NASCAR Media Conference
June 17, 2008
DENISE MALOOF: We are now going to be joined by Brian's Team Red Bull teammate, A.J. Allmendinger. A.J., welcome. You have won a number of road course events while competing in the Champ Car Series, and also you're a native this week. You're a native of Los Gatos, I think I've got that right, California. Factoring in all of that, how much are you looking forward to Sunday's race?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Well, it's one of those things that for me still unfortunately I've got to look forward to Friday, and that's our race first. We've done a lot of road course testing, Red Bull Racing has done a great job at building new cars. Last year we went in there and we really didn't have any road course testing. I had had a half day on a road course in the Cup car. I'm a lot more confident going into this weekend.
But for me it's always one of those things that it's cool because it's a home race, but at the same point it's probably one of the toughest weekends just trying to divide up time with your family and friends and still being focused on the racetrack. By the end of the weekend I'm definitely spent.
Q. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your turnaround in the last few weeks and if it's at all similar to what happened with you in Champ Car when you sort of all came together at one time?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Well, I mean, I think it's a completely different situation from Champ Car. For me I switched different teams and just got in the right team, kind of right people around me that believed in my talents, and we went out there and did the job. But I think here the biggest difference is just Red Bull and everybody back at the shop and the team. They're building new race cars. That's why you see Brian running so well, that's why you see myself starting to run so well. We're really just focused on we've got our qualifying package better and we're making races a lot better and a lot more with ease.
But at the same point our race package had kind of been lacking a little bit, and in the last couple weeks I think with a brand new car I think we've been doing the right things. I've been a little bit disappointed with our finishes because we ran in the Top 10 both weekends and just kind of missed a little bit on pit strategy. But first things first, we're running better, we made up a lot of points in the Top 35 and we're getting closer, so we've just got to keep doing the right things.
Q. What did you learn in your time out of the car?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: You know, it really wasn't so much learning anything specific, but Mike Skinner does a great job, and he did a great job in the race car but he helped me a ton outside of it, just more than anything giving me a peace of mind. When you go with a brand new team and a brand new manufacturer you really have nothing to gauge off of, and for myself never having been in stock cars before and jumping in that situation -- it would have been a different from if I would have jumped in the 48 or the 24 car or a car that you knew where it ran, whether it ran up front or mid-pack or things like that, but with a brand new team I never really had a sense of how much of it was of me, how much it was of the team, what we needed to improve, and Mike showed me that. He taught me that I was doing the right thing, saying the right things, me and him both were feeling the same things in the race car, but that's just -- it gave me a lot of confidence to know when I got back in it that I was doing the right things, and I think more than anything that was the biggest thing for me is just a confidence level getting back in the car.
Q. You alluded to you have a lot of family and friends out here obviously. Do you get out here much during the year other than during this one race?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: No, unfortunately I don't. It's one thing with NASCAR, they definitely keep you busy. I don't get as much time as I'd like to be out there. My parents come to at least a third of the races, so I get to see my parents at least a lot. But like I said, it's -- I wish I had two weeks to come out here and hang out and then get into race mode, but it's still kind of packed into four days. You know, like I said, it's an enjoyment to see everybody, but I'm still focused on going out there with the momentum that we have and getting close to the Top 35. I'm still just going to be really focused on that and hopefully getting the car into the race and then going from there.
Q. You've raced locally, but do you have that much experience at Sonoma?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I have no experience at Sonoma. I did a go-kart race in 1997 on the big track, and then we basically ran unfortunately only about three laps last year. We had mechanical trouble in practice, never really got on the racetrack, and I wasn't qualified and we didn't make the race. It's still kind of brand new to me.
Q. We hear a lot about the transition from open wheels to stock cars. Just wondering if you could tell us what is the most difficult part of that transition?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I mean, unfortunately there's not one thing. It's just -- I think really it's -- a stock car isn't like anything else that open-wheel guys or even sports car drivers drive really. I mean, they're big, heavy cars with a lot of horsepower; the tires are really small. You just -- the car slides around a lot more. It's a lot less downforce than really anything else out there, any kind of big series out there. So it's a difficult thing to learn, and when you learn it on ovals, you've got 43 of the best drivers out there, it's a difficult thing.
I think except for the guys that go through it, the open-wheel drivers that go through it that try to come over that really take it and understand it, it's tough for other people to understand just how big of a change it is. That's why when you start running better, it's almost more of an accomplishment to finish in the Top 15 and start running up front than it would be finishing Top 3 or Top 5 in any other series because it's that difficult.
Q. I take it you're not too surprised at some of the bigger names in motorsports that have come to this series this year and had some struggles? I take it you're not too surprised by that?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: No, I mean, it's difficult. Some of us, we take a lot of heat sometimes for coming over here and struggling, but it's more difficult than you could ever put into words. I mean, it's -- basically the way I can put it is you take something you've been doing your whole life, and when you start in go-karts and you go up through the open-wheel ranks and the Junior Formula and you get to Champ Car or IndyCar or F1, the cars always feel the same. They may be faster and you keep moving up in level, but the way the car feels and drives, they're the same every level that you step up. It's just you've got to get used to the speed, the downforce, the G-force of the car. But this is completely different. It's almost like starting over again.
Q. You've been in NASCAR for a little while now. Are you starting to feel a little more at home?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Definitely the last few weeks have made me feel like that. You know, I look up to all these guys, and guys like Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin and those types of guys, they were my heroes growing up. Now getting to get up there and be more competitive and actually pass those guys and race with them and hopefully gain the respect of the guys that run up front is definitely making me feel like I'm more at home and more like I belong here.
It feels good when you're up there and you have guys like Bobby Labonte came over to me after Pocono and even Kyle Petty coming over from the booth and telling me good job and they're happy for how I'm running. It does make me feel good because I do respect everybody so much because this is so difficult.
Q. You were getting some help from Mike Skinner. How much does it mean to you, especially with such a young team and a young teammate, to have sort of a mentor?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: You know, it means a lot, because Mike has been through a lot. He's had a lot of experience to kind of go off of, and I guess the biggest deal is the fact that he was in my race car, so he understands what I was feeling and when I was struggling, and for him to come over and kind of just tell me, yeah, you're right, that's what you should be feeling, that's what I'm feeling, that's just -- like I said, that gives a lot of confidence to me, and it gave me more confidence probably being out of the car for five weeks and seeing Mike struggle a little bit and having him tell me that I was feeling the right things than if I had ever been in the car for those five weeks. For me it was good to be out of the car.
Q. And finally, with the unification of Champ Car and IRL, do you look over there and say, what if I had stayed?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: No, no. I mean, I'm happy that it's reunified, and I've learned in this sport that you never say never to anything about going back over there, but I'm happy about where I'm at.
I'm happy that Red Bull Racing and Toyota are getting it together and running stronger, and I still think that this is the most difficult racing series in the world to win in just because there's so much competition and there's so many guys in the series, and these races are so long. So there's a lot of luck and a lot of skill and just a lot of things have to happen right to go win a race.
I'm happy where I'm at, but I definitely keep my eye open over there. I've got a lot of friends still, and I enjoy watching it.
Q. In addition to you and Brian coming on strong lately, Scott Speed has been doing a great job down in the Arca. Can you share with me your perceptions of Scott?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Well, I mean, Scott and I grew up together, so I've known Scott for a long time. He's definitely a good driver, and Red Bull, they're doing the right things for him to come over and learn the right way. You know, I guess maybe I was the guinea pig to start with, take an open-wheel guy and just put myself straight into Cup, and we saw the struggles that I went through. And I guess in a good way they learned from that and they're doing the right things with Scott. He's in the best equipment in both series, with the Arca team. A lot of it is our old Cup equipment from last year, especially late in the year when we were building good race cars. He's on the best team there, and he's definitely on the best team with Bill Davis in the Truck Series. He's doing a great job with it.
It's just -- it's good for a whole for Red Bull, and that's what the most important thing is. We're sponsored and owned by the same person, and that's Dietrich Mateschitz, and when he's running strong and we're running strong, that makes him happy. That's only good for all of us.
Q. He's also a pretty colorful guy, I guess, in relative terms to NASCAR with the blue toenails and whatnot. Has he always been kind of a guy who walks to his own drummer?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: He's always been out there a little bit, but spending five years in Europe kind of, I think, exceeded that process.
Q. How would you compare the challenges you've had this year to past challenges?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Well, this past year and a half, I mean, it's been the most difficult thing in my career. I kind of look back at when we were struggling at Champ Car, and you know, it was one of those things that I knew that when I was at RuSPORT I wasn't getting treated fairly and I needed to go somewhere else to really show what I could do. I thought that was a difficult time in my life.
But that kind of makes me laugh now compared to what I've had to go through here. I've always said what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. I think people have seen the character that I've shown and everything and all the struggles that I've went through, and even getting taken out of the car this year and being at the track every weekend and being right there to show just how bad I want to do this, that I know I have the talent to go out there and win and run up front every weekend; it just takes the right situation, and I think people are starting to see that.
You know, I think in the end, it's -- of course you'd like to go out there and be on the best team and go out there and win right away, but to have to go through this just means that much more to when you start running good. You know, I'm never going to give up; that's one thing you'll never see out of me is me giving up. I'm okay with it. I'm okay with having to fight.
Q. Do you see your learning curves kind of shrinking toward the end of the season after this season? Or do you see the learning curves are there forever?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I think you're always learning to a certain extent, but you know, it's definitely shrinking each weekend. You know, at first it was just trying to get the race car around the racetrack and being comfortable doing that, and I'm definitely comfortable now. You know, the second step was trying to learn how to make these races consistently, and we're just starting to do that. Not saying we're great at it, but if you take out Michigan where it rained, we've been Top 10 the last couple weeks in qualifying, and now we're starting to run up front consistently and learn how to carry it on for 400 or 500 miles.
It's definitely shrinking because I'm definitely a lot more comfortable and feel good in the race car each and every time that I'm in it.
Q. I was just wondering, fuel mileage obviously is a big story on Sunday. Talk our listeners through how does that play into your day, and how frustrating is it to know you're making such great strides on the track on that day and you're progressing along and the race ultimately comes down to something you have very little control over?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Well, I mean, that's part of racing in general, and that is NASCAR racing because when you're on oval it plays into it a lot more. The last couple weeks, Pocono and Michigan, they're racetracks that always for some reason lean towards fuel mileage, whether it's just the -- the yellow always seems to fall right at the right time where it's a fuel mileage race, and that's just something that you have to live with. It's a part of racing, and heck, five weeks ago I would have killed to just be in that position, to be running up front and be disappointed with a 12th place finish or finish 19th and really just be kind of pissed off about it because we were running so good.
So yeah, in one way it's frustrating, and I know that the last few weeks we could have been Top 5, Top 10, just like Brian was. At Pocono we ran ahead of him the whole race, and at Michigan we started kind of in the back and ran up through the field. So in one way it's frustrating because in another way it feels great because we're making big strides and we're running up front. We've just got to keep doing the same thing every week. As long as you keep putting yourself in that position you're going to have good finishes, so that's what we're doing.
Q. So after Sunday, learning from that, how much of the focus this week is on pit strategy?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Well, I mean, you just -- you always have a set strategy going into the race, but as soon as that first yellow falls or the yellow falls at a different time, it all changes. You know, you can always go back and say, what if this happened, what if that happened. But you've just got to learn from it. You know, we'll just take it when it comes. But first things first, we're just got to focus on having a good car and running out front again so we can use that strategy and make it work for us this time.
Q. Just want to ask one other question in a more humorous vein. How does a guy that grows up in 49er country become such a Brett Favre fan?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Well, first they trade Joe Montana. That quickly gets you -- I didn't like the 'Niners very well after that happened. What I like watching about Brett Favre is kind of what I take into my racing, I've learned a lot from it, is the passion that he has for the game, and that's kind of the way I am for racing. He wasn't out there to showboat, he wasn't out there for me, me, me, just for that. He went out there just to win, and that's the way I am on the racetrack.
You know, I have a lot of respect for a guy, especially when the team struggled about three years ago when they went 4 and 12, you know, he could go out there and throw ten interceptions in a row, but that 11th pass he was going to go back out there and swing the thing in there again. He just always had confidence and never gave up, whether they were down 35-0 or they were winning 35-0. So I take a lot from that and kind of put that into my life, as well. You're always going to have struggles. It's never going to come easy; that's why I enjoyed watching him.
Q. You truly were disappointed or upset when he retired?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Yes, I might have to take a sabbatical from football this year. That was my man. I won't lie; that's my one and only man-crush that I had on somebody. It all has to come to an end sometime, I guess. I just wasn't ready for it.
DENISE MALOOF: A.J., thank you very much for your time today, and best of luck this weekend. Thanks to all of the media who joined us today. We will talk to you again next week.
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