AJ Allmendinger is NASCAR’s newest Sprint Cup Series winner, after a dramatic victory over Marcos Ambrose in last Sunday afternoon’s Cheez-It 355 at the Glen. The win was the first of Allmendinger’s Sprint Cup career, and earned JTG Daugherty Racing its inaugural berth in the upcoming Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Allmendinger met with the media today at Michigan International Speedway, for the first time since a raucous Victory Lane ceremony at the Glen, and said the most gratifying part of his win was the reaction of his team and team owners.
“Just to be able to see the faces of (owners) Tad and Jodi Geschickter and Brad Daugherty,” he smiled. “To me, they are the ones that deserve all the credit. They have worked so hard, especially Tad and Jodi -- starting 20 years ago with their race team in a barn -- to get to this point and be able to share that all together. All the guys at the shop work so hard with our little race team to keep building great race cars and putting the effort in. Throughout the course of the year, through the ups and downs that we have had, that to me is what has been great to be able to share with everybody on our race team.
“We truly are just a family that works hard together.”
Despite now being qualified for the 2014 Chase, Allmendinger said the pressure has just begun for him and his team
“When it comes to the Chase, obviously our names aren’t going to be the first ones that are brought up,” he said. “We know that. Especially at places like (Michigan) and the 1.5-mile race tracks where we have struggled a little bit, we know we have a lot of work to do. These next few weeks will hopefully give us a chance to keep working hard, maybe try some things and see if we can get our race team just a little bit better.
“So when we get to the Chase, hopefully we can make just a little bit of noise.”
Asked if JTG Daugherty Racing team will operate at a disadvantage due to being a single-car operation, Allmendinger said, “not really. With the RCR alliance that we have, technically I have five or six teammates. We get all the data and all the engineering, all the notes from them. I don’t look at it as a disadvantage having a one car team.
“But with that said, we’ve got 35 people that work on our race team,” he said. “That is counting the front office, the people that answer the phones and the marketing side of it. The data we get from Richard Childress and the ECR motors have been so great (and) we are far ahead of where we would be without them. But at the same point, we are always trying to keep up with all the resources that they have to make us better. (We are) continually trying to build and keep up with the big race teams when it comes to resources and man power.”
Allmendinger also spoke at length about his 2012 suspension for violating NASCAR’s substance abuse policy, saying, “I knew the mistake I made and I learned from it. NASCAR laid out a plan to get back (to the sport) and I wasn’t going to fight it. More importantly, what it did for me is give me time away from racing -- which I’ve never had -- to figure out if I even wanted to race anymore. (I realized) at that point that racing wasn’t making me happy anyway.
“(I needed to learn) what I had to do to be happier out of the race car. Because at some point, (I am) not going to have a race car. Whether it’s next week, a year, 10 years… at some point, there will be no more race cars. For the first time, I had to look at that.
“Honestly, without that (suspension), I probably wouldn’t have had to make those changes, or dealt with it. It’s a lot better now.”
The California native said that while he is still fiercely competitive, he has learned to look at the bigger picture.
“If we have a bad day, I’m still mad about it,” he admitted. “There have been many of times this year leaving the race track upset and it carrying over for the next day or so. But I used to let it take over my life. It wasn’t, `Okay, I’m mad about it tonight and better in the morning.’ It would carry over to the next week. The way this sport is, letting it carry over to the next week is bad. It can steamroll to where you are just miserable (and) I used to do that a lot.
“I’m still as passionate as ever about racing and wanting to win,” he said. “Probably more than ever with this race team, because I feel like it’s my race team and I want to strap it on my back and take it to new levels.
“But at the same point, enjoying what is around you and surrounding yourself with friends and family that make you happy (is also great). Whether you are a race car driver or not, they don’t care. I’m trying to make things simple and a lot less stressful. (It’s about) trying to enjoy when you are out with friends -- not whether you finished 43rd.
“That is basically what I have tried to do.”