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AJ Allmendinger taking life 1 day at a time
“I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn’t know it was going to be this hard,” he said. “It’s shown that seven years of stock car racing has transformed me. It’s everything _ the downforce levels, how hard you have to drive the cars to get any kind of lap time. Going to do the test with the series and then going to the races _ that field is so strong. Being back in the series, it’s a little frustrating because I wish people understood how good these drivers are in this series.”
It hasn’t been easy, at all, and Allmendinger has leaned on Penske teammates Helio Castroneves and Will Power in his transition. It was Castroneves who shook down Allmendinger’s car before his rookie orientation at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Allmendinger was touched that Castroneves hung around on the pit stand talking to him during his laps on the track.
“He could have easily shook down the car, told Roger it was fine and gone back to the garage and gotten ready for his car. But he stood there on the timing stand, headset on, talking to me. I’ve been very fortunate, and Will has been the same way,” said Allmendinger, who struggled with the urge to brake during his first laps and learned quickly if he ran the same line he did in the NASCAR races at Indy he’d end up in the grass.
He’s gotten more comfortable with each passing day, and his teacher has been none other than Mears, the four-time Indianapolis winner and the driver his parents saw win all those years ago. From there it’s on to Detroit for the IndyCar doubleheader with Penske.
But Allmendinger has nothing on his schedule beyond the Detroit races. He’s run four of 11 NASCAR races this year with Phoenix Racing, but owner James Finch is threatening to shut the team down after the July race at Indy. Allmendinger believes he’s got a ride in NASCAR with Finch, he just doesn’t know how long that car will be on the track.
He doesn’t worry about it though. Allmendinger’s experience of landing his dream job then promptly losing it because of a dumb mistake has taught him so much that he didn’t hesitate Monday when asked if he’s happier now then he was a year ago when he driving in NASCAR for Penske.
“For sure. Definitely,” said Allmendinger, who now just takes things one day at a time.
“It’s working out pretty good right now. I thought after 24 Hours of Rolex I wasn’t doing anything, so it’s worked out pretty well so far. I’m going to ride the wave right now and figure out what happens after that.”
Allmendinger, still uber-confident despite his journey, has a plan.
“The way I look at it, if I go win Indy, Roger’s gotta give me more races,” he smiled.
By Brahma Chellaney
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