Let’s talk a little bit about the race weekend in Barber. You qualified 10th, didn’t get the result that you had hoped for, but you still have to consider it a good weekend.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Yeah, overall I thought it was pretty good. I felt like I had pretty good pace comparative to everybody there at least. At least I was in the mix of it and felt good just to ‑‑ from testing there and going over everything and preparing for the weekend, just to be closer to Will (Power) and Helio (Castroneves) time‑wise, and felt like I was at least able to bring a little something to the team to try to help everybody in the whole organization.
As you said, the result kind of wasn’t what I wanted, but I felt pretty good in the race to have the pace where I did and run inside the Top 10 early on. Just kind of part of the learning curve about going through the race strategy and working with Roger (Penske) for the first time and having him call my race and just kind of everything that goes with that.
I’m just trying to take the result out of it completely and not look at that. I felt really good about the weekend. I was nervous about how my fitness would be in the race and I felt really good after the race and during the race. All in all, except for the finish itself, I was pretty happy with the weekend.
Q. Over the weekend it came out that Team Penske would field you at Long Beach. That’s a place that you’re very familiar with from your time in Champ Car. What do you remember about racing at Long Beach, and now that you’ve driven in INDYCAR, what do you expect?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I’m really excited to go to Long Beach. That was always one of my favorite races on the Champ Car schedule, and it’s a good atmosphere. It’s just a place where just the energy level of the crowd, you get a ton of people out to the race, and the crowd level is always ‑‑ the energy just around the whole event, you feel like you’re at an event, not that you’re just at a race. It’s a whole weekend, and I’ve always enjoyed that.
I think the layout of the racetrack itself is actually the same as when I used to run it. I won the Toyota Atlantic race there back in 2003, and felt always pretty quick there in Champ Car.
I’m looking forward to it, and to be able to go back and kind of get another race under our belts before Indy is going to be important, and just try to keep getting better. I think obviously the Penske organization, they have a great car on the road course and street course tracks especially. So I’m looking forward to that, and it’s just kind of the same thing, going through the process of the weekend, and hopefully I can get up to speed pretty quick, not having a lot of track time there, and I’ll be studying a lot of data, a lot of video before that, so I am really excited to go there.
Q. Finally, you were supposed to get your first look at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week with the rookie orientation, but unfortunately the weather forecast doesn’t look too good so it’s been postponed. Depending on its reschedule, does that affect the schedule you have going between Indy cars and stock cars?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: No. The IndyCar thing, especially with everything that comes to (the) Indy 500 in general, that’s the most important thing. The good thing is that Phoenix Racing has worked with me, and Roger and James Finch, especially, to make sure that everything kind of lined up, and James knows that the Indy car, just everything that comes along with it whatever race, not just Indy but anything that comes up on the schedule, that takes priority.
It doesn’t mess me up. I think it’s going to be good because I can kind of go into Indy week and get focused and be able to go through rookie orientation on Friday now, and to be able to kind of have that just lead into the start of the two weeks of Indy is really good, instead of maybe just doing one day like I was going to do and maybe do a couple Cup races in between, and obviously Long Beach would have been in between.
So I think just to be able to do that day and kind of kick that off for the two weeks is going to be good.
Q. You’re trying to do everything that you can to improve yourself in a hurry. I hear that you’re going to even possibly run a race following the Long Beach race. Is this written in stone yet or is that something that’s just potential?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I’ll be racing on the Cup schedule at Richmond after Long Beach, nothing Indy car wise. I think the only race that they have after that is Brazil. Just kind of before Indy ‑‑ for me it’s just trying to race as much as possible, whether it’s in IndyCar or a stock car or anything that goes with that, just as much as I can being inside a race car. I feel like it just keeps helping me get better and better no matter what car I’m in.
Q. And how much of an adjustment was it to the newest Indy car?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: It’s huge. I’m still learning it. I’m nowhere where I want to be when it comes to being competitive. I want to go out there and contend to win races. It’s been tough, and this series, especially in the IZOD IndyCar Series, there’s no hacks out there. The men and women that drive in this series, it is so competitive now, it’s by far ‑‑ at that point when I used to race Champ Car, obviously the two series were split, so you had some of the best drivers split amongst two series, and now that it’s one series and everybody in the series is so fast, it’s competitive.
Just trying to learn the car and then go out there and compete at a high level, it’s been a tough adjustment, but I enjoy the challenge. I’m having fun with it. As I said, I went to Barber and felt pretty good. I was kind of inside the top 10 all weekend in speed, through practices and in the race. I’m getting closer but still have a ways to go.
Q. Just trying to figure out your Cup schedule. Is Richmond really your only race between now and I guess the end of May?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Yeah. Right now it is, and kind of looking at the schedule, obviously running Long Beach next week, and that’s Kansas weekend, the weekend after that is Richmond, and then Talladega, and really Talladega would be the only race I could run, and Regan (Smith) has done such a good job for Phoenix Racing on the superspeedway races, I think he’ll probably be in for that race.
At that point the weekend after that is really kind of the start of Indy. Now rookie Orientation has moved to that Friday, which would be Darlington weekend, and then I think the track opens on Sunday anyway. At that point my focus needs to be on INDYCAR and the month of May.
Richmond is kind of the only thing ‑‑ obviously I was going to try to run Texas this weekend, and then Phoenix Racing, they’re doing everything they can to find sponsorships, so Austin Dillon brought sponsorship to them, and I understand kind of the position, and I’m OK with that. Richmond will probably be it.
Q. When you were racing NASCAR full‑time, how much attention were you paying to Indy and what was going on there, and what do you think it’s going to be like to race there in an IndyCar?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Oh, man, I always loved watching INDYCAR. It’s not like I left Champ Car and just forgot about open-wheel racing. I’ve always loved open-wheel racing. I’ve always had friends that have been in the IndyCar Series, so I’ve always kept up with it, and then especially the Indy 500. It’s always fun to kind of ‑‑ it’s been fun to watch and kind of see how the process of the weeks go and practice and everything like that. So I was always up to date with it, and obviously when we’re at Charlotte at that point, kind of be able to watch most of the Indy 500 before any kind of sponsor thing started and drivers’ meetings, et cetera, for the 600.
So I’m really looking forward to going there and kind of going through the process and learning. I’ll be definitely nervous going to the track for the first time and rolling out of Gasoline Alley and going down the front straightaway for the first time in the IndyCar. It’s going to be nerve‑racking but exciting at the same time.
From there, it’s just about a process. You get a lot of track time and you don’t have to rush anything, don’t have to go out there and set the world on fire on the first day. Just going through the process of it and getting to the actual race.
Q. You say that you’re still learning the process, the process is still ongoing. What are your realistic expectations for the next couple of races in IndyCar? What are you expecting to learn or hoping to learn?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I guess expectations, that’s a tough thing to try to set for myself because in my heart and in my head I want to go out there and win races. As I stated many times now, I don’t want to waste Roger’s time. I don’t want to waste IZOD’s time, I don’t want to waste anybody’s time at this organization to go out there and just go run around laps and try to learn. I want to go out there and compete right away.
But everybody in the series is so quick, and it’s so competitive. You know, I think the on‑track racing of this series is some of the best that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve watched open wheel racing really ever since I was born and growing up, and I think it’s some of the most competitive racing that it’s ever been.
To try to just get people to understand that and get the outside world that doesn’t know IndyCar racing to understand that and see how competitive and how great this series is ‑‑ you know, going to Long Beach, I just want to keep improving. It’s a track that I know kind of, but it’s been seven years and haven’t been in one of these cars around the place, but at least kind of know the layout of it. My expectations are to go there and just try to keep getting better from where I was at Barber.
And then like I said at Indy, I want to go try to win the race. That’s why I’m there. That’s why Roger hired me is to have the expectations to win. Like I said, the good thing there is you get a lot of time to go out there and learn the racetrack and go through the days of practice and go into qualifying and then get the race setup.
You know, expectations for me, it kind of changes always throughout a weekend, but I expect to go out there and compete at a high level and hopefully go try to win these races.
Q. And you were mentioning that any track time, whether it’s in a stock car or in an IndyCar is helpful for that transition. Does that mean you feel like some of the things you’re learning in NASCAR are helping you transition over to IndyCar, as well?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I don’t know if it’s about transitioning into an IndyCar, but I think just competing in general and racing and being in a race car for me is ‑‑ it just only helps. It’s good to be at the Penske organization and working out and doing things like that and studying data and video and all that. But nothing beats track time, whether it’s an IndyCar or stock car or sports car or go‑kart, whatever, it’s been good for me to go jump back and forth.
For me I think more than anything it really helps me focus, as well, because every weekend I jump back and forth or one weekend I’m in something, the next weekend I go to the next thing, and it really helps me focus to be at my best because I know I’ve got to go out there and adjust again to what kind of vehicle I’m in.
I’ve really enjoyed the challenge so far, and hopefully I can continue doing it. We’ll just kind of see how the next little span of these two months go and see where it goes to.
Q. You’re not the usual rookie going into Indy. You have a lot of experience, you’ve driven in Champ Car, you’ve driven in NASCAR, you’re not like a guy like Vautier coming in for the first time and never driven a car on these tracks. How much of a disadvantage are you really at going into the Indy 500 with guys that are 15‑year veterans who have been racing those cars for an entire year? How much ground do you have to make up?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Yeah, it’s kind of interesting, I guess I’m not the typical rookie, but you’ve got a guy like Vautier, he ran around Indy in an open‑wheel car. It was an Indy Lights car, but he’s been on some of these bigger racetracks, and when I raced Champ Car, I was never ‑‑ the biggest racetrack that I really raced on was Milwaukee. We did a couple of race in Vegas, but that was with big wings and the speed wasn’t that high, so I don’t even look at that race like it was something that I learned from.
You know, it’s part of being a rookie, going out there and learning, and the good thing that I have is I have teammates that have been so helpful to me with Helio and Will, and obviously Helio’s record around there, it speaks for itself. To have guys like that, they’ve been so helpful in everything that I’ve gotten into, whether it was the test at Sebring or Barber or even Texas and obviously the race weekend at Barber, they’ve just been so supportive, and it’s been a lot of fun. It’s an amazing to be a part of, to feel so close to my teammates. It’s made it really exciting.
To have them at Indy is going to be a big help. Obviously Rick Mears has been a huge help and will be a huge help at Indy for me, and Roger himself.
I feel like I’ve got a good supporting cast around me. The cars will be fast. And it’s just like I said, it’s the process of leading up to it. For me mentally I’ve got to make sure I don’t go out there and try to just set the world on fire at day one, and that’s a place you can’t over‑push yourself. You’ve got to kind of let it lead into it.
For me I think it’s about going out there and having the mindset of taking it step by step and I don’t have to be the fastest on the speed charts on day one.
We’ve seen it plenty of times: Rookies can come in and win the race, so that’s what I want to do.
Q. Is the biggest challenge trying to figure out before the race how the car is going to run in traffic? You and Will and Helio can maybe run together a little bit, but the other guys aren’t going to help you to figure that out. Is that going to be a big adjustment during the race for you, just running the car in traffic and all the stuff going on around you?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Yeah, for the most part that’ll be a big adjustment. As you said, Carb Day you can go run in traffic a little bit, but it’s not the same as dropping the green flag with 33 cars. But just track conditions and how track conditions change throughout a race, whether it’s hot or cold and how the tires go off at Indy, in an IndyCar. There’s a lot of stuff that I’m going to have to learn from, but you really can’t do anything about it until you get to the race.
So I think just leading up to it is the best thing that I can do and we can do as a race team is just try to make everything as comfortable as possible, and hopefully I don’t have to adjust in traffic. Hopefully we’re fast up front leading the race.
It’s all part of the fun and part of the challenge of going out there and running this race for the first time.
Q. You’ve been there in NASCAR previously, but does the Indy 500 still kind of hold a special mystique? Is this going to be a huge thing for you when you’re sitting on the grid and getting ready to go?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Oh, yeah. I mean, to me the Indy 500 is still the biggest race in the world, and it’s just ‑‑ it’s Indy. You really can’t say anything more about it. It’s the Indianapolis 500, and for me to get to run it first of all is just a dream come true. I always wanted to run the race and just never got a chance to, and secondly, to be able to do that with Roger Penske and walk out of Gasoline Alley and be introduced wearing an IZOD Penske Racing suit is something special, and no matter what happens during the race obviously I want to go out there and try to win the race, but no matter what happens just to be able to say that I was there as a Penske driver at the Indianapolis 500, it’s pretty special and I’ll always hold that with me.
Hopefully it’s the first of many, but to go out there for the first time and have my parents there, especially my dad that named me after AJ Foyt and always wanted me ‑‑ this is what he dreamed of is me running the Indianapolis 500. To have my parents there with me will be really special, as well.
Q. Several years ago we spoke before the Long Beach Grand Prix and back then you were one of the young stars of what was left of Champ Car at that time and one of the few Americans. Do you ever look back at the decision to go to NASCAR and wonder if you made the right decision? I know IndyCar has had a lot of problems between that time, but do you ever look back at the decision and wonder what if?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: No, not at all. For me it’s always about looking forward. I don’t think you ever regret anything that happens, you just learn from it and move forward, and that’s what I try to do in everything that’s happened in my life.
You know, to look back and say what if, I mean, I may have never had a chance to run with Roger Penske. If I wasn’t in Cup and got signed by him, maybe this opportunity never happened to run the Indy 500 with Roger Penske.
You can’t ever change the past, so for me I don’t ever look back at it and wonder. I feel very fortunate in everything that’s happened to me. I got to drive for Richard Petty. I’ve gotten to drive for Roger Penske now. I feel very fortunate. And yeah, there’s certain things like maybe I’d like the results to be better or certain things to have happened, but I’m happy where I’m at, and I’m excited for this opportunity.
You know, and I hope that the IndyCar Series can keep growing. There’s so much great things about it, it just needs to be marketed better and it needs to be noticed more on a bigger platform. Maybe if I can bring just a little light to that from my background now and let the eyes of maybe the NASCAR side of it or just people in general to know that this is a great series, and there’s so many things that ‑‑ about this series that make it one of the best things in the world to be a part of.
Hopefully it can just keep growing. The potential is there, it just needs to keep growing.
Q. The split between Champ Car and IndyCar kind of cost you a lot of shots of spending the month of May in Indy. How heavy did that weigh on you during those days, like ’04, ’05 and ’06 and did you think about being there and think, geez, I may never get there?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Of course back in the Champ Car days I always wanted to be there. You know, it was a race that ‑‑ especially in Champ Car, because we’d sit there and watch it on TV because we weren’t racing. Yeah, I really wanted to be there. You know, I don’t feel like it’s cost me anything. It’s just the way it’s happened, and it’s the way things kind of went about, and I think you ask anybody in open wheel racing right now, do they wish the split never happened, we all wish it never happened, but it did, and we’re here now.
More than anything I just wish the split never happened, it never got to that point to where it cost 15 years of all the best in the world racing against each other and things like that, but we can’t go back and change that.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about your ability to adapt and adjust? You’ve gone from go‑karts to open wheel to NASCAR, back to IndyCar. That’s a lot of upward and a lot of adapting and you have a lot of skills to be able to accomplish that.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Yeah. You know, I’m trying. I guess I’m kind of writing each chapter and seeing how it goes. But I have fun with it. Like I said, it’s a challenge that I feel very fortunate this year to have the opportunity to go do, to go run sports cars and then jump into a Cup car and then jump into an IndyCar. It’s something that I take pride in, in trying to be the best at to be able to do that and say I can go jump in one and go jump in the next and not just be out there but be really competitive. I’m trying as hard as I can do.
Honestly, that’s all I can do, and that’s the way I look at it, that I’m just going out there and I’m enjoying it. I’m looking at it as a huge challenge that I love to try to tackle and go out there and enjoy, because there’s not a lot of people that get to do that anymore like they used to in the old days.
You know, we’ll kind of see how it goes. I’m having a lot of fun, and as I said, I feel like the IndyCar side of it, I’ve still got a ways to go to go out there and compete with guys like Will and Helio and Ryan Hunter‑Reay and Hinchcliffe and the best in the series, Scott Dixon and those guys, to go out there and compete at a high level and know that I can go beat them.
But in the short amount of time, it’s been a lot of fun so far.
Q. Is there any way that your experience could give you an edge anywhere on the track?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I’m not sure about that. Maybe like at Indy if they start running the top around, right against the wall, I might be able to do that like we do in the Cup car. But other than that, these guys are so good in both sides of it, in the NASCAR world and the IndyCar world, my experience in any of that is not going to beat the guys, because unfortunately in the IndyCar side of it, there’s plenty of more guys that have a lot more experience out there than me right now, and the NASCAR side of it is the same way.
All I can control is just me myself trying to get better, mentally, physically, emotionally, get everything I can out of myself, so that’s all I can do and that’s what I’m working on.