This past weekend, Penske Racing announced that they have added Long Beach later this month to A.J. Allmendinger’s 2013 IndyCar schedule.
Originally, he was only scheduled to run at Barber Motorsports Park (he finished 19th) and then the Indianapolis 500 in May. However, Tim Cindric, president of Penske Racing, felt it was important to give Allmendinger more seat time before Indianapolis.
“As the emotions get into it and Roger (Penske)’s commitment to the organization, we don’t want to go into Indianapolis any less prepared than we can be,” Cindric said. “AJ has continued to gel with the team and it’s worth the investment for us to have him run at a place where he’s already run. (Barber) is a whole different place for him, and the effort you need to find that couple of tenths (of a second) is maybe different than a place like Long Beach where he’s already comfortable and it’s just a matter of learning the car. He’s learning the car here and he’s learning the track.”
Allmendinger is looking forward to racing at Long Beach as it means more time in the car practicing pit stops and all that jazz.
“It’s exciting; I’ve always missed that race since I left,” Allmendinger said. “Being a California native it was always a fun race to go to. Just to have another race under my belt at a place I’ve fairly familiar with I’m looking forward to it.”
They do not have a sp0nsor for Long Beach, however Cindric says they are open to sponsors. If no sponsor comes, it will be something Penske affiliated on the car.
Beyond Indianapolis, they may be the possibility of more races added to the schedule. Cindric says they will evaluate things after Indy.
The deal with Penske Racing came after last year’s disappointment on the NASCAR side of things. Allmendinger failed a drug test mid-season, after taking a drug that was given to him by a friend. The friend told him it was an energy supplement, but it was actually Adderall.
Once Allmendinger was cleared to return to the track, he began racing for Phoenix Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series as Roger Penske and team had already put Hornish Jr. in their Nationwide Series car with Logano plagued as Allmendinger’s replacement in Cup.
Allmendinger is still running some NASCAR races this year, though with only scheduled to run a small amount, the opportunity came about with Penske for Indy.
“Everything I’ve said about (Roger Penske) probably is the biggest understatement,” Allmendiner said. “I just feel fortunate to have a guy like that care about me so much. I’m not going to ask him why, because I don’t want him to question his own mind, but I feel very lucky.”
In his return to IndyCar racing on Sunday, Allmendinger was running just outside of the top 10 when he stalled in the pits on the final stop. As a result, he finished 19th.
“All around, I thought that day went fairly well – up until that stop,” he commented after the race. “I knew that going to two sets to those guys three would hurt us. Trying to learn how this is going. Fell like we’d finish 11thor 12th but stalled in the pits. Don’t know why. It wouldn’t rev up and as soon as I put the clutch in, it just stalled. At the end, we pitted so early that we had to save fuel that whole stint. Proud of Penske for all of their hard work. Thanks to Roger for this opportunity.”
Allmendinger has previous open wheel experience, having ran the Champ Car series from 2004 to 2006. In 40 starts, he had five wins and 14 podiums. Now, it’s all about getting reaccumulated with the open-wheel car.
“I’m still learning it,” he admitted. “I’m nowhere where I want to be when it comes to being competitive. I want to go out there and contend to win races. It’s been tough, and this series, especially in the IZOD IndyCar Series, there’s no hacks out there. The men and women that drive in this series, it is so competitive now, it’s by far ‑‑ at that point when I used to race Champ Car, obviously the two series were split, so you had some of the best drivers split amongst two series, and now that it’s one series and everybody in the series is so fast, it’s competitive.”
Allmendinger was supposed to get his first look at Indianapolis behind the wheel with rookie orientation this week, but that was postponed due to the weather forecast. There were concerns that possibly Allmendinger’s NASCAR schedule would interfere, but Allmendinger says that won’t be the case.
“The IndyCar thing, especially with everything that comes to (the) Indy 500 in general, that’s the most important thing,” he said. “The good thing is that Phoenix Racing has worked with me, and Roger and James Finch, especially, to make sure that everything kind of lined up, and James knows that the Indy car, just everything that comes along with it whatever race, not just Indy but anything that comes up on the schedule, that takes priority.”
Rookie orientation has been rescheduled for the Friday right before the start of the two weeks at Indy, which Allmendinger says maybe is a good thing. He says he can now focus solely on Indy right after that orientation instead of having orientation and then a couple Sprint Cup races in between.
When asked about what his expectations are moving forward, Allmendinger said it’s simple – he want to win races.
“As I stated many times now, I don’t want to waste Roger’s time,” he said. “I don’t want to waste IZOD’s time, I don’t want to waste anybody’s time at this organization to go out there and just go run around laps and try to learn. I want to go out there and compete right away.”
He added that getting laps in the car at Barber and now at Long Beach is all about winning at Indy.
“That’s why I’m there,” he continued. “That’s why Roger hired me is to have the expectations to win. Like I said, the good thing there is you get a lot of time to go out there and learn the racetrack and go through the days of practice and go into qualifying and then get the race setup.”
For Allmendinger, the pressure is high and there because he considers the Indianapolis 500 as the biggest race in the world.
“It’s the Indianapolis 500, and for me to get to run it first of all is just a dream come true,” he said. “I always wanted to run the race and just never got a chance to, and secondly, to be able to do that with Roger Penske and walk out of Gasoline Alley and be introduced wearing an IZOD Penske Racing suit is something special, and no matter what happens during the race obviously I want to go out there and try to win the race, but no matter what happens just to be able to say that I was there as a Penske driver at the Indianapolis 500, it’s pretty special and I’ll always hold that with me.”
Before he goes to Indy, he will run the NASCAR race at Richmond after the Indy event at Long Beach.
“For me it’s just trying to race as much as possible, whether it’s in IndyCar or a stock car or anything that goes with that, just as much as I can being inside a race car,” he said. “I feel like it just keeps helping me get better and better no matter what car I’m in.”