AJ Allmendinger is back at Dover International Speedway in the No. 47 House-Autry Toyota for JTG Daugherty Racing, where he will be full-time in 2014.
But according to the driver known as the ‘Dinger, this is not a comeback as much as the next chapter that he is writing in his personal and professional story.
“Whether it’s a comeback or whatever the media wants to make it, for me I just feel very fortunate and lucky,” Allmendinger said from the No. 47 hauler in the infield of the Monster Mile. “In a way, it’s a continuing story that we all write.”
“Our whole lives are about writing the next chapter until the end of it,” Allmendinger continued. “For me, it’s a new chapter but a completely different chapter.”
“And for me, it’s all about being a better person.”
“The values that Tad and Jody (Geschickter, team owners) as a family have and what values Brad (Daugherty, owner) has and what the values are of this race team and how people react to that, that’s what is just good to be around,” Allmendinger said. “It’s great for me to be around because that’s where I’m trying to get to.”
“It makes it just as a life thing to be able to talk to them,” Allmendinger said. “It’s the same thing that I have with Roger (Penske) being able to call him.”
“It’s just another chapter and hopefully it leads to another good chapter.”
Allmendinger also hopes to write his next chapter at Dover International Speedway, affectionately known as the ‘Monster Mile.’ And with a record of three top-ten finishes since 2009, Allmendinger thinks that monster track perfectly suits his driving style.
“When it comes to an aggressive driving style, this is probably one of the tracks that you can be more aggressive at,” Allmendinger said. “You look at a place like last week at New Hampshire and that’s all finesse.”
“It’s fast and it’s just enjoyable,” Allmendinger continued. “The hardest thing with this place is that the two ends drive a lot different, especially when it gets hot out because three and four get really tight.”
“Both ends of the track may look the same but they drive very differently.”
Allmendinger cited not only the challenge of dealing with the rubber build up on the track, but also the challenge of getting through each lap in setting realistic goals not only for himself but for his race team.
“It’s really lap by lap, session by session,” Allmendinger said. “The past few years the way the rubber built up would really change the race track after 100 laps.”
“I don’t know if it will be the same but for me, that’s what makes it fun because you really have to think about how to get around the rubber,” Allmendinger continued. “It changes the line and makes you search around which is also fun.”
“We’ll see how it plays out with this car and this tire,” Allmendinger said. “I look for anything in the top-20 as a decent day and anything in the top-15 as a good day and top-10 as a great day.”
While enjoying the opportunity to pilot the No. 47 House-Autry Toyota at Dover, Allmendinger acknowledged that it is a bit of a challenge being in and out of the car as he shares it with Bobby Labonte, who is still recovering from broken ribs due to a cycling accident.
But he totally agrees with this approach, given his respect and the respect of the team for veteran and champion Labonte.
“The end of this year, I’m in the car and then out of it,” Allmendinger said. “It’s difficult but it’s the situation as well.”
“I respect what Tad and Jody and Brad as owners decided,” Allmendinger continued. “They are very loyal to Bobby (Labonte) and what he’s done for the company the last couple years.”
“I’m OK with that,” Allmendinger said. “Of course, I’d like to be in the car every weekend but at the same point I’m in total agreement that they need to go about it the way that they decided.”
As Allmendinger writes the new chapter in his career, he is also excited to work with crew chief Brian Burns as they both build the No. 47 team together.
“It’s just about building that team chemistry between myself and Brian,” Allmendinger said. “As driver/crew chief, he’s still learning me a little bit and I’m still learning him.”
“He’s relatively new, not even really a year into him being a crew chief,” Allmendinger continued. “So, we’re just learning each other and trying to learn from start to finish of a weekend.”
Allmendinger also acknowledged that one of the biggest challenges is simply being with a one-car team. And although Kurt Busch has made the Chase in that type of position, Allmendinger feels that situation is totally different from theirs, particularly without the advantage of an alliance.
“Honestly what the 78 is doing and what Kurt is doing is fantastic to see but it doesn’t affect me either way,” Allmendinger said. “Kurt’s an amazing driver and there is no secret that he can wheel anything.”
“But they’re in a situation where they have an alliance with RCR and that helps,” Allmendinger continued. “Right now, we’re by ourselves.”
“But I look at the reason why I came here and I realize it’s not overnight,” Allmendinger continued. “There are lot of good things about this team that we can build on.”
“You’ve got to have realistic goals,” Allmendinger said. “You look at the team right now and it’s 30th in points.”
“When you go into next year, you have to start running top 20s and then top-15s and top-tens and slowly progress,” Allmendinger continued. “You cannot expect to go from 30th to first.”
“The ultimate goal is to be first but it’s going to take time,” Allmendinger said. “It’s a lot of fun to get there and everyone has the same goals and the same passions.”
“That’s what makes it most exciting.”
While Allmendinger looks forward to the 2014 season, he also is pleased that for one of the first times in his career, he will actually be able to celebrate an off-season without the angst of looking for a ride.
“I was joking around telling Tad that this was the first off season I could take a vacation instead of being on my phone, being hey, what am I doing next year?” Allmendinger said. “ It’s been tough through off seasons, whether it’s Red Bull wondering if I would have a ride or RPM not knowing what was going to happen with sponsorship and if there was going to be a team the next year.”
“All kidding aside, to go into the off-season and really have a goal to be focused on, it gives me confidence and energy to work really hard to be prepared for next year,” Allmendinger continued. “And to be able to work with the team, I just enjoy being here.”
“We’re doing this for fun and this brings the fun level back,” Allmendinger said. “And that to me is what makes me most excited.”
Part of Allmendinger’s new chapter is an entirely new outlook on racing and on life in general. And in his new world, he is no longer allowing numbers, whether good or bad, to define himself.
“You look at the ultimate goal to be a winner but to me it’s about trying to be at your best in life every day,” Allmendinger said. “I used to just look at the end result and the position after my name.”
“That was the way I determined my life that weekend or that week,” Allmendinger continued. “Unfortunately in this sport, you get those bad finishes next to your name and it just spirals down and I just let that affect me.”
“I didn’t look at the process just the end result and whether it was a good result or I put everything into it and had a bad result, that result determined what I thought about it,” Allmendinger said. “Now it’s about the process.”
“My ultimate goal is to say every week that I was mentally prepared and that I knew that I did everything I could,” Allmendinger continued. “As long as we give our best efforts, that’s all you can ask for in life.”
“That’s more my outlook now,” Allmendinger continued. “Before it never was and I’d let that kill me.”
“If it was a good race, it made me happy for a week and if it was a bad race, it would keep taking me down the wrong path,” Allmendinger said. “That’s why I say that I just have a better outlook overall and I think that’s what I need to continue.”
“I feel like for me, I’m in a really good place,” Allmendinger continued. “I’m always trying to be in a better place in this new chapter in my life.”