In the News: NASCAR teleconferenceJune 18, 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
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
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
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
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'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
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
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.