Here’s part two of our four-part interview with NASCAR driver A.J. Allmendinger.
Have you spoken to Bobby Labonte about the events that have occurred as of late?
No, I just spoke to him when he first got out of the car and we shared our opinions about that.
Were your opinions similar about what was going on within the organization?
“It wasn’t really the organization, but race car-wise, we had the same feedback of the cars and what we thought. Bobby, with this Gen Six car and the last couple of years, he was only at JTG. When it’s a one-car team, it’s hard because as race car drivers, we question what we should be feeling is different from other teams.
Whether it’s good or not, I’ve gotten to drive several different cars for different teams and I was able to bring a kind of different feedback to a certain extent.
Working with them on a part-time basis this year, what have you learned about them that will help you next year?
A: “I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned is that there are a lot of good pieces in this race team. Brian Burns, the crew chief, he’s relatively new to being a crew chief, but he’s really good. I think he just needs some more experience, and the more time he can do this and the more time we spend together will help for sure. It’s a good, solid little team.
It’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be where all of a sudden we’re running upfront, it’s going to take a while, but I really got to know Tad and Jodi (his wife) and Brad, and they’re just really good people with good values, whether it’s relationship or values — that really kind of drew me into the team.
I’m happy to be here and I’m happy to be back in the Sprint Cup Series full-time next year. The rest of this year is about whenever I’m in the car, just try to get better and get the team as good as possible for next year.
What’s the word with your crew chief situation? Will you still work with Brian Burns?
He’ll be our crew chief next year.
Working with James Finch this year and last, what did he do for you that gave you the confidence to believe you can be successful in NASCAR?
Honestly, it had nothing to do with me having confidence that I can be successful in NASCAR again, I’ve shown that I have the speed. Obviously I’ve yet to get a win in the Sprint Cup Series and that’s a big deal, but that’s what I want to work towards. It’s a goal of mine and working with JTG and trying to get the team better where we can win some races.
James Finch, what he did for me was just giving me an opportunity. If I didn’t get back with his team last year and ran those races, I don’t know what would have happened this year. Because of those races last year, I was able to get into the car early this year and keep my name out there to run some races in the new Gen Six car.
A lot of people look at me and say that we may want to put you in a car, which led to me getting with the No. 47 team. James, what he did for me, just getting me back into the sport was a big thing and it had nothing to do with confidence, just giving me an opportunity — and it’s hard to come by with opportunities in this sport right now.
What he did to allow me to race was huge, and I might not be here without him and Roger Penske. I’m so thankful to James and the chances to drive his race car. Even through this process of finding something full-time, James was a huge supporter and was making sure he was talking to the other team owners about me and saying that I was a great driver and that I was great to work with.
Even while he was trying to sell his race team and getting out of the sport, he was trying to make sure I had something full-time next year.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.