, the more I have learned and the better I have gotten at that. That is what makes the best guys so good at it. They can take a couple bad weekends in a row and forget about it and move on to the next week and almost start over.”

Starting over: “I learned there were a lot of things I needed to change in my life,” Allmendinger said. “That racing itself didn’t just make me happy. Being away from racing, that wasn’t making me happy. There were just a lot of things that I needed to work on personally and mentally. It was kind of like almost starting all over again. We can’t hide from problems, they won’t just go away. It gave me a chance to step back, look at myself and say I need to start over and figure out the areas I need to work on and find true happiness."

"When you're struggling, it's hard,” Allmendinger continued. “You feel like you don't want to be there, or think, 'Maybe I'm over this.' When it gets taken away from you, you really have to look at if you want to be there. Quickly, I realized as I watched races on TV, I wanted to be back. Honestly, I didn’t know if I would have the opportunity. Today is almost like starting over. I truly believe now that things are meant to happen for a reason. God had a plan and there are so many things that happened last year that I’m so fortunate about. I’m in a great place now.”

The team: “They do not make me feel just like a driver, they make me feel a part of their family,” Allmendinger said. “I’m a key component to the race team and building it and not just driving the car. For all those reasons, I’m happy about the partnership. Through everything I have been through and all the different teams I have been lucky enough to race for, I thought this was the right place to be. I really felt like JTG Daugherty Racing was the right choice for me and a good place where I could be for hopefully a long time.”

2014 goals: "Of course, the goal is to bring that first trophy into the shop, but you can't jump from 30th to first right away,” Allmendinger said. “If we do everything to our maximum ability and what we're capable of, people will look at us and say, 'We can't sleep on them. They're contending every weekend.'"

Prediction for the final four: “Me and three others guys,” Allmendinger said. “It’s no secret that Jimmie Johnson has a pretty good shot at it. If you take off from last year’s stats, I think Matt (Kenseth) has a pretty good shot at it, too. But, it’s a brand new year. We don’t know. We will see what happens.”

Great things: “I think me being back full-time, that's the most exciting thing,” Allmendinger said. “Also, I love the qualifying format that we will have this year. Single-car qualifying to me is the most boring thing on the planet – not just in NASCAR, but they tried it in F1 and IndyCar. The new format leads to so many different things that can happen on Friday. If Jimmie Johnson has the fastest car in practice and we’re in a place where it’s one lap on the tires and someone gets in his way, and he doesn’t make the next round, that makes it exciting. For the fans and on TV, you don’t know who is going to be on the pole until the last second of that final qualifying session. That is one of the most fun things you can do.”

JTG Daugherty Racing

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Series NASCAR-CUP
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Tags aj allmendinger, daytona 500, nascar-cup