A.J. Allmendinger met with members of the media at Watkins Glen International and discussed many topics.
Talk about kimberly clark extending sponsorship with your team… “It’s cool. I really like the direction that our race team is going. Earlier we had announced that Kingsford and Clorox were back for another three years. Now to have the Kimberly Clark brands with Scott Products especially on our race car and all their other brands that help promote our sport and help promote our race team. Tad (Geschickter) works hard and Brad (Daugherty) and Jodi (Geschickter) to keep these great partnerships that we have.
They have had a long-standing partnership with this race team. They are on our car this weekend so hopefully with the good news we get some good vibes and momentum and come here this weekend and have a great weekend. The cool things they do so much for help promoting for not just the sport and our race team, but for the fans. Last year they gave away a car. This year they are doing two full bathroom makeovers. If you are a messy person in your bathroom you can get in on that at www.racing-rewards.com.”
Talk about the potential of getting into the chase with a victory this weekend... “When it comes to the Chase side of it, it would be great to be in the Chase because it meant we won. That is the only way we are going to get in. When it comes to making the Chase to win a championship with our race team right now I am not sure that we are quite in that realm of saying if we make the Chase we can go win the championship. Anything can happen, but I think to come here and if we were to win to get into the Chase would just be great for all of our sponsors and this race team and to help keep building the race team and promoting it. That is the way I look at it.
I don’t want to make it all or nothing.
I don’t look to make the Chase to make the championship, but when it comes to this weekend I feel like after our test here a couple of weeks ago we had a really good test. I feel like if we do the right things we can be in contention to win the race. I don’t want to make it all or nothing. If we don’t win and we have a great top-five, top-three run, but we don’t win I don’t want that to be a disappointing weekend. But like I said, I think if we do the right things, kind of like at Sonoma we had a good shot to win that race we will have good speed in the race car I believe. We will see what happens.”
When you tested up here you were testing a second under the track record. Were the conditions similar to what they are going to be this weekend? “No it will be warmer. The test here it rained the first day and the second day was fairly cool, high 60’s, low 70’s so I don’t think it will be as fast as what it was. I still thing we can possibly be under the track record. You know the conditions are going to be a little different and the car is going to be just through the heat of the race track and you know as we watch Nationwide (Series) practice right now cars laying oil down and stuff like that. The track will be a little bit slicker.
The main thing for our test was to really just make the box a lot smaller so when we got here we didn’t have to throw big things at it and hope to make a big difference. I felt like we really shortened the box in our race car to what we need to try just little stuff throughout the weekend to keep up with the race track. For that reason I thought it was a successful test.”
With the sponsorship deals in place pretty much for the next three years where do you think the team basically needs to improve? “They are not all set yet. Tad (Geschickter) is out there continually trying to work on finding sponsorship and really help build the race team. It doesn’t hurt. The more money you find the more it’s going to help with resources at the race team. He is working hard on that. I know this whole week he has been out there trying to help sell and find more money for the race team.
“I think we just have to continually grow. Being a one car race team you are always going to be behind. Having the RCR alliance has been a big help. I think going into this year we knew this was going to be probably the most challenging year when it came to starting together. Just learning each other at the same point with the new rules, the ride height rules I think not only us, but RCR as a whole has been trying to search to figure out what package we need to run. Last weekend at Pocono I really felt like for the bigger race tracks it was the first time we actually hit on a package that we could make more a baseline.
Every weekend we have been trying something and one week we thought we hit on it the next week we show up to the race track and be way off. I think it’s just as we add more resources and Tad continually goes out there and tries to find more money for us and Brad (Daugherty) does the same thing. That is going to help, but I think just trying to keep updating our cars.
“Last week unfortunately was a fairly brand-new car and now it’s not (laughs). We have got to go get that re-clipped, but just things like that. There is not one spot that I say oh this is it and we are going to make the race team a top-five race team from that. It’s just working hard. When you are a small team everybody has got to work that much harder. I like the direction we are going as I said. But as Tad keeps reminding me it’s a process. This isn’t a one year deal. It’s a long term deal. As you know me I’m not a big fan of being patient. I’m working on that.
He keeps trying to teach me that every week whether it’s on the golf course or on the race track. I really enjoy the race team. The results to a certain degree have kind of gutted us a little bit, but that is the way the sport is. You can have great runs and not get rewarded for it. Hopefully that turns around. We come here this weekend and win the race none of the results matter at that point. We are where we want to be. It’s enjoyable, but it’s a lot of hard work at the same point.”
Would you like to see a road course included in the chase? If so, would it be among the two that are run now or add others? “Whether it’s got to be in the Chase or not I don’t know. I would like to see a couple more just in the mere fact I think it’s great racing. I think for the longest time I felt like in the sport people kind of looked at it like these two races it is not great racing. We will kind of do them and get them over with. Now whether it’s the Nationwide race or even the Truck race at Mosport (Canadian Tire Motorsports Park) last year or the Cup races it’s great racing.
I think the fans enjoy it. We get such a big crowd here. Sonoma we always have a big crowd. If you go to like Mid-Ohio, Road America for the Nationwide races they get huge crowds. I think the fans are really starting to enjoy road course racing. Just for that reason and obviously being biased for loving road course racing I would love to have a couple more on the schedule. It would be cool if it was in the Chase just because I think it would add a different element. In general I just think we need a couple more. Nationwide they already go to a couple of great places. There are a lot of great venues out there that could host one and we would have some great racing on them.”
Talk a little bit about your relationship with RCR. What to the extent of the back and forth do you all share right now? “It’s everything. That is what has been great about Richard and his organization. From the moment we started this kind of late December he kind of opened the doors to his shop to us just for whatever we need. We get live updates throughout practice and over the course of during the week, race weekend we pretty much get everything that they are doing. Really where we lack a little bit is trying to keep up with it. Just having the resources and the man power to keep up with everything, all the information that we are getting it’s something that we struggle with a little bit.
Do we use it to its fullest extent? Probably not right now because we are just a little bit behind. Richard has been fantastic and everybody in that organization, Eric Warren from everybody on down. Motor wise it’s not like I feel like we are a step behind compared to the RCR cars in general we are equal with everything. It’s been a great partnership and Richard himself has been so great about it. I think like I said part of it is the whole organization has been searching for a direction to go with this new package.
Over the last few weeks I feel like they’ve gotten better and all the cars have ran just a little bit better. Hopefully, whether we are in the Chase or whatever we can just use these last 15/16 races just to kind of keep building on it heading into next year with a better direction.”
You have run double weekends in IndyCar. Would you be open or for doing that in NASCAR, competing in two points races at the same venue on the same weekend? “No, I look at it not really because you want to make that race weekend, to me at least, whatever day it is, Saturday night or Sunday the big race being there. Not just have one on Saturday, one on Sunday and both are equal points. I think we could shorten the weekends a little bit to a certain degree at some of these places and make more action on the race track and things like that to keep the weekend constantly going. And for the fans have something going on all the time. But no, double weekend are cool for some series. I don’t know if it would be for this series.”
What is the biggest goal on your end that you have achieved this year with this organization? What would be the biggest move forward for this organization this year? “I don’t know if we have had our defining moment yet this year. We have had some good runs. Sonoma I felt like we did everything right to have a chance to win the race and it just wasn’t meant to be and it didn’t work out. I was thrilled with the way the team went into that weekend and everybody had their head down and we did the job. I felt like every practice session we were one of the top two cars out there and we qualified like it. We led the most laps. So that was really cool.
Sonoma honestly has never been, especially out of this track and there, Sonoma has always been my weaker race track out of the two. To go there and be that fast was really cool. Martinsville we had a great race car, Fontana which is the place that I haven’t been the best at, at times we had a top 10 all day. We have had some good moments. But a defining moment to say that is our best moment we haven’t had it yet. Hopefully, it is this weekend.
“Looking forward I think just going through the rest of the year and getting to Homestead and finishing the race there and say you know what we are at our best right now. We are way better than what we started and we are way better than what the middle of the season was. That to me is a success. Wherever that puts us in points I feel like and I know it’s cliché to say ‘we are 25th in points, but I feel like we are better than that.’ I do believe that we are, but the points say what we are.
To me at this moment I try not to look at the points as what defines us. I feel like we have had a lot better runs over the last couple of months that doesn’t show it when it comes to results. Just getting better as the year goes on and being at our best when we get to Homestead and having something to turn around and say ‘okay this is what we can build off of and go into Daytona.’
If you find yourself in second place on the last lap what will you do to win? “I mean that’s simple I will do whatever it takes. But at the same point you race people how they race you. That sets the idea of how you are going to race that person throughout the course of a race. When it comes down to the end having a shot to win this race and I’ve been doing this for a while and it’s a tough sport.
Unless you are Jimmie Johnson or somebody like that you don’t get that many opportunities to win a race. Whatever I have to do to win it, but I will be the first one to say I don’t want to win it in controversy either. I want to go out right and say ‘I earned that win and I won it the right way.’ If I have to stray a little bit I will.”
What’s a little bit? “I mean I won’t and it’s the same thing with Martinsville and Ryan Newman. I won’t come barreling in the corner and out right just crash the guy on purpose and just say I won the race because of that, but if he’s got to be moved out of the way or whatever I’m going to do it. But like I said it’s also set by the idea of how they race me during the race or the last how many years. As drivers we all have the people that we know who race us clean and who race us harder. We have that list and who we owe and who we have to pay back as well.”
What are your thoughts about the qualifying format at a road course? You did really well with it at Sonoma. How do you think it will play out this weekend? A lot like Sonoma or a little different? “Sonoma didn’t play out very well because I was the quickest after the first run. Everybody went out there and went quicker. The old format would have been great, but I think it’s fun. Here to me the tires don’t wear off quite as quick. Honestly it surprises me everywhere we go.
There are so many places where I thought you are going to get one run at it and tires are going to go off. We see it every weekend guys go back out the second run, third run and they get quicker. I think it’s going to play out a little bit the same. To a certain degree Sonoma because it’s a little bit slower and guys can kind of get, although it’s hard to get out of the way there as well, but here it’s so high speed everywhere so there maybe a little bit more traffic especially that first grouping.
To get a clean lap is going to be really important because whether you are shutting your car off coasting or you are trying to ease out of the pits and not use your tires up on the out lap and you have somebody doing a hot lap you don’t want to get held up. I think the first group is going to be a little interesting on how you get your clean lap. I think it’s going to play out just the same. You get out there and you are going to have a couple of opportunities to get everything you can.”
Is there any sort of mischievous pleasure in how nervous you and Marcos Ambrose must be making the guys that are right on the edge of the chase grid on points? “I don’t even think about it. We all know the format. Whether you are 25th in points right now or you are a guy like Kasey (Kahne) or Austin (Dillon) or somebody that is right on the edge. It is what it is. We just have to go out there and I have went into this weekend, this whole week and waking up this morning thinking about the possibility of winning, but you can’t get locked in on it.
You have to go through the whole process. When I went to Sonoma I woke up Sunday morning thinking we really have a shot at this thing if everything works out right. There is a lot that has to work out right though. I don’t even think about it. I will take it as it comes. Like I said I don’t want to define our race weekend. If we go there and sit on pole and lead all the laps and it just doesn’t work out and we finish third. I don’t want us to walk away and say well that is disappointing. That is still a great race weekend for our team. We will just see how it plays out and how it happens when we get that opportunity.”
Why has it been Marcos (Ambrose), Brad (Keselowski) and Kyle (Busch) who have battled for the win the last few years here? “They are really good. That makes it a lot easier. It’s just a feel around this place. But it’s also the way strategy works out. It can be really strange sometimes. I felt like the previous two years that Marcos (Ambrose) won maybe he wasn’t the quickest car and it worked out to his favor to where the first year I think Kyle (Busch) made a mistake on the restart and he got around him.
The next year with the whole Brad (Keselowski) and Kyle incident, last year was probably the race he should have won and had everybody dominated and fuel played into a strategy there. It’s just a feel around this place. They have a really good feel and each of them know what they want in a car to go fast. Each of them know what they want in a car to be there at the end. It’s also the way the races play out. There are so many people in this field that I feel like have a shot to win.
I think because of those three it’s kind of funny to me that people don’t really talk about Jeff (Gordon) or Tony (Stewart). Guys that used to dominate this race track. They can still show up especially with the year that Jeff is having he could show up and dominate this weekend. Tony needs a win as well, there is a lot that can happen, but those guys have got a good feel of what they want. I know Brad especially when I was teamed up with him said he just really likes the feel of this place and what he knows in the race car. It helps a lot. With the new rules it could be a little bit different, but it could be the same. Hopefully I cause a problem for them.”
Are you any more worried about the drivers maybe coming up behind you who aren’t as even keeled and want to get to the front on a race weekend like this where a win means so much? “No, we all drive like idiots out there most of the time honestly. It’s funny with this format now whether you are Dale, Jr. or somebody like that or Jeff (Gordon) or Jimmie (Johnson) the guys that are locked in they have nothing to worry about so they can take all the risks that they want and the guys that are on the edge are the people like myself and Marcos (Ambrose) we know we need a win to get in.
We are all going to drive aggressive. But it’s no different than any other weekend. Guys are going to do what they have to do to go win the race. Guys are going to do what they have to do to move you out of the way to get that spot. To me it’s no different. All I can do is go out there and try to make no mistakes or limit my mistakes. That is kind of the same thing like Sonoma. I went out there and I felt like I drove as good as I could.
The best I have ever driven at Sonoma and handled the race the best I ever could. We had an incident. I don’t feel like that I made any mistakes there, but it wasn’t meant to be. That’s all I can do is go out there and control myself. I’m madder after a race if I know that I didn’t maximize myself during the race weekend or the race itself. If I get wrecked or something then it is what it is.”
Talk about the speed for the first time going to Michigan earlier in the season and what your expecting going back there: “It’s just a fast race track. You know if the weather is really cool there practice and qualifying it’s insane fast. How fast these cars go at a lot of these places now, but especially Michigan, especially if it’s cool and there is a lot of grip in the race track. To me it’s just crazy just how fast it feels. A lot of these places it all kind of to me it blends in. The speed is relative and it is what it is, but Michigan you feel how fast you are going. When that car gets loose you know if something happens it’s going to be big.
That place like a lot of these repaves in general when the race starts whether it’s cool out or it gets warm just sitting there all day before the race we drop the green and the track is slick. It’s way different, the pace is way slower than it was in practice. That to me especially with the repaves is what makes it so hard to set the car up for. It’s confused me a few times this year. Just going ‘okay the pace is going to slow down two seconds, I think this is going to happen.’
And you drop the green and the track is still way different and still way slicker than you expected. To me that is what makes the place so tough. It’s fast in practice and qualifying. In the race it’s still fast, but no matter the weather it seems always a lot slicker just from sitting there all afternoon and getting ready to race.”
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