Jay Pennell · Wednesday October 20, 2010
With more top-10 finishes this season than at any time during his four-year Cup career, A.J. Allmendinger finally looks like a man comfortable in his stock car skin. But that’s not to say his second full season with Richard Petty Motorsports has gone squeaky clean with success. Saturday’s engine-related issues left the ‘Dinger outside the top 20 for the first time in seven races, halting momentum while triggering a reminder that RPM’s equipment isn’t championship-reliable material quite yet.
Still, the ever-optimistic Californian remains confident that one day, this struggling team will finds its way up the Sprint Cup ladder and straight towards the Chase. Allmendinger sat down with our Jay Pennell to talk about his season to date, the role of the media, and so much more while preparing to wind down his season behind the wheel of the vaunted No. 43.
Jay Pennell, Frontstretch.com: You have really shown since the beginning of this Chase that, even though you are not in the Chase, you can be a contender nearly every week. What has really clicked for you or changed over the last few weeks?
A.J. Allmendinger:: Nothing has really clicked or changed, I just think we’re just building better race cars. We went to some tracks that have been good for us. I think we’re just more experienced together. We’ve hit on some things and found some things that helped us when it came to making the cars better, more confidence, we’re just getting a little bit better each weekend.
Jay Pennell: You’ve hovered right around the 20s in the points throughout much of the season this year. What is it going to take to get you to the next level and to compete for a spot in the Chase in 2011?
Allmendinger:: Just keep getting better. There are a few races you could pick out, like anyone else, where we hurt ourselves. Mistakes, limiting our mistakes. Running every lap.
You see a guy like Matt Kenseth – at times, he may not be the best car out there, but I saw a stat this weekend that he’s run every lap except for seven laps, and that adds up. The points are all about consistency, no mistakes and we just have to do that.
I’ve learned some stuff as a driver, you know, when to push it, when not to push it. Just trying to limit the mistakes, just keep getting better. That’s what we really need to do.
Jay Pennell: With a secure position at Richard Petty Motorsports, when you look back at where you were a few years ago with the whole Red Bull Racing situation, how much does that help your confidence knowing you don’t have to worry about that for awhile?
Allmendinger:: I kind of laugh, because in a way I’m always worried about it. Yeah, we’ve got a contract, but I just want to prove myself. I feel like every weekend I’ve got to go out there and still attempt to prove myself to sponsors, crowds, fans, media, and more importantly to myself. I’m pleased that I can still be here as to where I was a couple years ago, but I still have a lot more to accomplish.
I don’t want to be a 20th-place guy. I want to be a guy that’s in the Chase every year and be the guy that when we show up at the race track, everyone says, ‘A.J.’s a guy that can contend.’ We’ve still got a long ways to get there, but at least there’s light at the end of the tunnel. It’s not like there’s a train coming back at you to hit you.
Jay Pennell: Can you spoil this Chase and win a couple races before the year is out?
Allmendinger:: I think we’ve got a couple tracks that are good for us, but it’s baby steps. Our ultimate goal is, sure, to show up to the race track, be the fastest car and win the race, but we have to be realistic, too. We’re to a point now where we’re on the cusp of the top 10 every weekend. Our bad weekends, we’re still fighting to be in the top 10, our good weekends we’re inside the top 10. We just have to keep making baby steps; if we can be in the top 10 consistently, then you start running in the top 5, and then that’s when you start putting yourself in position to win.
Do I think that if we hit everything right at a place like Dover, if everything would have went right and we didn’t have that flat tire, could we have won it? Quite possibly. Do I feel like we’re there yet, where we can show up and win? No, we still have to work on it. We’re at least getting there where if we hit it, we at least have a chance at it.
Jay Pennell: There’s always Daytona next year. You had a great run going in the Daytona 500, led some laps.
Allmendinger:: Yeah, I mean there’s a lot of race tracks. That’s something that, for me, I’m excited for next year, but we have to finish this year off strong and make it solid for everybody in the offseason where we’re pumped up. We just got to keep working on it, that’s all we can do.
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