Skip to content

AJ Allmendinger ready to make the most of second chance with new team

Feb 2, 2014, 9:40 PM EDT

Rolex 24 - Testing Getty Images

Having been picked to replace Kurt Busch in the No. 22 Dodge after Busch’s ouster from Penske Racing at the end of the 2011 season, AJ Allmendinger came into 2012 sitting on top of the world.

He was with one of the better teams in the sport, driving for a motorsports legend in Roger Penske, and had Allmendinger stuck around for the whole season, would have shared in then-teammate Brad Keselowski‘s run to the Sprint Cup championship later that same year.

Unfortunately, the man they call “The Dinger” saw that world collapse just about six months into his term with Team Penske, being suspended by NASCAR after testing positive for a banned stimulant following a random drug test.

In a matter of days that followed, Allmendingers Sprint Cup career, if not his future racing career – not to mention his tenure with Team Penske – had come to an abrupt end almost as quickly as it began.

To his credit, Allmendinger owned up to what he did and became a virtual poster boy for NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program. Allmendinger did everything that was asked of him and was quickly reinstated less than 3 ½ months after being suspended.

“I learned that there’s a lot of things I needed to change,” Allmendinger reflected back about his layoff with MotorSportsTalk during last week’s NASCAR Media Tour. “That racing itself didn’t just make me happy. Being away from racing, that wasn’t making me happy. There were just a lot of things that I needed to work on personally and mentally, kind of like almost starting all over again.

“Honestly, if it didn’t happen, I probably would never have had those opportunities, just because you’re so busy and you try to carry on and say it’ll fix itself. We all know it’s not going to fix itself. We can’t hide from problems, they won’t just go away. It gave me a chance to step back, look at myself and say I need to start over, to figure out the areas I need to work on and find true happiness.

“Racing makes me happy, but it wasn’t the sole reason. I wasn’t happy at the time. Being at home and the things I was dealing with (including divorce proceedings) weren’t making me happy. It’s that whole package. I feel so much better where I’m at now as a person.”

Last season, Allmendinger hoped to return to a full-time ride, but the opportunities were not there, so he did what he needed to do to keep himself visible. After finishing third in the Rolex 24 last January, he came back to race for Penske (proving he didn’t burn any bridges) in the Indianapolis 500 (started fifth, finished seventh).

Allmendinger would race in a total of six IndyCar races in 2013, as well as 18 Sprint Cup races for Phoenix Racing and JTG-Daugherty Racing, and also won both Nationwide Series races he entered (both also for Penske).

Allmendinger now finds himself in a similar position as Kurt Busch was in last season. Busch took an opportunity from Furniture Row Racing and ultimately became the first driver in Sprint Cup history to qualify a one-car team in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

That’s what Allmendinger would like to replicate in 2014.

“It is almost like starting over to be with this race team,” he said. “They don’t make me feel just like a driver, they make me feel a part of their family, I’m a key component to the race team and building it, not just driving the car. For all those reasons, I’m really looking forward to the partnership.”

The feeling is mutual, says team co-owner and ESPN analyst Brad Daugherty.

“We think it’s going to be a huge step for our program going forward,” Daugherty said of having Allmendinger. “We’re hoping to kind of simulate what the 78 (Busch and the Furniture Row team) did last year, to be very competitive every week.

“Expectations within our company are very high. We want to be inside that top-20 every week. … If you run well as a single-car team and get inside the top-20, you’re doing something.”

Putting Allmendinger behind the wheel is one of several changes for JTG-Daugherty, which is entering its 20th season in NASCAR racing this year. The perennial also-ran organization intends on shaking things up this year in a big way.

“We’re going to show up, be loud and proud, walk into some of those places like Dover and kick their butts, that’s what we’re planning on doing,” Daugherty said. “There’s no need to be shallow or meek about it. We got our butts kicked the last couple of years, so we’re going to hopefully return the favor this year.”

One of the biggest changes is JTG-D’s switch from Toyota to Chevrolet motors and chassis leased from Richard Childress Racing.

“We knew we had to have the alliance if we truly were going to be competitive,” Daugherty said. “Within our four walls, we don’t feel like we’re a 30th-place race team; we feel like we’re a 20th-place race team, but the reality of it is we were a 30th-place race team last year.

“We felt that Richard Childress gave us the best opportunity to maximize everything they were going to allow us to utilize. From Day One, they’ve given us entrée to everything they do in their building and it’s up to us to take advantage of it.”

Allmendinger plans on sticking around JTG-D, having recently signed a three-year contract.

“I thought this was the right place to be, the right choice for me and a place I can be hopefully for a long time,” Allmendinger said. “I’m very fortunate. … After 2012, I had to really sit down and look at that maybe, what you call big-time auto racing, I might be done with it. I love being here. I hope it continues for a long time.”

Allmendinger also realizes that everything he’s gone through has made him stronger.

“I truly believe now that things are meant to happen for a reason,” he said. “God had a plan and there’s so many things that happened last year that I’m so fortunate about. I’m in a great place, I feel so good mentally, physically – I’m just ready to go.”

Yet no matter how positive his attitude is, Allmendinger realizes and has accepted that he will likely carry for the rest of his career, if not his life, the stigma of having been suspended for drug use.

“I know that because of that stuff and where I’m at now and how much better I am,” Allmendinger said. “It sounds dumb, not that I’d ever want to have to go through that, but I’m happy I did and I wouldn’t actually go back and change it. That’s really the true thing. No, (talking about) it doesn’t bother me anymore.

“I’m happy to know I’ve learned from the past. But I don’t go back to the past, I just look toward the future. It’s a part of me and probably always will be.”

Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

Latest Posts
  1. NHRA: 3-time Top Fuel champ Larry Dixon making most of career resurgence

    May 29, 2015, 12:35 AM EDT

    3-time NHRA Top Fuel champ Larry Dixon. (Photo courtesy NHRA) 3-time NHRA Top Fuel champ Larry Dixon. (Photo courtesy NHRA)

    Larry Dixon is making up for lost time – in VERY fast way, that is – as in the neighborhood of 320-plus mph and less than four seconds.

  2. ARCA: From welder to race car driver, Sarah Cornett-Ching continues her building prowess

    May 28, 2015, 11:05 PM EDT

    (Photo courtesy ARCA) (Photo courtesy ARCA)

    Sarah Cornett-Ching is opening a lot of eyes in the ARCA Series this season.

  3. Red Bull GRC entry lists, event schedule for Ft. Lauderdale opener

    May 28, 2015, 8:59 PM EDT

    GRCLogo

    Here’s the field for this year’s Red Bull GRC season opener in Ft. Lauderdale.

  4. Surprises, struggles: NHRA at one-third mark of ’15 season

    May 28, 2015, 6:49 PM EDT

    nhra logo

    With the completion of the Kansas Nationals this past Sunday, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series has reached the one-third point of the 2015 season.

  5. Coulthard: Monaco mistake could make Hamilton think twice in future races

    May 28, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT

    MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 24:  (L-R) Race winner Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP and third placed Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP react on the podium following the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 24, 2015 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Ex-F1 driver ponders whether Hamilton’s trust in Mercedes may have taken a hit after his Monaco defeat.

  6. FIA seeking new teams for Formula 1 in 2016 and 2017

    May 28, 2015, 3:23 PM EDT

    HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 18:  The German national flag flaps in the wind next to the FIA flag during practice ahead of the German Grand Prix at Hockenheimring on July 18, 2014 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images) Getty Images

    FIA looking for more teams to join the sport in the next two seasons.

  7. Bottas confident Williams will bounce back in Canada

    May 28, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT

    Williams Martini Racing's Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas  drives at the Monaco street circuit in Monte-Carlo on May 24, 2015, during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix. AFP PHOTO / ANDREJ ISAKOVIC        (Photo credit should read ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    After Williams recorded its first non-score since Brazil 2013 in Monaco, Bottas is sure that the team will respond in Montreal next weekend.

  8. Nissan to race with retro livery on Le Mans LMP1 car

    May 28, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT

    © Nissan NISMO © Nissan NISMO

    25 years on from Mark Blundell’s pole position at Le Mans, Nissan pays homage with a retro livery on its third car for the race.

  9. Magnussen unconcerned by Vandoorne’s success in GP2

    May 28, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT

    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 15:  Kevin Magnussen of Denmark and McLaren Honda waves to the fans during the drivers' parade before the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 15, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Magnussen was dropped by McLaren at the end of 2014, but has hopes of recovering his seat in the future.

  10. Lotus rejects claim Grosjean brake-tested Verstappen

    May 28, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT

    Verstappen 245 Getty Images

    Alan Permane claims the data on Grosjean’s car shows he did not brake-test Verstappen and cause their crash in Monaco last Sunday.

  11. Todt: Impossible to ban alcohol sponsorship in F1

    May 28, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT

    MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 23:  Jenson Button of Great Britain and McLaren Honda drives during final practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 23, 2015 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images) Getty Images

    FIA president responds to calls for a stricter policy on alcohol sponsorship in F1.

  12. Andreas Bakkerud to sub for Piquet Jr. with SH Rallycross at X Games

    May 28, 2015, 9:45 AM EDT

    Photo: SH Rallycross Photo: SH Rallycross

    Andreas Bakkerud will fill in for Piquet while he’s on Formula E duty in Russia.

  13. Wolff answers fans questions following Monaco pit error

    May 28, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    150528_WolffHamilton Getty Images

    Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff took part in a Twitter Q&A earlier this week.

  14. Foust reflects on Red Bull GRC’s evolution, growth, what wins mean now

    May 28, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT

    Photo: Tony DiZinno Photo: Tony DiZinno

    Two-time series champion looks ahead to a big year in Red Bull GRC with Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross.

  15. Gossage to Walker: “We need a more competitive race this year than last year”

    May 28, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT

    The Bombardier Learjet 500k Getty Images

    Gossage and Walker are in contact about how to best move forward with super speedway aero kits ahead of June 6 IndyCar race.

  16. Final tally of Pippa Mann’s 2015 #GetInvolved campaign revealed

    May 28, 2015, 7:30 AM EDT

    Photo: INDYCAR Photo: INDYCAR

    No. 63 driver tops $61,000 raised for Susan G. Komen this month.

  17. IndyCar drivers break down Belle Isle Park street course

    May 27, 2015, 4:57 PM EDT

    Chevrolet Indy Dual In Detroit - Dual II Getty Images

    The last seven races held in Detroit have been won by a different driver.

  18. INDYCAR announces post-Indy 500 penalties; Coyne, Herta pit penalties among them

    May 27, 2015, 4:17 PM EDT

    Photo: INDYCAR Photo: INDYCAR

    Penalties doled out after the Indy 500, most notably to the No. 19 and 98 teams for pit incidents.

  19. Tristan Vautier, Rodolfo Gonzalez to race for Dale Coyne Racing in Detroit Duals

    May 27, 2015, 2:08 PM EDT

    Tristan Vautier Tristan Vautier

    Gonzalez returns to No. 18 car after running it in the Grand Prix of Alabama.