In the Fast Lane with AJ Allmendinger

On the track, AJ Allmedinger is a tenacious competitor who could be described as something of a perfectionist. Appreciative of the opportunity that he earned with Tad and Jodi Geschickter as well as Brad Daugherty in a full-time capacity since 2014, the No. 47 Bush’s Beans/Kroger’s Chevrolet SS has been a fixture at the front of the field at a plethora of races.

Whether it’s the winding turns of Watkins Glen International or the bullring at Martinsville, Allmendinger is intense, aggressive, strategic, and passionate with making the most of his race days.  He acknowledges the growing pains that they’ve experienced as they continually seek for constant, consistent growth as an emerging front running contender for race wins and a spot in The Chase.

That said, he expressed optimism and confidence that his No. 47 team, with new crew chief Randall Burnett, and the hardworking personnel, at the shop and on the road during race weekends, are focused on big picture gains.

As skillful as Allmendinger is with his racing efforts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, he’s just as precise and insightful as he is with his role as an analyst on FOX Sports 1’s NASCAR Race Hub.

Working with hosts Danielle Trotta and Adam Alexander as well as crew chief analysts Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond, there’s a sense of camaraderie and family for the Californian during his appearances.  After all, the paint trading ways of stock car racing is adequate practice for some playful jests and witty remarks.

To say the least, Allmendinger has found a comfortable home in the world of NASCAR, whether it’s in the driver’s seat or within the community when he interacts with race fans and yes, even the press.

There’s always the nice escapes like golfing or even his new role as a “parent” to Mr. Tickles, a feline companion that his girlfriend Tara Meador, and his mother Karen found while he was working on Race Hub.  The story of how he became a member of their family is about as heartwarming as it is humorous with how his feline friend was named.

Recently, I caught up with Allmendinger during the Bad Boy Off Road 300 race weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.  For a driver who concluded the first practice session of the day, you’d think it was like catching up with an old friend rather than shop talk.

Needless to say, we’d like to say: AJ, perhaps our readers or even yours truly will have to take up your offer on that cook-off if you’ll follow us on Twitter!  That said, let’s get to it as we go “In the Fast Lane with AJ Allmendinger” right now on The Podium Finish!

Rob Tiongson :  AJ, I won’t start off with a competition question, but I’ve got to ask you, how did you get to meet Mr. Tickles and bring him to your family? (laughter)

AJ and his girlfriend Tara celebrating last Christmas with their newest family member - Mr. Tickles! (Photo Credit: AJ Allmendinger via Twitter)

AJ and his girlfriend Tara celebrating last Christmas with their newest family member – Mr. Tickles! (Photo Credit: AJ Allmendinger via Twitter)

AJ Allmendinger :  Ah, Mr. Tickles! I will first off say that I am not against cats.  I was not a huge cat person.  I was always a dog person.  I love animals but dogs are my favorite.  I happen to be doing Race Hub on FOX Sports 1 one day and my mom and Tara, my girlfriend, texted me that they found this cat under this dumpster from this house being built across the street.  They were trying to get him out.

I come home, the cat doesn’t want out still.  You can see that he was really small and it turned out that he was 0.8 pounds and just over four weeks old.  After about three hours of trying to drag his little cat butt out, we finally got him and put him in the bath tub that night and put some blankets around him.  He was pretty scared obviously.

The next morning, my girlfriend took him to the vet, figured he probably had some worms or something, and the next thing you know, the vet’s like, “No, he’s just hungry.  He’s good to go.”  My girlfriend was like, “What are we going to do with him?  He’s so cute but we can’t keep him.”  I was like, “Why can’t we keep him?”  She’s like, “We travel every weekend.”  I’m like, “Why don’t we call the airline that we fly on and see if they’re opposed to cats coming on the plane?”  We called them and they’re like, “No, we’d love to have Mr. Tickles!”

Next thing you know, we picked a bag up, and his first day with us, he was flying to Watkins Glen.  He loves to ride in cars and he comes with us every weekend.

RT :  You’re very lucky because I can tell you from experience because they don’t like to travel and fly.  You are a lucky young man!

AA :  He didn’t know any different, right? (laughter) His first real experience, we threw him in a car and let him run around.  We taught him that this was the way it was going to be.  We’ve got a cat backpack that he slides in and he sleeps on the plane.

It’s good entertainment.  We can’t really have a dog because the airline that we fly on, it’s not really dog friendly and we travel so much.  It’s good entertainment.  He’s funny, he’s cute, he’s got some anger problems like I do. (laughs)

It’s good entertainment just to go back to the bus after a good or bad session and play with him and hang out at home.  It’s good entertainment.  My girlfriend and I get bored of each other so we need the entertainment.

RT :  I suppose you do.  It’s kind of like having a kid.

AA :  I don’t know about that so no.  I’m saying that this is better than having a kid.

RT :  I respect that.  Now I’ve got to ask you, who came up with the name for him?

AA :  That was definitely my girlfriend Tara, because she’s had a lot of cats.  She’s always said that every cat has to have a funny name because if you’re mad at them, and you yell out, “Mr. Tickles,” how made can you really be?  That was her idea and I let her run with it.  She’s also the one that walks him on a leash as well.

RT :  I wish I could do that with my cat Claudia because I want to bring her to a race but I don’t think she’d like the sounds of the cars too much.

AA :  Yea, he’s kind of OK with the sounds of the cars.  It’s kind of weird.  We’ve been to a couple of different race tracks.  Darlington was the last one where the bus lot is literally inside turn three and four and he didn’t like that.  As soon as it gets quiet, he comes back out and he’s fine.

RT :  Not going to competition questions yet but what’s it’s like to work on NASCAR Race Hub?  Do you find that you can pick up on some things from the races and learn some things about yourself?

Allmendinger, the competitive racer and racing analyst!

Allmendinger, the competitive racer and racing analyst!

AA :  It’s interesting.  I love the show.  Danielle Trotta, Adam Alexander, most of the time, I work with Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond, the whole crew there, it’s a lot of fun.  We rib each other pretty hard but we have a lot of fun with it.  It’s good and bad because on a bad weekend, it’s tough to go talk about somebody who won just won a race.  (chuckles)

I’m too competitive for myself to be able to just be an analyst and say, “OK, that doesn’t bother me.”  There’s the good and bad with it.  It’s a fun show and it is interesting to sometimes see what happens in a race.

I’ll come in and we’ll be getting ready for the show, and they’ll show me some clips of what happened and I’m like, “When did that happen?”  It’s fun to be able to look back on the race.  For the most part, it’s really fun and it’s just hard to separate it sometimes from the racecar driver inside of me.

RT :  Do you try to plead with them to not be the Radio Sweetheart?

AA :  Ha!  I’ve done pretty good.  They joke pretty hard to me about some of the stuff I say and I’m like, “I haven’t even been up for Radio Sweetheart yet!”  There are some good ones.

They make sure to get a clip of me saying something.  I can be the calmest person through 350 laps but that one lap that I go off on something, they’re like, “See, there he was!”  I’m like, “That wasn’t me the whole race!” (laughter) They do that on purpose they say.

RT :  Sorry about that!  Now I understand that you have a penchant for the game of golf.  Would you say that if you weren’t a racecar driver, that we’d call you AJ Allmendinger, PGA golfer?

AA :  Not with my golf game, no.  (laughs) Definitely wouldn’t be on the PGA tour.  I’d like to be.  I love golf and it’s something that I’ve probably taken seriously in the past three or four years.  We’ve got a lot of guys that golf so it’s fun after a practice session or something to get some time to go play.

To me, it’s still that competition inside, and golf, especially, because it’s really just on you.  It’s the mental competition side of it.  It’s a stupid white ball that sits and laughs at you while you’re trying to swing the heck out of a club and drill it. (laughs)

You learn a lot out there and the mental side of it, to play 18 holes and stay in it with 18 holes, it’s tough to do.  It’s like one of these races.  It’s four hours long and I like that challenge sometimes.

RT :  If you had to pick a golf course that’s like New Hampshire Motor Speedway, since you’re the golf expert between the two of us, which one would it be?

Despite the outfits, Allmendinger takes his golfing quite seriously! (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Despite the outfits, Allmendinger takes his golfing quite seriously! (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

AA :  Oh, that’s a good one!  There’s a lot of golf courses that’s on the bucket list.  Just recently, I played the Pebble courses, Spanish Bay, and Spyglass.  I would say…to me, we played Pinehurst, the Pinehurst, Pinehurst No. 4.  That’s a tough course.

I compare it to that because when you look at it, there’s not a lot of danger on it.  There’s no water on the course.  There’s just a lot of marsh but it’s tough to lose a golf ball.  It can be the longest round of your life because one little mistake and you can get yourself in trouble.

It’s like New Hampshire.  Speeds aren’t overly high.  You look at it and go, “Yea, it’s a flat racetrack but there’s not a lot to it.”  But then you get on and go, “What in the heck are we driving around?  This place is difficult and it’s a challenge.”  I’ll go with that.

RT :  I understand that Bush’s Beans has a chili competition coming soon.  Talk a bit about that and what role you’ll have with it.

If you love beans, it just might get you to Miami! (Photo Credit: Jennifer Chapple)

If you love beans, it just might get you to Miami! (Photo Credit: Jennifer Chapple)

AA :  Yea, I get to be a judge of that at the finals!  It’s basically five different competitions and the winner of each one gets to come out to Martinsville and have their chili cook-off against the champion.  It’s something we’re fortunate with all of the sponsors that we have.

Every sponsor that’s on this race team likes to activate and do cool things for fans, for sponsors, and for their products.  Bush’s Beans did their first chili cook-off at Harrisburg.  Go to @NASCAR47 and you can sign up.  It’s way easier than remembering websites.

Rob, if you’ve got a chili recipe that you’d like to try, you can get in one of these competitions and maybe you can make it to Martinsville in the cook-off.  I know that Dave Moody likes to put peanut butter in his chili, just a dab, but I find that nasty!

RT :  Well, my father is a great cook.  Maybe we can do a little Filipino twist to it!

AA :  There you go.  It’s your challenge, right?  Whatever you’ve got to do to be in the competition.

RT :  Exactly!  Just a few more questions before you think we’re crazy…

AA :  I already knew that.  I watch you on Twitter.

RT :  Really?  You read our stuff?

AA :  I do.  Yea, I watch you every now and then. (laughter)

RT :  I know it’s been a kind of up and down year for you.  You had that impressive runner-up at Martinsville and the top-five at Watkins Glen.  What would make you very happy with goals for the end of the season?  Do you see yourself winning a few races before the year concludes?

Allmendinger is a multitasking wizard. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Allmendinger is a multitasking wizard. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

AA :  I think it’s just trying to improve.  This sport’s really tough because it’s always changing.  The big teams, they’re always finding ways to keep getting better and better.  The ultimate goal is to win every race that you’re at and if it’s not, then we shouldn’t be here.  In the end, it’s just trying to improve.  What I find difficult is the fact that if you always just judge it off where you’re at in points and stuff, sometimes, you can look at it and go, “Maybe we’re not as good.”

I look at 2014.  We finished 13th in points but we were a 25th place team.  Last year, we made small improvements but we didn’t make the gains that we wanted to going into this year.  This year, I feel like we’ve got a lot better racecars.  Our personnel is getting better and better.  Everything that’s just happening with the race team is just positive things.

It’s tough and it’s such a long season when you go through a stretch of races that you struggle at.  We have good tracks that we know we have to work on and some tracks, like Martinsville and places like that, where we can go possibly win the race.  We have some bad racetracks.

Loudon is a place that we haven’t been really been good at it over the last couple of years.  If we judge it off first practice, I think we already made gains.  It’s just about making gains.  I really do believe we’re way ahead of where we’ve been the last two years.

Sometimes, you can’t always judge what you’re looking at in points but we’re getting there.  I’m not the best guy when it comes to being patient.  I always want more and more now.  Tad and Jodi and everybody on this team, they’re taking the right steps and I really like what’s happening.  It’s not about a points spot.

Of course, you’d like to be as high as you can at the end of the year.  I think it’s just taking these last nine races and taking the racetracks where we’ve really been good at and saying, “Hey, let’s go have a chance to win this.”  For the tracks that maybe we haven’t been so good at and saying, “You know what, a top-15 today is a great run for us compared to where we’ve been around here.”  That’s what we’ve got to look at.

RT :  I like that!  Our last question comes from Ashley Hobbs, our associate editor.  If you could be a driver/team owner, aside from a few friends from the open wheel and sports car series, which drivers would you hire, which drivers would you like to retire with when you’re a little older, and which drivers would you have on your team despite the fact they’ll be annoying as all hell?

AA :  Oh wow!  Wow.  That’s a good question.  What series are we racing in when we’re doing this?  That’s the question.

RT :  Oh, ok.  Let’s make it…well, what’s your favorite series?

AA :  Well, NASCAR, obviously! (chuckles)

RT :  NAS-CAR! (laughter)

AA :  NASCAR!  (laughs)  I would say…in NASCAR racing, you look at a driver, if you’re trying to build a race team around it, I would look at guys like Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney…those types of guys that you would really want to start building a race team around.

There’s so many great competitors in this series so it’s kind of hard.  You look at a guy like Joey Logano and you go, “He’s got to be old as hell now, right?”  No, I think he’s like 27.  Guys like that, it’s tough but those young kids, the Chase Elliotts, Kyle Larsons, and Ryan Blaneys, those types of guys, I think that’s what you want to start a team around.

If you want to go win right now and make it happen, Kevin Harvick, to me, is the guy that you want on your team.  He’s just so good at every form of track that we go to.  A guy like him or Kyle Busch for sure.  Guys I’d like to retire with?  Well, it depends on how much money I have and how much fun they want to have…

RT :  It can include past drivers.

Allmendinger is signing contracts for his dream team. Or not. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Allmendinger is signing contracts for his dream team. Or not. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

AA :  I don’t know.  We’ll put a hold on the retirement question, I don’t know if I really want to talk about that.  Guys that are just a pain in the butt that are still really good…they’re all a pain in the butt to me!  I don’t like any of them.  (laughter)

See, that’s what’s tough about NASCAR.  Everybody races each other real hard.  I look at a guy like Ryan Newman.  He’s probably the hardest guy to race on the racetrack.  When it comes to the engineering side of building a race team and a racecar, I think he’s probably underestimated about that because he graduated from Purdue, and he’s got an engineering background.

So a guy like that, where you’re like, “He’s a pain in the butt to be around,” you hate racing around him but what he can do for a race team on keeping the engineering side of it, especially if that’s the side that they need help on, a guy like that is probably pretty important.

With open wheel racing, in IndyCar, I still look at a guy like Simon Pagenuad or Will Power.  They’re pretty amazing.  Scott Dixon, with as many championships as he’s got, is probably the most underestimated guy I’ve ever seen.  He gets in everything he drives and wheels the heck out of it.  On the open wheel side, that’s who I’d pick.

Author’s Notes :  Special thanks to AJ, Jennifer Chapple of JTG Daugherty Racing, and the kind folks with the No. 47 team, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and NASCAR for this much anticipated follow up interview! Photos accompanying this piece are courtesy of AJ Allmendinger, Jennifer Chapple, and Jeremy Thompson whereas noted.

Be sure to “Follow” AJ and the No. 47 team on their respective Twitter accounts and the No. 47 team’s Facebook!  

As mentioned, Bush’s Beans is sponsoring a cook-off competition in which the winners from each event duke it out in a regional cook-off during the October race weekend at Martinsville where they’ll be feted by AJ and his No. 47 team!  The grand prize is a trip to the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway!

If the fall has you down and beans makes you happy, or if you’d like to learn more about the Bush’s Beans Cook-off competition, be sure to follow the No. 47 team on Twitter as well as visiting the official website for more details!  

The next competition will be on Saturday, October 1st at 260 14th Avenue NE, Hickory, NC 28601.  Registration must be submitted prior to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on September 30, 2016.  The remaining competitions will be held at the following locations:

·        Clemmons, N.C. event at 2501 Lewisville Clemmons Road, Clemmons, NC 27012 on October 8, 2016: Registration must be submitted prior to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on October 7, 2016.

·        Southern Pines, N.C. event at 1740 Old Morganton Road, Southern Pines, NC 28387 on October 15, 2016: Registration must be submitted prior to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on October 14, 2016.

·        Greer, S.C. event at 850 East Suber Road, Suite 200, Greer, SC 29650 on October 22, 2016: Registration must be submitted prior to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on October 21, 2016.

Good luck to prospective competitors on the cook-off and to AJ and his No. 47 team on a strong finish to 2016!

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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