12 Questions with AJ Allmendinger (2018)

AJ Allmendinger, shown here at Phoenix, is 23rd in the point standings this year after finishing 14th last week at Pocono Raceway. (Photo: Action Sports Inc.)

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with AJ Allmendinger of JTG Daugherty Racing. Allmendinger heads to Watkins Glen International this weekend as one of the contenders to score a playoff-clinching victory.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

Unfortunately, pretty much every day. Or nightmares. Either one. Depending on how it’s gone that weekend. It’s something I wish I could be better about –just shutting my brain off when I leave the racetrack and forgetting about the weekend, whether it was good or bad or not. But my brain’s never worked like that — and I’m 36, so it’s probably not going to stop until I’m done.

2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?

No, no. It really doesn’t, because if you’re on the opposite end of it, you’re the guy getting hit or wrecked. The “sorry” really doesn’t matter. Whether you do think it’s on purpose or not, I think you say it just to try and make yourself feel better, especially if it’s on accident. If it’s on purpose, then you don’t really care. But yeah, you try to say sorry — but you know if you’re on the other end of it, it doesn’t matter to that person.

3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?

That I care. Whether it’s about going out there and giving everything I have and knowing how much I care for my guys especially, knowing I appreciate them and care about how hard they work whether it’s going great or it’s going awful. I hope anybody who has worked with me knows that I leave the racetrack giving everything I have. I care about it.

My passion for it, whether it comes out in a good way or a bad way, whether it’s frustration or happiness, I just care about it. I care about looking good for my guys, the sponsors, the team, for myself — and I will always care. I guess the day I stop just caring while I’m in the race car, I probably should just stop.

4. NASCAR comes to you and says they’re bringing a celebrity to the track and they want you to host them. Who is a celebrity you’d be excited to host?

Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler. Probably a lot of golfers, because I have a huge passion for golf. I love golf. I try to go out on the course during the week and think I’m a PGA golfer and get to the end of round and look at my score and I go, “That’s probably not going to cut it.”

But yeah, I think Tiger would be awesome to just take around the racetrack. I mean, it’s Tiger Woods, so there’s an aura around him. There’s very few people in the world that you can say, “Yeah, I’ve been around or been able to meet the best ever.” And Tiger would be one of them.

Do you think after your racing career is over you can get good enough to be on the Senior Tour or something?

No. I’m working on that. But I would love after my racing career to be able to do something on TV for golf. That would be probably something I’d be hugely passionate about and really get into. My golf game is definitely not close enough. I do have 13 years to work on it, but it’s not looking good right now.

5. In an effort to show this is a health-conscious sport, NASCAR decides to offer the No. 1 pit stall for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for one month. Would you do it?

Yeah. I’ve actually tried to go vegan in the offseason. I try to be as healthy as possible. What you put in your body is critical and I’m learning a lot more about it over the past year or two. I’ve kind of went through stomach issues — a lot of it is probably stress that I’ve put on myself — but food is definitely a big thing in that.

It’s great having Kroger as a sponsor, because they’re very health-conscious and it’s fun to be able to talk to them about what’s in their stores. Especially their new stores, you can see the direction the world is going and they’re kind of following along with it, so I enjoy it. So I’m very fortunate to have Kroger as a sponsor to be able to do that.

6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I’ve picked a random race from your career and you have to tell me where you finished. This is the 2014 Martinsville fall race, the Chase race that year. Do you happen to remember where you might have finished?

The Martinsville fall race…I’m trying to think back, I’m just trying to get the exact number. I know how we ran there. I want to say ninth.

Oh my gosh, yes! That’s correct.

Yeah. Nailed it.

You finished right behind Denny Hamlin. You started 15th that day, that was the race that Dale Jr. won. You must be good at remembering races.

I can remember most races, yes.

That’s amazing. Why do you think that is?

Because I care. That’s it. I couldn’t tell you my girlfriend’s birthday, I couldn’t tell you anything about dates or phone numbers or people’s names really, but I can pretty much remember every race that I was in. Do a lot of people get the answer right?

Some people get it somewhat close. We’ve had a couple people get it right, but some people are just like, “Nah. No idea.”

(I remember) the races that I’ve run the whole race. (Although) in NASCAR it doesn’t matter if it’s 34th or 37th. But yeah, I can remember generically almost every race I was in and kind of how it went.

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

(Laughs) I mean, right now, I’ll be honest, even though he doesn’t put out a lot of music anymore, I’d have to say Eminem. He’s got some sick lyrics still. But I mean, I would have to say 8 Mile is the best movie in the world, right? Nah, I’m just kidding.

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

(Laughs) I’d have to go with Ryan Newman. It’s a big face.

You’d have to run though.

I didn’t say that I wasn’t going to get punished after.

A close second — or a tie for first — is probably Brad (Keselowski).

He’s been picked by a few people.

I would say probably, if I had to go with recoil after the punch, I’d definitely take Brad over Ryan.

I’m just assuming they might punch you back after.

Yeah, and so if I’m going with that, if that was part of the question, if there’s a recoil…the only thing is I would have to run quickly if I punch Ryan. I think I can outrun him, but if he got to me, he’d land on me and crush me.

9. NASCAR enlists three famous Americans to be involved with your team for one race as part of a publicity push: Taylor Swift, LeBron James and Tom Hanks. Choose one to be your crew chief, one to be your spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.

I’m not sure how his eyesight is, but I’d go Tom Hanks for sure as my spotter. He’s got a soothing voice, just keep me calm. So I would do that.

I guess it’ll be Taylor Swift as my crew chief because if the car’s going to be ill-handling, it’ll be nice to at least talk to her.

And LeBron, in case I got in a fight after, you always want your motorhome driver to be a big dude. So if I did wreck somebody with my ill-handling car that Taylor Swift gave me, I’d need LeBron James to be there to throw down with me.

10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?

Well, I really try to look at the urinals before qualifying and kind of where they’re located, and then I just try to qualify around that. It’s like Fontana, there’s only one, it seems like, down at the end of pit road — so you really have to qualify up front so it’s not that big of a walk.

But you know, there’s certain tracks that have urinals right in the middle. So if I see that, then it’s like, “Yeah, 20th. Good for a bathroom.” It gives you extra time so you don’t have to get out of the truck, run to the bathroom and all of a sudden it’s the national anthem.

That’s the excuse I’m going to go with for my mid-20s qualifying.

11. NASCAR decides they miss the highlight reel value brought by Carl Edwards’ backflips and want a replacement. How much money would they have to offer for you to backflip off your car following your next win?

Just all my medical bills, because I wouldn’t get halfway over.

Really? You’re such an athletic guy though.

Yeah, well, I’m a very athletically stiff guy, so the launch off the car would be (bad). I could get halfway over and land on my neck, so they probably have to cover my after racing life insurance policy, disability stuff, so I get paid.

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week’s was with Kaz Grala. His question was: Do you know anyone who can sponsor him, and if not, do you have a backup car he can borrow?

No. And I’m always questionable with my practice habits, so I need my backup car. So I’m going to give him a big fat no and no.

I mean, shouldn’t he go with possibly going to a zoo (for sponsorship)? He’s got an animal name, like a Kaz Grala. Seems to me like that’s what he could go with. Has he tried that yet? Maybe go back to him and ask him that.

There’s a lot of zoos that would be up for sponsorship.

“Here, in this (exhibit), we have the ‘Kaz Grala.'”

The next interview I’m doing is with Ross Chastain. Do you have a question I might be able to ask him?

Yes. Could he beat Joey Chestnut in a watermelon-eating competition?

Previous 12 Questions interviews with AJ Allmendinger:

March 16, 2011

June 24, 2015

March 29, 2017

The Top Five: Breaking down the Sonoma race

Five thoughts after Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway…

1. Trick Play

Rodney Childers climbed down from the pit box with his headset still on, bent down to tie his shoes and tapped the button on his radio.

“I kind of let everybody down,” he told driver Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 team.

“All good,” Harvick replied. “Always want to win, but that stuff happens.”

“That stuff” was getting duped by an unusual case of trickery that likely cost Harvick the race on Sunday.

Here’s how it went down.

The No. 4 was the fastest car — as has been the case so often this season — with Martin Truex Jr. as the second best.

With that in mind, Truex crew chief Cole Pearn pulled off an Oscar-worthy performance to try and lure Harvick into the pits. He told Truex to pit and had the crew jump on the wall like a pit stop was about to happen, then called Truex off.

It didn’t work the first time. So then Pearn tried it again — he told Truex to pit, then reversed the call before Truex came down pit road. Truex had no idea what was going on (there was no code language or anything), but just knew to trust his crew chief.

This time, Pearn’s ploy worked. Childers — who was scanning the No. 78 team’s radio — took the bait and called Harvick to the pits earlier than originally planned, which opened the door for Truex to then stay out longer.

In turn, that gave Truex an advantage late in the race with fresher tires, which he used to easily pass Harvick.

“We’re in California — they went to acting school this week,” Truex said with a grin. “They were in L.A. for a couple days on the off weekend learning how to do screenplays and such.”

Furniture Row Racing president Joe Garone said he was aware of what Pearn was trying to do and termed it as a “flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” call when it appeared the No. 4 car was going to win out if the race went green.

“Obviously the first time we called it, it didn’t work,” Garone said. “So it was really cool that we were able to call it the second time. What a great move by Cole.”

Pearn downplayed the move and said it was just a product of road-course racing. where a fake-out has a longer window of opportunity to work. Childers echoed that sentiment, saying road courses are the best place to try a move because “you’ve got time to react.”

Unfortunately for Childers, he did react — even though he had been determined not to let another team influence his strategy.

I’ve been preaching for two days to not worry about what everybody else was doing,” he said. “… We could have just turned the scanners off altogether and just ran our race. Probably would have been better off.”

Harvick, though, gave Childers his full support. He walked over to the crew chief and patted him on the back afterward, and the two spent several minutes speaking to one another.

“He shouldn’t beat himself up over a pit call,” Harvick said.

2. Fair game?

Was Pearn’s fake-out a cheap move? Childers didn’t think so at all and instead tipped his hat to the No. 78 team, even going to victory lane to offer his congratulations. As we’ve seen several times this season, the No. 4 team shares a mutual respect with both the Nos. 18 and 78 teams, which make up the big three contenders of the season (they’ve won 12 of the 16 races so far).

“That’s really why I like racing those guys the most — the 18 and the 78,” Childers said. “Those guys are really good at what they do. They make all of us better. And we make them better every week. It’s awesome what they did and I have to congratulate them for that.”

It’s refreshing that although the top three teams keep running up front together each week, there’s no bad blood between them. Sure, a bitter rivalry would be fun — very fun, actually. But it’s also cool to see the mutual respect and sportsmanship that exists.

After all, Pearn noted, they’re just playing a game.

“We have a great relationship,” Pearn said of Childers. “I respect him a lot, and I feel like he does the same. Him and Martin worked together back at MWR, so they’re good friends. I always try and congratulate them when they win, and he always does it when we win.

“There’s plenty of days where they’re going to be up. Kevin Harvick is an awesome race car driver, and I’ve got a lot of respect for him. I think it’s pretty cool to be able to race them like we do.”

3. Unusually calm

There were the fewest “natural” cautions (yellow flags other than stage breaks or competition cautions) in track history on Sunday. The only yellow flag other than the end of Stages 1 and 2 was for AJ Allmendinger’s car on the track after he blew an engine.

So what’s up with that?

For one thing, drivers say the field has gotten more skilled at road racing. Truex pointed to the Xfinity and Truck Series running more road courses, which means the younger drivers have a chance to get used to that type of racing by the time they reach Cup. Meanwhile, the Cup guys have raised their game as well.

But another reason is stage racing. It’s had a profound impact on road courses because the races turn into more of a strategy play than a straight-up, head-to-head battle. When the field gets spread out while using various strategies, there’s less chance for a wreck and no one is pushing the issue.

Still, that doesn’t mean NASCAR needs to change anything or suddenly get rid of stages at road courses. It’s much better to have a consistent race format for each week of the season than get into the business of tweaking it at certain venues in the name of entertainment.

That might produce some Formula One-type races at times —where strategy seems to prevail over all else — but it’s not like it happens every week.

4. ‘Dinger’s Despair

We all know there are pretty much two shots for Allmendinger to make the playoffs each season: Sonoma and Watkins Glen. And while Allmendinger has a decent track record at the Glen, Sonoma has been a nightmare.

Something always seems to either break on the car or Allmendinger loses his cool when faced with mid-race adversity. That’s why the talented road racer has more career finishes of 35th or worse at Sonoma (five) than top-10 finishes (two).

In that sense, his team’s strategy Sunday was puzzling. With Allmendinger in agreement, the 47 team had its driver stay on track for stage points while the other leaders pitted late in Stage 1. Allmendinger ended up winning the stage and got 10 stage points — but for what?

The driver entered the race 23rd in points. He’s not racing for points; he’s racing for wins.

After that decision — with all his track position lost and now tasked with trying to come through the field — Allmendinger made a mistake, missed a shift and blew his engine.

Race over.

The whole sequence just didn’t make sense, and it turned into another deeply disappointing day for the ‘Dinger.

5. Points Positions

In this unusual NASCAR season — perhaps historically so, with the fewest winners through 16 races since 1978 — one item in the Top Five will be a weekly look at the point standings.

After all, this playoff field is shaping up to have the most drivers getting their playoff spots on points since the start of the Win-And-In Era.

With Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon outside the top 16 in the standings, that moves the cutoff position to 15th in points — which is currently Alex Bowman. He’s safe by 17 points over Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and by 25 points over Paul Menard.

Erik Jones has a 13-point lead over Bowman (and thus a 30-point cushion to Stenhouse). After that, the cutoff isn’t really close because Chase Elliott is another 35 points ahead of Jones and therefore 65 points inside the cutoff.

The winless drivers who would make the playoffs right now are Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Aric Almirola, Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson, Elliott, Jones and Bowman.

The Top Five: Breaking down the Talladega NASCAR race

Five thoughts on Sunday’s NASCAR race at Talladega Superspeedway…

1. First-time winner, but no fluke

Both of this year’s restrictor-plate races have been won by drivers who had never won on a plate track before (or anywhere, in Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s case).

That’s surprising in a time where the current plate package seemed to favor a few drivers who had perfected how to manipulate the draft once they got a lead: Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr., to name a few.

Kyle Busch is one of the good ones, too — but he seemed to get snookered by Stenhouse in overtime.

So what the heck happened?

When Stenhouse moved up to block Kasey Kahne’s run on the top side, Busch moved up to block Stenhouse — expecting to take away his momentum or at least get a shove.

And actually, Busch got what he wanted: A shot from behind. But to his surprise, it didn’t advance him.

“He got to my back bumper and actually hit me, and I thought that was going to shoot me forward,” Busch said. “He just turned left and passed me after hitting me. So, pretty impressive.”

Busch wasn’t being sarcastic; he meant it. It was impressive, and he repeated the term later in a second interview. Stenhouse deserved to win this race.

There have been fluky winners on restrictor-plate races throughout history, but Stenhouse isn’t one of them. For one thing, he started from the pole — which means Roush Fenway Racing built a very fast speedway car. And Talladega is also tied with Bristol for Stenhouse’s best track — he has a 10.4 average finish at both.

Look, it’s hard to read too much into any plate victory, because nothing translates to a “real racetrack” (as Busch put it Sunday).

But Roush Fenway really does seem to have something good going on this season. Stenhouse is now in the playoffs (wow!) and Trevor Bayne would also be in if it started today (he’s 16th in the standings).

Clearly, there’s been a lot of improvement over the offseason for a team whose three cars finished 21st, 22nd and 23rd in the point standings last season.

“(Over) the offseason, the whole attitude at our shop changed, and the people in each department were putting in more hours and working harder to make sure we started the season as best we could,” Stenhouse said. “We started a little stronger than we thought we would, but then we’ve also continued to make gains and continued to up our performance.”

2. The joy of winning

I’m sure this story is going to be everywhere, but this still deserves mention because, well, it’s completely awesome.

Apparently, Ricky Stenhouse Sr. was briefly detained by track security after the race while trying to get to victory lane and celebrate with his son.

Here’s the story, as told by Talladega public relations chief Russell Branham:

He was extremely excited about his son winning today, and naturally so. He was actually perched on the back straightaway up top the Alabama Gang Superstretch in an RV.

His son wins the race, he goes down, he tries to find a way to get across the track. He tried to climb the fence, found out he couldn’t. He begins running down outside of the perimeter road of Turn 3 outside the venue. He wants to go through the tunnel and get in here.

Our (security) guys saw it. Naturally, they stopped him, asked him who he was, said, ‘Would you get in the car?’ They placed him in the car, talked to him, they said, ‘Who are you?’

He said, ‘I’m Ricky Stenhouse’s father.’ (They said) ‘Hold on one second, sir. Let me call the director of security.’ Called our security, and our security guy said, ‘Take him to victory lane,’ and that’s what happened.

Seriously, how great is that? Even better is Stenhouse Jr. actually figured his dad would try to climb the fence (he did it before at Kentucky) and looked for Stenhouse Sr. when he came around on the cool-down lap.

“I went down the back straightaway after the race was over and looked up to see if he was there, but I didn’t see him,” Stenhouse Jr. said. “My dad has done so much for me in my career. … Everything that I know about racing I learned from him, and I’m glad that he was able to be here in victory lane.”

3. What’s up with Dale Jr.?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was as discouraged as I’ve seen him in quite awhile following his 22nd-place finish.

Earnhardt, frustratingly to himself and his fans, wasn’t a factor all day after starting second. He scored no stage points — at a place where he’s normally toward the front — and failed to lead a lap at Talladega for only the fifth time in 34 career starts (and second time in a row).

The loose wheel at the end of the race ruined his shot at a good day, but the No. 88 car wasn’t a player anyway. So what gives?

Well, Earnhardt said he hasn’t loved this rules package at plate races after a horsepower change at the start of last season.

“When they changed the motor after (2015), it took a lot of the speed out of the cars as far as how they create runs and maintain runs and how you can put together passes and do things on the track,” he said. “Now everybody is just stuck side-by-side. If you aren’t in the first or second row, you really are just kind of riding behind those guys with nowhere really to go. You can’t do much about it, because the cars don’t create the runs like they used to.”

That makes sense if you look at the results. In 2015, Earnhardt finished third, first, first and second at the four plate races.

Since then, he’s finished 36th, 40th, 21st, 37th and 22nd.

“I’d change a few things if I was the king of this deal,” he said. “But as long as the fans enjoyed the show, we’ll keep going down the road with what we’ve got.”

If that’s the case, it doesn’t sound like winning one of his remaining two plate races is as great of a chance as it once was.

4. Air AJ

Airborne cars scare the crap out of me, but AJ Allmendinger played it pretty cool after he landed on his roof on Sunday. Allmendinger even joked he had a “nice flight” during the Big One.

“It’s better than some of the flights we take back home,” he said.

But what wasn’t as fun was hanging upside down in his No. 47 car as fluids leaked and Allmendinger waited for the safety crew to flip him back onto his wheels.

“Get me the hell back over,” he thought.

Allmendinger acknowledged he was worried the car would catch on fire, but said the key was to not panic. And he was reassured by the safety team’s rapid response.

“If they weren’t there that quick, I might have thought of trying to slide out,” he said. “But it kind of rolled over onto the window, so there wasn’t a lot of room that I was going to get out.”

Plus, he said, he didn’t want to loosen his belts and take another hit to the head, even though he joked “there’s not much in there to be that worried about.”

5. Snap away

NASCAR was featured as one of Snapchat’s Live Stories on Sunday and even had a new lens which could alter people’s faces.

But many fans were unable to use it due to the terrible cell phone reception at the track. Ugh. What a giant missed opportunity.

Granted, I still have Sprint, so maybe I just have a bad network. Some people had a signal (one of my friends has T-Mobile and said his worked). But I saw plenty of chatter from other people who had similar problems.

Talladega is in a relatively rural area, so you wouldn’t expect it would normally have decent cell service. And when about 70,000 people show up for a race, it certainly gets a lot worse.

But we live in an era where people want to share all their experiences via social media They want to show their friends where they are and what they’re doing. That’s basically free advertising for NASCAR! If fans can’t get any sort of cell service, though, a lot of that gets lost.

I don’t know what phone companies charge to bring in portable cell phone towers, but tracks need to figure out how to make it happen. Clearly, there isn’t a large-scale move to invest in wifi (though Daytona did it), so there needs to be another solution. Speedway Motorsports Inc. tracks have some sort of Verizon technology, but what about those of us who don’t have that carrier?

The whole NASCAR industry would benefit from better cell service at the tracks. This needs to be a very high priority on the list of fan amenities.

The Top Five: Breaking down the Martinsville race

Each week, I’ll provide some quick postrace analysis with five thoughts from the race. This week: Martinsville Speedway.

Brad isn’t so bad

Martinsville is one of the tracks where Brad Keselowski gets booed the most in pre-race introductions. The reasons why people don’t like Keselowski — he’s brash and runs his mouth at times, races some popular drivers too hard and is unapologetic and unflinching when it comes to on-track incidents — all come to the forefront here.

So it was interesting after the race when Keselowski decided to dash into the stands to greet a group of fans — some his, but not all — who had stuck around to watch victory lane on the frontstretch.


“This might not be the track where I get the loudest cheers,” he said with a laugh. “But that’s OK — that’s part of what makes this sport go around.

“I just felt really good about it and saw a couple people I knew up in the grandstands. … I just thought it was worth saying hey.”

You may not want to hear this, but that’s more of who the real Keselowski is than what you see on the racetrack.

Keselowski is the type of guy who uses reporters’ first names in news conferences when answering questions. Not because he’s trying to kiss media butts, but because he’s respectful and personable.

He is fan-friendly (did you see his Facebook Live videos in the first couple weeks of this season, when he surprised people in the campgrounds?), intelligent and a good ambassador for NASCAR, his sponsor and his team.

And yet, so many fans hate his guts! It’s honestly a shame for NASCAR as a whole, because Keselowski has the type of personality that could make him a really popular driver. The problem for fans is since he’s opinionated and never backs down from a fight, they’ve already determined he’s a villain.

There’s probably nothing that can be done to reverse that for now — maybe people will come around later in his career — but fans who don’t think there are interesting drivers with personality in the series are overlooking Keselowski.

Stages Right

Stage racing continues to produce unexpected results. For example: Who would have imagined it would prompt a lapped car to bump the race leader out of the way?

That’s exactly what Ricky Stenhouse Jr. did at the end of Stage 2, sending Kyle Busch up the track and costing Busch a potentially valuable bonus point for the playoffs this fall.

Stenhouse said he wouldn’t normally make such a move because “You respect the leader.” But knowing a caution was about to come, he said, made him go for it.

“It’s as hard as I could drive,” Stenhouse said. “I’ve got sponsors, fans and a team to take care of. I had to stay on the lead lap. That was a turning point in the race. If (Busch) laps (Austin Dillon, who was the next car in line) and we’re stuck a lap down, it could ruin our race. So I drove as hard as I could, and it paid off for us.”

Stenhouse ended up with a 10th-place finish — his second top-10 in three weeks. He said he planned to nudge Busch just enough to get the lap back, but “didn’t mean to give up the win for him in that stage.”

Busch wasn’t impressed by the move. He said Stenhouse should expect payback, particularly since — in his mind — the bump wasn’t necessary. The defending race winner explained he intended to give Stenhouse a lane and allow the driver to get his lap back at the line; instead, Stenhouse “just drove through me,” Busch said.

“I was trying to be a nice guy,” Busch said. “But nice guys don’t finish first.”

Crew chiefs getting tire-d

Why in the world did Jamie McMurray stay out when it seemed obvious his severe tire rub was going to result in a flat — one that ended up wrecking his car?

Well, because the team — like many others that have gotten burned in similar ways before — thought the tire rub might go away.

Another part of the reason not to pit, McMurray said, was “If we pit and we lose three laps, you are never going to make those up here.”

The problem is, that’s not really true. Drivers have come back from incidents that put them multiple laps down at Martinsville, because there are so many cautions that wavearounds and even free passes are likely here.

This honestly isn’t to pick on crew chief Matt McCall or McMurray’s team, because this seems to happen every few weeks: A driver gets damage from another car or from brushing the wall, resulting in a tire rub; then, either because the team thinks it will go away or because it’s praying for a longshot caution, the driver stays out and ends up wrecked when the tire blows.

But these teams are really out-thinking themselves if that’s the case. Points for finishing 25th and laps down are still way better than last-place points after a wreck.

If it’s a minor tire rub like Kyle Busch had? Yes, that can go away. But when there’s THAT much smoke? I’m not an expert, but PIT, damn it! The tire isn’t going to heal itself.

Cash me ousside

Holy crap, did you see that outside lane working at Martinsville? They’ve been racing here for 70 YEARS, and the outside lane has never been a viable option (as far as I know) until Sunday. The new tire Goodyear brought laid rubber in the top lane, and Busch seemed to pioneer a new strategy of making the outside work.

Team radios were abuzz with spotters and crew chiefs telling their drivers about Busch’s line, and others seemed to try the same thing with some degree of success. Keselowski even made the outside lane work on a late restart.

Of course, it’s not like drivers have never made passes on the outside (Tony Stewart passed Jimmie Johnson that way for a win in 2011) — but it’s just never been the preferred way around.

And it wasn’t necessarily better than the bottom on Sunday, but at least it became an option. There was only one time all day where I noticed a driver hit the brakes to try and get the low line on a restart after pit stops, so that was an improvement.

It’s worth wondering whether setups can be geared to run that way in the fall, when the playoff race will have much more importance.


Hey, how about JTG-Daugherty Racing?

Sixth-place AJ Allmendinger had his best finish on a non-plate oval track since, well, this race last year (he finished second that day).

And second-year driver Chris Buescher, in his first season at JTG, finished 11th — his best result since a fifth-place run last fall at Bristol.

“We needed a good run,” Allmendinger said. “I actually felt like a race car driver today. That was a lot of fun.”

Maybe all is not lost for Allmendinger, who had a miserable start to the season after a 35-point penalty and three-race suspension for crew chief Randall Burnett, who returned Sunday. He moved up four spots to 26th in points (Buescher is 27th) and there are still two road courses ahead for Allmendinger.

12 Questions with AJ Allmendinger

The 12 Questions interview series continues this week with AJ Allmendinger of JTG-Daugherty Racing. I spoke to Allmendinger at Phoenix International Raceway.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

I would say 50-50. You’ve got to have natural ability to be here for sure. When you’re at the top level, you’re racing against the best in the world. With that said, the difference between the top and the bottom is very tiny. So you’ve got to really work at it to keep trying to hone your skills and especially as they keep changing packages figure out what makes these race cars fast.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards have all retired in the last couple years. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

Nice hair. We’ll just go with that. Nice hair.

Do you give out free gel samples?

No, I still need a gel sponsor. I get a gel sponsor, and I’ll start giving out free samples.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

For me, it’s the mental strain of it. Whether or it’s good or bad, you’re always thinking about it. Especially when it’s bad.

There’s a lot that comes with the job — sponsor obligations and having to do things like that. So it’s hard at times to put on a good face when you’re struggling to figure out where you need to get better.

More than anything, especially since it’s every week and you’re racing every weekend and there’s so much going on, for me it’s the mental side of it. It’s hard, especially when you put a couple of bad weeks together and it kind of steamrolls.

I always tell people for sure it’s one of the best jobs in the world and it gives me a great life. All the things I want to do, I get to go do. But at the same point, it feels like the worst job in the world because you put so much into it and it feels like you get gut-punched half the time. Especially as I get older, I think that’s probably the toughest thing: I can’t let it go. It’s always there.

4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Depends on how hungry I am. If I’m really hungry, they probably shouldn’t come near me, because I won’t be the nicest person. I would make sure they come over after I’ve eaten, because I’ll definitely be in a lot more pleasant mood.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

I think everything gets too much coverage at times.

We overdo it on everything?

It’s everything. Everything gets covered so much now. There’s so many media outlets to cover everything. The only thing I’d think sometimes is when you’ve got drivers that are doing well and certain incidents happen that take away from guys doing well, I think that gets covered too much. But it’s the world we live in — we want those fights. We want those arguments. We want those rivalries. So I think that’s what we go to first.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Most of the drivers don’t like me, so I don’t really have to text back and forth.

Why do you say that?

Because I’m not a real pleasant person most of the time, and I was raised in a world where my dad taught me, “We bring our friends to the racetrack. We don’t come to make friends.” I think the last driver I texted was Tony Stewart, because I love me some Tony. We went back and forth, especially at Homestead, his final race.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

We definitely live in an entertainment business. I wouldn’t call us entertainers. Hopefully we bring entertainment to the people watching — otherwise they’re not going to watch. And to a certain degree, you don’t want boring racing because nobody is going to want to watch that. But I don’t want to say we’re entertainers; we’re race car drivers.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

Use it as much as I can. The thing is, nobody really knows I’m flipping them off because my arms are really short. So when I stick my finger out the window, it’s really just the tip of my finger so nobody knows I’m flipping them off. I try to wear white gloves, so if they do see me flipping them off, they’re going to see it a little easier.

The problem is now we have an in-car cam a lot, so I’ve got to tone it back a little bit. I make sure my team reminds me whether we’ve got an in-car cam that weekend or not to know if I can flip out inside the car without anyone seeing.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Definitely. It’s one of those things where you race how they race you and how you want to be raced. There are certain guys you just know are going to race you harder than others. But you also know you get to certain guys and you’ve got that relationship where it’s that give and take. (And) you know at the end of the race, no matter what, the rules are off.

Tony Stewart was a perfect example. The first couple years, about every other race, he tried to come down and kill me because, as he told me, I was doing something really stupid. I think it was Dover, we got to one race, and he beat on me a little bit and we were having a great run and I got tired of it and I drilled him, and after the race, he comes stomping down.

I thought, “Alright, here we go again. I’m getting first punch in though, because if he gets his hands around me, it could be trouble.” And he slapped me on the back and said, “That’s how we race!” And he walked away, and ever since that time, we were racing each other fine. It’s definitely a give and take, and you have a list of who raced you how and how difficult it’s going to be.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

I don’t have a lot of famous people that I’m — I’m really to myself, so I’ve got a really small group of friends. Jeff, I don’t have a good answer for you. I don’t have anybody famous I’ve done dinner with.

You might be the most famous person you’ve done dinner with, apparently.

I guess, and I really tried to hide that fact.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

(Laughs) Everything? Except my hair. We can go back to the hair thing. The hair is pretty good.

You’re really selling yourself short in this interview. You’re saying you’re not pleasant and hard to like and difficult.

It’s been a rough few weeks, man. And I’ve spent about three days in Vegas, so my energy level is quite down.

No, there’s so much to improve. The good side of it is I’ve somewhat got a good heart. I love animals, so we’ve got that. The people I truly care about and they care about me, I try to show my appreciation in every way possible. There’s just a lot to improve on, let’s just put it that way.

12. Ryan Newman was the last interview. His question for you was if you could build any type of racetrack — oval or road course — what would be the ideal racetrack?

That would be fun. It would be definitely a road course. Just add all the famous corners you could figure out — whether it was the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca, the top of the (mountain) at Bathurst, Mulsanne Straight (at Le Mans). Just try to take all those cool corners from so many different racetracks throughout the world and just put it together and have one really badass racetrack. That’s what would be ideal.

There’s a golf course in Myrtle Beach like that, right? With the best holes in the world?

They’ve got a few golf courses set up throughout the U.S. that I know of like that. Kind of the same deal.

Do you have a question for the next interview?

If they had to be one animal, what animal would they be and why?

Do NASCAR tracks really have four turns?

It’s been 13 years since I covered my first NASCAR race, but there’s something I’ve never understood about the sport.

Why does everyone say there are four turns at most tracks when there really seem to be two?

I get it at Indianapolis — there are four distinct turns separated by straightaways. But at Daytona? It seems like there are two giant turns (maybe three if you count the trioval).

And if that seems like a stretch, can you really say Martinsville has four turns? It’s two drag strips connected by a pair of turns.

Anyway, Daytona 500 Media Day seemed like a good time to try and get to the bottom of this. I’m not sure I did, but I hope you enjoy the video below: