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. Honda’s IndyCar drivers attempt to fit inside the new Fit (VIDEO)

    Aug 4, 2015, 11:47 AM EDT

    Photo: Tony DiZinno Photo: Tony DiZinno

    Watch as a double digit number of Honda IndyCar drivers attempt to fit inside the new Honda Fit.

  2. IndyCar: Post-Mid-Ohio news and notes roundup

    Aug 4, 2015, 10:43 AM EDT

    WalkerNewsRoundup Getty Images

    There was way more to the Mid-Ohio weekend than just the on-track product itself. Here’s a quick roundup.

  3. Dates for 2016 IndyCar schedule starting to come together

    Aug 4, 2015, 9:55 AM EDT

    IndySchedule16Hints Getty Images

    With several race dates having already been announced, it’s time to play “piece it together” for the 2016 IndyCar schedule.

  4. Dalziel, Alberico round out Mid-Ohio PWC, Pro Mazda winners

    Aug 3, 2015, 6:59 PM EDT

    Photo: Pro Mazda Photo: Pro Mazda

    Quick recaps of the other two races at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course weekend from PWC and MRTI.

  5. NHRA: ‘Fast Jack’ Beckman earns 5th Funny Car win of 2015; Brown (TF), McGaha (PS), Krawiec (PSM) also win

    Aug 3, 2015, 12:24 AM EDT

    (Photo courtesy NHRA) (Photo courtesy NHRA)

    NHRA Funny Car driver “Fast Jack” Beckman may want to consider changing his nickname to “Faster Jack” because it doesn’t appear he’ll be slowing down anytime soon.

  6. After dream-fulfilling day, Graham Rahal isn’t worried anymore

    Aug 2, 2015, 9:47 PM EDT

    Graham Rahal Graham Rahal

    Sunday’s win fulfilled a lifelong dream for Ohio-native Graham Rahal.

  7. Graham Rahal now trails Montoya by nine points in IndyCar standings

    Aug 2, 2015, 6:14 PM EDT

    Juan Pablo Montoya Juan Pablo Montoya

    Montoyas 42-point lead over Rahal all but disappears in one race.

  8. Karam’s Mid-Ohio spin triggers frustration, skepticism from IndyCar paddock

    Aug 2, 2015, 5:56 PM EDT

    150803_SageKaram Getty Images

    Sage Karam in the crosshairs again after controversial Lap 66 spin at Mid-Ohio.

  9. Justin Wilson finishes second at Mid-Ohio, best result in two years

    Aug 2, 2015, 4:53 PM EDT

    Photo: INDYCAR Photo: INDYCAR

    Wilson earns first podium finish since Houston in 2013.

  10. Rahal scores dream win on home soil in Honda 200 at Mid-Ohio

    Aug 2, 2015, 4:02 PM EDT

    © INDYCAR © INDYCAR

    Quick thinking from Rahal’s strategists allows the Ohio native to storm to his second win of the 2015 season and slice the gap to Montoya in the championship race.

  11. Helio Castroneves leads halfway through the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio

    Aug 2, 2015, 3:12 PM EDT

    Castroneves

    Castroneves led at halfway due to off-setting pit strategy.

  12. Lynn hopes GP2 win has put him in running for F1 seat

    Aug 2, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT

    © GP2 Series © GP2 Series

    Alex Lynn has made an impression during his rookie GP2 season, but can he make the step up to F1 in 2016?

  13. Dennis frustrated by lack of in-season testing in F1

    Aug 2, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT

    MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 06:  Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of McLaren Group Ron Dennis is seen during qualifying for the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 6, 2015 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images) Getty Images

    McLaren’s CEO feels the reasons behind limiting in-season testing offer a “false economy”.

  14. WATCH LIVE: Honda Indy 200 at 1:30 p.m. ET on CNBC, Live Extra

    Aug 2, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT

    Ryan Hunter-Reay AP

    Watch live from Mid-Ohio ahead of the 14th round of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.

  15. WRC: Latvala claims record-breaking win at Rally Finland

    Aug 2, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    Finnish Volkswagen Polo R WRC driver Jari-Matti Latvala and co-pilot Miikka Anttila drive during the Ouninpohja special stage of the  2015 FIA World Rally Championship WRC Rally Finland in Jyvaeskylae, Finland on July 31, 2015.  AFP PHOTO / LEHTIKUVA / Vesa Moilanen +++ FINLAND OUT        (Photo credit should read VESA MOILANEN/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Latvala wins on home soil for the second time in the WRC with a record-breaking display.

  16. What to watch for: IndyCar at Mid-Ohio (1:30 p.m. ET, CNBC and Live Extra)

    Aug 2, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT

    Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio - Day 3 Getty Images

    What to watch for ahead of Round 14 of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, the Honda Indy 200 from the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

  17. Hunter-Reay fastest in final Mid-Ohio warm up despite spinning out

    Aug 2, 2015, 10:24 AM EDT

    © INDYCAR © INDYCAR

    Hunter-Reay finishes on top ahead of Helio Castroneves and Jack Hawksworth despite crashing his car.

  18. Reports: Monza closing in on new F1 contract

    Aug 2, 2015, 9:35 AM EDT

    MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 07:  Fan leave the circuit following the F1 Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 7, 2014 in Monza, Italy.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images) Getty Images

    The Italian Grand Prix looks set to remain at Monza beyond 2016 thanks to a tax-free investment from the Italian government.

  19. MRTI, PWC at Mid-Ohio: Several different winners emerge

    Aug 1, 2015, 7:00 PM EDT

    Photo: @ Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography Photo: @ Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

    Mazda Road to Indy and Pirelli World Challenge race updates from Mid-Ohio as they happen on one of the busiest road racing days of the year.