Driver A.J. Allmendinger…. Rising like the Phoenix
By RICK MINTER / Cox Newspapers
Children are often taught that “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
To back up that point, kids could be told the story of NASCAR driver A.J. Allmendinger. He came into the sport from the open-wheel ranks, a move that often doesn’t pay many dividends.
Allmendinger had a typical transition from open-wheel racing to NASCAR. In his first season with Red Bull Racing, then a new team, it was one struggle after another. After failing to qualify for 19 races including four of the first five, he kept right on trying. Then the next season, after a slow start, he was replaced by Mike Skinner for a stretch of races from Las Vegas to Talladega. But he kept coming to the tracks, learning by observation, and he eventually regained his old ride, only to lose it at the end of the 2008 season.
But his perseverance made an impression on the folks at Richard Petty Motorsports, and he eventually wound up behind the wheel of the company’s flagship No. 43, the one once driven by Richard Petty himself.
On Friday at Phoenix International Raceway, Allmendinger put his car on the pole, which was a surprise in most anyone’s book. Even Allmendinger had to admit that.
“Heck, it is my first one, so I would probably say yes to that,” he told reporters at Phoenix during his pole-winner’s interview. But he said he and his team have been getting better, even if their efforts haven’t drawn a whole lot of attention.
“I feel like we have been showing that we are getting quicker, unfortunately the results aren’t showing that,” he said. “We have been caught up in a lot of other people’s mistakes.”
He said the upcoming portion of the schedule is a make-or-break time for teams like his that want to move up in the standings and secure a berth in the season-ending, championship-deciding Chase. He’s now 23rd in the standings, 173 points out of 12th place.
“I told the team this is a key six-week stretch before the All-Star break,” he said. “If we can go out there and get into the top 15 in points and have good runs every weekend, then I think we can go into the All-Star break knowing we have a chance at the Chase.
“That is our goal.”
To make Allmendinger’s first Cup pole a little sweeter, he got it by beating his old Red Bull team – and its driver Scott Speed.
“Anybody that has been let go, however, you know what it is like to go out there and beat your old team,” he said.
But no matter who he beat, the important thing to him and his team was the boost it gave them.
“It is a small victory, but it means so much to this race team and me,” he said. “In this sport, it is all about confidence …so to go out there and get the job done is a big deal.”
In the race at Phoenix, Allmendinger led 17 laps and finished 15th, his second-best effort this season after a sixth at Atlanta.