AJ ALLMENDINGER (No. 44 Charter Communications Dodge Charger) YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE 500, BEING IN THE USA TODAY AND NOW BACK IN CALIFORNIA? "It must be a slow news day because there's actually people here (at his press conference) (Laughs). It's...
AJ ALLMENDINGER (No. 44 Charter Communications Dodge Charger)
YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE 500, BEING IN THE USA TODAY AND NOW BACK IN CALIFORNIA? "It must be a slow news day because there's actually people here (at his press conference) (Laughs). It's been a great week. I'm very proud of the team and everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports who did a great job. For me to finish third was good, but for the whole team to have three cars in the top 10 and possibly a fourth if Kasey (Kahne) didn't get wrecked on that last lap was great. I think it (Daytona) was good for the whole team, especially with everything, as a group, the team has gone through during the offseason. I'm just proud of them. It's one of those things that you celebrate on Sunday night...I was happy about it...but woke up Monday and was ready to get here (California) and focus because now the season really starts."
ARE YOU JUST AS NERVOUS TODAY AS YOU WERE LAST THURSDAY IN DAYTONA KNOWING THAT YOU HAVE TO QUALIFY ON SPEED? "No. Definitely not as nervous, but the nerves are still there. Anything can happen. Whether you go out and mess up on a lap or you have motor trouble...even pit lane...all these things that can crop up and ruin your day and not get you in the show. It's definitely a lot less stress compared to Daytona because when you're in the Duels, there's obviously a lot of stuff that you can't control. There (Daytona) it's superspeedway racing...a 60-lap race (Duel). Here, we just have to go out and do our job for one lap. I'm confident. I've had to do this for two-and-a-half years now. I'm confident that we can go out and do it (qualify for Sunday's race). The nerves are always there."
AFTER YOUR THIRD-PLACE FINISH IN DAYTONA, ANY NEW 'NIBBLES' IN SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE 44 CAR? "I thought Richard (Petty, team owner) said that he's paying for it from here on out (laughs). I talked to him today and he said, 'No.' (laughs). Finishing third at Daytona definitely helped. There's definitely companies out there that are looking to get aboard. I think we showed as an organization that we'd be a great team to have a sponsor come on-board and help us out. As of right now, we still only have the eight races (of sponsorship for the 44 car) plus the Daytona (July) race...basically we have the nine races. So we're still looking for sponsorship. I think with the tough economic times, there's still companies out there...and that's what was surprising at Daytona. We talked to a lot of people and there's a lot of companies willing to get on-board. I think the biggest thing is because of the tough economic times, there are great deals. For us, we're selling races...per race...that I think are more than maybe half of what you use to be able to get a race for. The deals are out there and I think that there's pressure every week. You've got to go out there and show that it's not a one-week fluke and go out and perform. I told them I'd do anything. I'd even cook them dinner. Well...maybe my wife would...I can't cook."
UNTIL YOU'RE DONE WITH THE FIRST PRACTICE TODAY, IS THERE ANXIETY NOT KNOWING WHERE YOU'RE AT BECAUSE OF THE LACK OF TESTING? "I think so. Everybody is a little bit nervous about it, not just us. We've tested at Rockingham and I did a tire test at Phoenix, but that doesn't carry over to anything here. I think if you ask anybody in the garage right now and they're a little bit nervous. You've got a little bit of anxiety to go out there and see what you have. I know that Richard Petty Motorsports has done a great job over the offseason...we've got all brand new cars and worked on some things over the offseason in trying to get better. I'm a little nervous to get out there. I'm probably no different than anyone else out there right now."
DO YOU PUT ANY MORE EMPHASIS ON BEATING THE GUYS IN PARTICULAR WHO ARE ALSO LOOKING FOR ADDITIONAL FUNDING? "No. You go out there and try and beat the 48 and 99. That will get a lot more attention than the guys who are in our same boat. There's 42 other guys that I want to beat, so I don't pay attention to one specific person or anybody like that. If we go out there and win the race, that get's the most exposure. That's what our focus is on."
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CAR....MAYBE A PINTO OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT? "I wasn't around when Pinto was out, so I probably didn't have it. My first car was a Ford Ranger truck. A 1989...'90 truck that my grandpa sold me for $1. It didn't have any A/C in it. I was still racing go-karts and I would drive from San Jose to Vegas...and I'm not a morning person...so I would leave as early as I could so I wouldn't get the heat. I tried to wake up at five or six in the morning, but literally it was like 10 (a.m.) like I wake up now."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE RIVALRY BETWEEN YOU AND SCOTT SPEED? "We hated each other when we came up through racing. There's no medium about it. We grew up together. When I first started in go-karts, he came into go-karts. I'm one-year ahead of him age wise so we didn't' race against each other a lot when we were juniors, but as we got older, everyone seemed to pit us against each other as the two Americans that are going to Formula One, that are going to fight to be the American in Formula One. We've always had a lot of respect for each other. But we also respect each other because we knew that if we wrecked, we wanted the other person to wreck harder. Whether it was battling for first or second or 21st or 22nd, if we could beat each other, it was a good day. It was a lot of fun. It was a tough rivalry.
I remember we did a big rivalry story on each other in 2000 or 2001 in Racer magazine...we were a feature story about us battling and going to Formula One. From the time on, I had never raced against him in a race car until Martinsville last year. Our careers split apart really quick until we ran a Cup race against each other in Martinsville last year. There's a rivalry there. It was one of those fun ones (rivalries). The biggest thing is that we respect each other. We knew that we were a couple of people going out there and battling hard against each other."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR ROLLER COASTER OFF-SEASON? "Through the off-season it was difficult. Not anything more difficult than what I've already gone through in NASCAR. It wasn't that big of a deal. I still feel fortunate to have the opportunity...it may not be a full-season yet...there's a lot of guys right now that don't have rides that are looking for rides and don't even have the potential to get a ride. When you look at this world right now, there's a lot worse off than whether or not I get a full season in a race car. It's a lot worse for a lot of people out there. As quickly as I wanted to play the 'pity story', I got over it because it wasn't that bad. To the fact that I don't have a full-time ride, I still have a ride. All that I can do is go out there and control what I do and that's driver the wheels off the race car and have fun doing it every week."
WHAT DID YOU THINK WHEN YOU SAW YOUR PICTURE IN THE USA TODAY? "It's great. It's what we need to go out there and try and get a sponsorship. On one hand, for me, it's fantastic. I'm just ready to get focused and go racing. The season really starts now and that's what I'm focused on. The way that I look at it, it's better to have a good story written about you than a bad one. I'll be honest, the way I did get in there (USA Today) is that I did call them and say that I was on steroids (laughter). I'm joking."
THE AMERICAN F1 TEAM IS SUPPOSED TO MEET THE PRESS NEXT WEEK IN CHARLOTTE, IF YOUR NAME COMES UP (AS A POTENTIAL DRIVER), WOULD YOU BE INTERESTED? "I'm not focused on that. I loved being a part of NASCAR. Going to all these races and being around the fans, I enjoy being here. I enjoy the racing...I enjoy all that. I'm a true American at heart, I'd like to...in-between races...watch my NFL on Sunday and all that. I've learned in this sport, after everything that has happened to me the last couple of years, don't deny anything. Just nod your head and smile and say there's a chance."
DOES THE THOUGHT OF FORMULA 0NE HAVE AN INTRIGUE TO YOU? "It has intrigue for sure. Driving a race car, no matter what it is, has intrigue to me. That (F1 car) is something that I haven't driven before, so it's intriguing, but it's not my focus either. I really do love being here (in NASCAR). I've had a lot of fun during the stressful times. Especially this year with the group of guys that we've put together forthe 44 because it was last minute deal, they are guys that want to be here. We're having fun. Through all the stressful times that we had in Daytona, in-between that, I was having a lot of fun. Probably the most fun that I've had at a race track in long time. You don't say 'no' to anything, but that's not my focus."
YOU'VE WON IN MOST EVERYTHING THAT YOU'VE RACED; HOW DIFFICULT IS IT FOR YOU NOT TO GET BACK TO THE WINNER'S CIRCLE? "Cup racing is so hard and so difficult. There's so many guys and so many more things that can happen that allows you not to win a race. You have to set your goals different here. In Champ Car, if you weren't on the podium or didn't win, you had a bad day. Here you have to set your goals differently."
-credit: dodge motorsports