Here’s part three of our four-part interview with NASCAR driver A.J. Allmendinger.
Roger Penske gave you an opportunity to run in the Nationwide Series for a few races this year and you capitalized on many levels. What conversations have you had with Mr. Penske that may lead to future opportunities with that organization?
They’re in a really good place with two great Sprint Cup Series drivers with Brad (Keselowski) winning the championship last year and Joey (Logano) making the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and they’re Nationwide Series program with the No. 22 side and Sam (Hornish Jr.) leading the championship. They’re set there and they have what they need in the organization.
I think it’s no secret what Roger’s done for me, not just in my career, but he’s been a big deal especially giving me an opportunity this year. Just in my life in general though. I can ask him questions, whether it’s career things, personal things, stuff like that and he’s just been huge. I feel lucky to have Roger Penske’s phone number in my phone, and to have that relationship with him that I can call him at any point — that’s what I feel most lucky about.
He could’ve just easily let me go last year and kind of wrote me off and moved on, but he didn’t and he made sure that I was doing okay and opportunities arose and he gave me the chance to run the INDY 500 plus the Nationwide Series races. We almost won Indianapolis together and to win those two Nationwide Series races was a huge deal.
Even with this process of talking to Tad and doing something full-time, I was constantly talking to Roger, asking for his opinion about what he thought. I made sure Tad talked to Roger because I didn’t want to do this deal without Tad talking to Roger. He’s just an amazing person and I’m lucky to have him as a friend and someone I can call at any point to ask for advice.
With your team saying they’ll support you if you want to run the Indianapolis 500 in 2014, have you begun to weigh your options in terms of putting a deal together for that event?
A: Roger’s throwing it out there. There’s a possibility there and it’s one thing he told Tad — that there’s a possibility of me doing the double and they might want me at the INDY 500 next year. That’s a long way down the line, hopefully, but there’s definitely a chance.
What are your expectations for the 2014 season with JTG-Daugherty Racing?
I think ultimately for me, I can’t set an end of the year goal. I think right now, when it’s a small team like this, building together with one car, it’s just about getting stronger each week, and I’ve really set my goals in quarters. I think we just have to go in baby steps. I think last year, they finished poorly in owners points, so if we do the right things by running consistently in the top-20 is a start.
Then, we have to aim for top-15’s and get closer to the top-10. We can’t take a leap from 25th to the lead; it just doesn’t work like that. It’s about taking small steps every few weeks and to get better.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.