A.J. Allmendinger: “I just want to win”

A.J. Allmendinger (at Pocono signing for fans)
Credit: Karel Zubris for Skirts and Scuffs
AJ Allmendinger has been racing for most of his life, but only in NASCAR since 2006. After starting out in the Truck Series, “The Dinger,” as he is often referred to, was signed by Red Bull Racing and joined their team. Mediocrity ensued, as Red Bull was a new team and was dealing with the bumps in the road.

Now Allmendinger calls Richard Petty Motorsports his home. Driving for an iconic and Hall of Famer like Richard Petty has presented many opportunities for A.J.

Heading into Loudon, Allmendinger sits 18th in points and his best finish at the track has been a 10th-place finish in the spring race of 2010.

I chatted with AJ this morning prior to him heading out for morning practice at Loudon, where he ended up fourth fastest, and asked him a few questions to get to know him better.

Amanda Ebersole (AE): You have been racing for such a long time in many different series (kart, Champ car, Truck, Nationwide and now Cup). What is your motivation?
AJ Allmendinger (AJA): For me it is really down to a couple of things. I always want to go out there and try to win, that is always my goal. I am very competitive in everything I do. I love going out there and trying to be at my best and win. It’s fun to take on new challenges and to go out there and be the best at it, be the best that I can possibly be. Those are always the motivating factors, to go out there, wake up every day and keep doing it. I switched series and go out there, got to learn how to do that series and go onto that.

AE: Who was you racing influence? I imagine it would be you father? (His father was a midget and sprint car racer.)
AJA: Yeah, I was at a race track even before I was born. My dad raced locally and we were always at some type of track watching him. For sure, I am an only child, my parents never forced me to go do it, but they gave me every opportunity as long as I stayed out of trouble and had good grades in school. They were always there supporting me. My dad fully admits that he lives through me, since he never got to race in the big time, it was his dream too. They never pushed me but they gave me every opportunity. I love motorsports, I love playing basketball, football, golf, things like that. I am always competitive but I just fell in love with racing.

AE: So they were not the overprotective parents, who would bubble wrap you so that you don’t get hurt?
AJA: (laughs) No, they let me learn and take chances. My mom always said, and it kind of sounds ... well, people take it the wrong way sometimes, but my mom always said that if something were to happen to me, God forbid I go out there and get into a wreck and die, at least she would want me doing what I love to do and that happen to me, instead of working in an office and not loving what I was doing and have something happen to me. It is honestly a lot more dangerous driving on the highway than it is driving around a racetrack. (Thank goodness for all the safety precautions in NASCAR these days.)

AE: Onto Loudon this weekend: a multi-groove track. (Versus last weekend at Kentucky where it was no passing, one groove.) Does that give you much more to look forward to and things to work with?
AJA: Yeah, I have always liked Loudon as a racetrack. We have always been really good here, especially the last couple years. The crew chief that I work with (Mike Shiplett) and the whole race team in general seem to have a good handle of Loudon. It’s a place I really enjoy and as you said, the track is relatively flat and it allows for multi-groove racing. To where you can do things in the race car such as changing your line, as a driver you always want certain options out there to try and make your car better. It (Loudon) is just more options and as you said Kentucky really was one groove. It wasn’t a really fun race, we really struggled there. I am looking forward to this weekend and getting out there to hopefully have a better run. (A.J. and the No. 43 team finished Kentucky in 28th)

AE: Looking at the schedule as a whole. is there a race that you look at as “your race” meaning the race you want to win more then any other?
AJA: No, heck I just want to win! I don’t care which race it is. Everything I get into I won then this whole NASCAR thing, its quite hard! It feels like every week you get kicked in the stomach, you feel like you are getting in and getting on a roll and then you have a couple of bad weeks and start all over again. That is almost what happened at Kentucky, we were on a good roll, went to Kentucky and we were terrible. At this point I would take ANY race. Basically the bigger races, if you looked at the schedule and picked races to win, obviously the Daytona 500 would be great, the Brickyard 400, the Coca-Cola 600; those are the races that have the most prestige and make the most money for winning them. Honestly when it comes down to it, every race pays the same points. I just want to win.

AE: Everyone seems to look to you at the road courses though.
AJA: Yeah, the way the series is now, everyone is good on the road courses for the most part. The advantages that what every you call them, the specialists, they don’t really have them now. Everyone has gotten so good on the road courses. I still feel like I am one of the best when it comes to road courses. When we go to Watkins Glen in a few weeks, I feel like we have a good chance to win there. Honestly, I feel like we have just as good of a chance to win this weekend because we run as well here. Like I said, it doesn’t matter where, I just want to win!

AE: Looking at points right now, you are 18th and 8th for the wild card Chase position. What position does that put your team in with 8 to go until the Chase?
AJA: I look at it, of course you would love to make the Chase but as a race team, when it comes to consistency every week, we are not good enough to make the Chase. That is not saying that we cannot get on a roll here and still have a chance or even get a win in these last 8 races to get the wild card spot. That is still the goal but at the same point we have a lot of work within the team just to get better. That is my goal every week, we just need to keep getting better. If we get good enough that we go out there and make the Chase, fantastic! At the end of the year, I want to say that we are a lot better team then when we started and compared to last year. That is what my focus is on, I look at it if you run well the points will take sure of themselves. I am not worried about the Chase right now, just trying not to have weekends like we did last weekend when we were never in the ballgame. We got to have good solid weekends, ever weekend and then find out where that puts us.

2011 Kansas June NSCS Richard Petty AJ Allmendinger CarsAE: Now that you are driving the No. 43 which is an iconic number is NASCAR, and working with Richard Petty; has he proved you with mentoring and advice?
AJA: He doesn’t tell you how to drive the car on a daily basis, the cars are a lot different from when he was racing. Yeah, he has always been really helpful with things when you are trying to learn to deal with the NASCAR season on a daily basis. It’s tough, it’s mentally fatiguing, it’s stressful because there is a lot of pressure from sponsors, fans and he has helped me with that from time to time. He let me know what he had to go through. The pressure is there, driving the No. 43 and the 43 not having a ton of success the past few years, we want to get it back to the promised land and back to Victory Lane. It’s tough at times but I love the challenge. It’s been really cool because you have a lot of old school NASCAR fans who were fans of Richard Petty, they come up to me and tell me they love that I am in the 43. Maybe the were not a fan of mine when I first started, but because I am in the No. 43 now, they want me to win in that car. That has been really cool.

AE: I know bringing back the STP paint scheme (as seen in the picture) excited a lot of fans. That had to be a great thing to see.
AJA: Yeah that was cool! The race didn’t go that well, but the car looked good!

AE: In the era of NASCAR and IndyCar double dippers (so to speak) and given your extensive history of open wheel racing, given the chance, would you ever return even if only for a one-race deal?
AJA: I think if it were right to do Indy, I would give it a chance again. Just because when I ran open wheel I never got the chance to run Indy because the two series were split. Given the right car and the right time, I would give it a chance. At the same time, I am not looking for a full-time return, I really enjoy NASCAR. I love the Sprint Cup series and how competitive it is, having to be on top of your game to run in the top 15 every week let alone win a race. The fan base is just so amazing, when you go to every race you feel like you are a part of something big because there are so many people at the track. I just enjoy the atmosphere as a whole. I feel like I have a lot to prove still. To me, I would not make a return unless I had to.

AE: Looking at this year as a whole, has there been one experience that you consider your highlight to the season thus far?
AJA: This year? Wow that is tough … (I stumped The Dinger!) For me it is not one thing that stands out. As a whole, maybe we are not running as good as we need to be yet so because of that I don’t have something on track that really stands out to me. For me, it is working with my crew guys. I really enjoy being around them, they are really supportive of me. Being around the team, the sponsors, especially Best Buy and doing the cool things I get to do with them. Even in the times I feel like I am really stressed, the guys are always really upbeat and Best Buy and all my sponsors are always really fun to be around. Sometimes you get so stressed and frustrated, you think the world is ending but when I go home I know I am very fortunate to do something that I love to do. I feel very lucky that I get to do this every weekend!

Fortunate. That is the perfect way to end this interview! A.J. Allmendinger keeps it all in perspective and through his own words said it best, “I want to win!”

Thank you to A.J. Allmendinger and his PR rep Michelle for arranging this interview.

NASCAR By the Numbers and In the Rearview Mirror (looking back at NASCAR's history) are Amanda's two weekly columns with Skirts and Scuffs, but as an Associate Editor her duties are limitless. Amanda also strives to provide exclusive interviews for the readers of Skirts and Scuffs. To read her past columns and interviews click here. Feel free to contact Amanda via Twitter.
A.J. Allmendinger: “I just want to win” A.J. Allmendinger: “I just want to win” Reviewed by Unknown on Friday, July 15, 2011 Rating: 5