NASCAR Teleconference Transcript - AJ Allmendinger February 24, 2009 An interview with: AJ ALLMENDINGER HERB BRANHAM: Well, thank you, and good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's NASCAR CAM Video teleconference. It's in advance...
NASCAR Teleconference Transcript - AJ Allmendinger
February 24, 2009
An interview with:
HERB BRANHAM: Well, thank you, and good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's NASCAR CAM Video teleconference. It's in advance of this weekend's races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. That includes Sunday's Shelby 427, which is the third race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
Joining us today from the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina, a very special guest, AJ Allmendinger, driver of the No. 44 Dodge for Richard Petty Motorsports. AJ's off to a great start this season, comes into Vegas 13th in the series standings.
AJ, about that fast start, what is the confidence level of your team as we go into week three? Must be pretty high, because this has really been an absolute great beginning to 2009 for you?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Yeah, I mean, I think we're excited. It's one of the things that we had a great two weeks at Daytona, and to have a Top 5 out of that was fantastic. And last week in Fontana we were fairly strong. We struggled a little more than we wanted to. But we had one bad pit stop where we got penalties for leaving the lug nut off. That put us down in the finishing order, or I think we would have had the top 15 there, too.
So, so far it's been a lot of fun. We're excited, but we know we still have a lot of work to do. And we've got to keep running our round front because we only have eight races to do this in otherwise we have to find sponsorship.
So the key is to be consistent every weekend and having good finishes.
HERB BRANHAM: Just quickly before we start, you were part of a pack of former open wheel guys who came over in the NASCAR in the last few years. And there were some others that maybe got a little more attention coming in, because initially I know you wish you had gotten off to a little faster start in NASCAR.
It looks like now that you're kind of emerging, you know, right up there as maybe one of the open wheelers if not thee open wheeler who is going to really hook up in NASCAR. What is different about you personally now and your driving and your adaptability to the sport?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Honestly, I don't think there is a lot different from when I started. Obviously I'm getting more experience, getting a lot better in the race car.
But I came into a test situation. I was on a brand-new team with a brand-new manufacturer. It wasn't like a lot of these guys where they come into teams that have been established and they've had a lot of testing. And being in the top 35 in points, I think that was probably the most difficult thing was in 2007, being brand new, we didn't have any points.
The team, more than anything, struggled more than I think we all thought we would. Even Brian Vickers at that point was having a lot of trouble making races.
When you're not making races you're just kind of hurting, especially for me, just hurting yourself even worse because you're not getting the points. But for me I wasn't getting the track time, and I wasn't doing a lot of Nationwide races or a lot of truck races like a lot of these guys were.
So the big thing is just getting track time. Last year, obviously, had a difficult start, but really got on a rhythm and got a good momentum going. Didn't want to switch to join Evernham at the end of last year.
I had a lot of confidence in myself over the last couple of races that I had. That just carried over to this year with Richard Petty Motorsports. And like I said, I had a good start, but we need to keep focused on the go and continuing getting better in the race car, and getting the race cars better.
Q: I wanted to find out from you what it's like, first of all, to be driving for such a legend like Richard Petty now, and what is probably the best advice he's given you so far?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I mean, driving for the King, it's almost like two different things. Being around him, he's so easy going and so fun to be around. It's just kind of like an old buddy. You're just talking to him. He's laid back and just kind of having fun. It's great to have him around all of the race teams.
But for me especially because to me, he's the guy in NASCAR. He is the King. To be able just to speak to him on a regular basis is a lot of fun. But at the same point you realize, man, he's the King. When he tells you something and wants you to do something, you go do it. You don't want to mess up because you don't want to feel the wrath of him after the race or anything that you do.
So it's a lot of fun having him around. The best thing that he's told me is just kind of be myself, go out there and do what I want to do in a race car, be who I want to be. And that is something that coming from him means a lot.
He's given me the confidence from the start to get out there in the race car and go do what I know how to do. And that's what he has told me to do, and that's what I'm trying to do.
Q: I'm just kind of curious, given the slow start, do you get the sense that you're getting closer to getting somebody to step in and maybe pick you guys up for a few more races?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I hope so. I mean, you know, over the last couple of races, just how we started, we've had a couple of great sponsors step up. We had Charter Communications, going to Vegas this week, we got Harrah's on the race car. So we've got some companies that are stepping up.
You know, ultimately, yeah, we'd like to have that $15 million sponsorship that gets us through the whole season. But if we can just piece together race by race and keep having good finishes, I'm confident that we're going to get a couple of companies to step up and get us through this thing full-time.
As I said, the thing that I can go out there and control is driving the wheels off the race car and trying to finish as high as we can every race. That's what I'm going to do. If I do that, hopefully everything falls into place.
Q: That is a lot of pressure. I remember in Daytona when you got in the 150's, you were pretty emotional afterwards. Does it wear on you after a while, the pressure every week to have to come in and drive your way off the grid?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Well, it's something I've had to do for two years. So it's nothing new to me. The most pressure comes from myself. I'm my harshest critic; I always will be.
So knowing that I have to go out there and perform every race just to try to get a sponsorship, it's tough. But at the same time, I put all the pressure on my self, and I don't really let anything around me kind of affect that. And that's something that I've always had on my shoulders, and I'm always going to have on my shoulders.
So I'm just going to do what I know how to do much and give 100%, I can be happy with myself.
Q: What are your other options if nobody steps up and extends your ride? Would you consider, I think I heard you say during the 500 week that you considered doing some open wheel stuff. Do you have a back-up plan?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Well, I mean, the great thing about Richard Petty Motorsports and the Gillette family is they've given me the option that if we don't get anything after the races that I'll be able to go out there and race for other teams. But that's not my focus.
We've got six races. We're 13th in points. And you know, as it gets closer, I'll start looking at other options if there's nothing there. But I really do think we can get the sponsorship on this race team and keep running well. And that's what I'm focused on.
If nothing works out, I'd love to run Indy, but that's not my first goal. I want to keep here full-time in Cup, and that's what I'm going to work on doing.
Q: I know that you have no interest in this U.S. based F1 team they're trying to put together. But I'm curious if anyone from the IRL-IndyCar side has had any contact with you in regards to any interest from you in going back and trying the IRL now that as all reformed into one series and maybe doing that?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Yeah, I've had some contacts with teams in the off-season when things were up in the air to see what my options are. And that's something that I've learned in racing is the fact that you never say no to anything, and you leave every option that you can open.
But my first, as I said, my first goal is just my interests right now is staying full-time in Cup. You know, I believe that this is the toughest racing series in the world I haven't worked this hard for two years to go out there and give up on it. What we're do doing now at Richard Petty Motorsports is a great thing. And we're going to try to continue that. But I'm never going to shut the door on anything.
Q: What's the overall atmosphere at Richard Petty Motorsports? Just overall considering how fast this whole thing have has come together, and you guys hit the ground running since we got together for the media tour in January?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Yeah, through the whole organization everybody's trying to catch up a little bit. It was a tough off-season for everybody. Obviously, with what happened with the 19 car and things like that, with Elliot and I, that was tough then with the merger of Richard Petty and Richard Petty Motorsports and Formula 1 now.
There's been a lot that's gone on through the off-season. So on one hand everybody's excited because the team's going in the right direction and everybody feels the same. But we're kind of a little behind on race cars. And, you know, Fontana we fell as a team, and we've got a lot of things to work on, and we've got to continue to run up front and be more consistent every race.
But I think the biggest thing is the fact that everybody's excited. You see a lot of smiling faces at the racetrack, and everybody's pumped up to be there. As I said on the 44 crew with how late it came together, the guys that are on the race team are the guys that volunteered from the shop to go there.
Everybody's having a lot of fun. But we have one common goal. That is to go out there and win races and we've got work to do after this past week. But the tools are there. We know that, we've just got to go keep working on them and catch the field
Q: Las Vegas is next, can you talk about that racetrack and what is the key to doing well out there on Sunday?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: For me it's making the race on Sunday. I haven't done that. We've had some struggles the past two years that I've been there. I like the racetrack. I've been fast in testing there. I think they've got a good qualifying set-up that shows that in Fontana. So for me that's our first go of a test.
But the great thing is we've got three great teammates that are in the show already. So on Friday if they're doing race runs, we need to work on that. We struggled in Fontana with the race cars and the front end, so we'll keep focusing on that.
The great thing is those three guys can focus on that, and I can work on the cue set. And I really think the team as a whole all four race teams are working well together. I think that's key to go catch teams like Hendrick and Roush and Gibbs because they've got great race cars throughout the organization. And I think we're on that path, wee just need to grow together.
Q: Herb mentioned your adaptability earlier. Would you describe yourself as a fast learner? And have the learning curves that you seem to be, have all the learning curves been the same for open wheel and now for stock cars, too?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I would think that I quickly adapt to things. As a race car driver, that's what makes the great ones great. You can adapt to a different kind of race car. You've always got to be able to adapt to different conditions. In Sprint Cup that's probably the hardest thing to do.
For me being an open wheeler, these cars are completely different. My first year I had to learn two different race cars, the old race cars and the COT cars. So, yeah, you've always going to keep adapting. Whether you're a rookie or 25-year veteran, you've got to adapt. So I think I adapt pretty quick.
It's been a tough learning curve from the start. But I think early to mid last year I figured it out. And since then I've been able to carry that on and get better in and out of the race car.
Q: Is that adaptability, is that the key that makes you one of the best survivors so far of the open wheel guys?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: It might be that or it might be my willingness to never quit. This sport, especially NASCAR in general, you show a weakness and I think it will kind of keep beating you down. It's a tough sport to be part of and tough sport to get your foot in the door.
Like I said, there's only two options, you can work hard, dig your feet in and keep working hard and never giving up, or you can give up. And I'm not a quitter. I'm never going to quit. I'm just going to go out there and keep digging hard. So for me it's just a matter of fact that I know I have the capability, I have the talent to go up and win. I think I'm on the right team now to show that. And we've just got to keep working harder, because that's what's going to get you to the top.
Q: Coming from open wheel into NASCAR, you said you had to adapt to two cars. What skills were you able to transfer into NASCAR racing that you could bring from IRL, if any, open wheel?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I mean, unfortunately, there wasn't a lot. The two cars are completely different. And it was something that the transition was more difficult than I thought it was, because I always joked around that you sit back on TV and you look at the top guys at this level, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, they make it look too easy.
The cars slide around a lot, but on TV it doesn't look that bad. But they really slide around a lot. In open wheel race cars because there's so much downforce and the tires are so big, cars don't slide around that much. What loose is in open wheel is nothing compared to what loose is in NASCAR. Just kind of adapt to those things and understand how loose is too loose and how loose is loose enough to be really fast, with a very difficult transition.
But once I kind of got learning the race car and learning how to drive it, and more importantly, I think last year when Jimmy Eldridge came aboard Red Bull and his experience taught me what was good and what was bad, that was the biggest thing that helped me figure it out and figure it out quickly and move on from that.
Q: You said you tested at Rockingham, you did a tire test at Phoenix and you have tested at Las Vegas. How much, if any, is that going to give you some help when you get to Las Vegas this week?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Unfortunately I didn't get to test at Las Vegas this year. Last year at Vegas we had been really quick. There had been times at Las Vegas that we were really quick. I think it showed at Fontana last week that there are a lot of race cars in the pack that have been really good and struggling.
And I think it's because of the no-testing policy. Goodyear brings a different tire and we don't have time to test on it. You've really got to be quick out of the box. And the teams quick out of the box were fast all weekend.
You know, you saw guys like Jeff Burton, a lot of our RCR cars, you know, us, we struggled a bit. There are a lot of teams that in the past you wouldn't see struggle now because of the testing. I think it's going to make the racing more exciting.
Us as an organization this last week learned a lot of things. We can take to Vegas and get on the racetrack and be quicker from the start because it's going to be really important now at each event to be quick racing from out of the hauler. Getting on the racetrack and being fast right away.
Q: A.J., are you running the new Dodge engine in your car?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: No, we're not. Right now we're kind of focusing on getting that in the race car at some point during the year, but as of right now each week it seems it keeps coming up with our dates and trying to get the rely ability in the new engine as good as we can before we feel comfortable putting it on the racetrack.
But everybody does a great job. The engine shop itself just works hard and we're building that process each week. So hopefully at some point during the year we'll get that in.
Q: We have a guy here in Michigan that's stated to us over and over that within two years all you will hear is the name AJ Allmendinger winning races because he's one heck of a driver. So with that in mind, best of luck to you.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Well, thank you, and whoever said that, thank you very much.
Q: You talk about how quickly this came together. How long did it take you to learn everybody's name on your team? Or is it still kind of -- do you really get a chance to spend a lot of time with those guys or is your schedule so busy that it's kind of difficult to get that together?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Well, I definitely don't know everybody at the team right now. Like I said, I've learned kind of one set of crew guys and then we switch teams and got all new guys. So I try to spend as much time as I can. I've taken those guys out to run lunch and dinner, we've done a cookout at Daytona.
To me one of the most important things is not just being the driver and kind of leaving and seeing the guys the next week at the racetrack. It's important for them to respect me, to like me, to want to be there.
So I would feel like if they like the driver, if they're really into the driver they're just going to put that little bit more effort into it and try to make sure it's tighter. And give a little more effort than they might if they barely saw the driver at the racetrack.
I've learned all their names, fortunately. But back at the shop there are a lot of people I need to learn their names and go over and find out who everybody is, because that's important to me.
Q: You talked about not showing any weakness. I know last year when you did get to Las Vegas Red Bull put Mike in the car for a couple of weeks. How difficult was that? Was that any sort of motivation factor going into this weekend?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: You know, at first it was really difficult. As a driver you never really want to be taken out of your ride, you don't want to lose your job over that, and that was tough at first.
But, no I gave a lot of credit to Mike. He was really nice. And the fact is they know I don't want this job. I'm here to help AJ and help the team. That was something that to me was really important.
After that, I think probably everything I learned was the best thing that could happen to me. When you get on a brand-new team, you don't know what to judge on off of. It would be different getting in the 24 car and knowing that was difficult of winning races and championships and I was missing races with it.
But when you get in that brand-new car you really don't know what to expect. So when Mike got in the car, he struggled as much as I did if not more. He told me right away that I was feeling the right things and saying the right things in the race car.
Once I got back into it, it gave me more confidence than I could ever have being in those six weeks and still struggling.
Q: You talk about your positive attitude, your never give up, never quit. Where does that come from? Was it something in your life that you just turned it around one day, or is that attitude always with you?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Ultimately that comes from my parents. My mom and dad put their life savings into keeping me racing. They mortgaged their house three different times. They always gave me the attitude that you don't make excuses. How are you ever going to get better if you have an excuse for something that you've messed up on or something that you did.
My parents just always told me they'd do everything they could as long as I showed the interest and showed the heart to continue racing and did everything that I could to be the best that I could.
You know, they were just there every step of the way. They taught me a lot. Always told me to have a great attitude, and yeah, I show my emotions a lot because I care about it. And that's where it comes from is the fact that I feel like if they hadn't done what they'd done, I'd never have the chance, and I don't want to let them down. So that's where my attitude comes from.
Q: Any desire to get with Elliott Sadler?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I don't hunt. So I don't have to worry about that. No, I think what happened in that was a lot of stuff that Elliot and I had no control over. And that wasn't anything to do with either of us. That was just a situation that happened.
We put that behind us, and I think now that you see the whole organization working well together, whether it's me and Elliot or Reed and Kasey and all four of us. You know, it showed at the Duel, Kasey, Reed and Elliot helped me get into the 500.
Kasey's team, the 9 crew pitted my race car, and the 500 before the rain happened, we had three of the four Richard Petty sports cars lined up on the outside trying to win the race together.
So it just shows the teams have put that in the past. And you know, anything that I can learn from any three of those guys is going to help me stay in the race car and finish as high as I can, and get sponsorships, that's the ultimate goal.
Q: I wasn't wonder if you had hashed up anything. I wondered if you had hunted with Sadler there.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I'd rather take golf lessons from him. I'm not a Hunter, but I suck at golf and I'm trying to get better at that. He's a pretty good golfer as well.
Q: When they brought up the fact that you were replaced in the car by Mike. I had talked to him about that. And he said at no time did he feel it was because of you as a driver. He said it was mostly the car. AJ is a great driver, has a lot of faith in him and he's going to do very well. I just wanted to pass that on to you.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Thank you, and like I said, Mike at that point I think that's what made it easier to show up to the racetrack and work with Mike.
A lot of race car drivers get the chance to come into the cup whether they say they're there to help or not, they're trying to make that ride. But Mike made it clear he had been there, he had done that, and he did not want that job.
And the first thing he said to me when he got out of the race car the first time driving it was, well, it's not you, I can tell you that. It's the team. They need to work on things, and that's not taking anything away from me, I need to -- I feel like I always need to keep improving. But it just made it a lot easier.
So through everything that's happened, it's gotten me here, and we'll continue. Hopefully, we run well this weekend at Vegas, and over the next six races and get a sponsorship and we continue this. I think we have the ability to consistently run up front.
Q: I've seen your dedication, and I'm sure it will work
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Thank you.
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you. Really appreciate it, AJ for spending time with us today. Had a great turn out. Best of luck this weekend, keep it going.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Thank you very much. Any time.