In the Hot Seat with AJ Allmendinger (Part I)

With five wins and a solid shot with this year's NASCAR XFINITY Series championship, AJ Allmendinger is all smiles. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

With five wins and a solid shot with this year’s NASCAR XFINITY Series championship, AJ Allmendinger is all smiles. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

There’s no doubt that AJ Allmendinger possesses plentiful heart, determination and passion. While the 39-year-old Los Gatos, California native enjoys his best year yet in NASCAR, he’s the first with attributing his success to his No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet team.

By all means, Allmendinger and crew chief Jason Trinchere bring their A game regardless of the circuit type on any given weekend. Although most recognize the talented racer as a road course specialist, he’s shown his prowess at the superspeedways and short tracks this year.

Beyond the intense and competitive attitude in the car, Allmendinger is amiable, witty and honest. With his great support system in wife Tara, his family and ardent supporters, the Californian continually elevates his game and approach as a sporty stock car wheelman.

A few months ago, Allmendinger was “In the Hot Seat” as he came off his wins at Las Vegas and Mid-Ohio. After more victories at Michigan and Bristol in the regular season, Allmendinger earned a competitive, memorable win at the Charlotte ROVAL.

All in all, Allmendinger’s five wins, 17 top fives and 20 top 10 results result in a strong average finish of 9.3. Without a doubt, he’s taking the series by storm for the thriving Kaulig Racing outfit.

Earlier this week, I caught up with Allmendinger for his latest go around “In the Hot Seat.” For this latest interview, the tone shifted from a traditional approach into a conversation. Much like friends who catch up after a while, it’s quite clear to see how years of rapport made that shift quite easy.

In this case, as Allmendinger and I spoke in-depth, this latest “In the Hot Seat” will be a two part interview with the full interview slated for a future airing of “The Podium Finish Live!” on 88.3 FM “The Buzz.” Now, let’s get “In the Hot Seat” for the first of this two part interview with AJ Allmendinger!

Rob Tiongson : Alrighty, folks. Well, this is an another round of “In the Hot Seat” here for The Podium Finish Live! here on 88.3. FM “The Buzz” on St. Bonaventure radio. This is Rob Tiongson, once again joined by NASCAR XFINITY Series contender and stalwart of stock car racing, AJ Allmendinger.

AJ, it’s a pleasure to have you back on the show. How you been doing?

In the words of a Joe Walsh song, "Life's been good to me so far." (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

In the words of a Joe Walsh song, “Life’s been good to me so far.” (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

AJ Allmendinger : I’ve been doing great. It’s been a fantastic and fun year. And just been trying to take it all in and enjoy it. You know, as I’ve said many times now, you never know when it will happen again. So yeah, just just enjoying everything, the process of it and and so far, so good.

Tiongson : Absolutely. It’s always such a pleasure to watch your racing efforts and cover it over the years. And it’s been quite the ride for sure. So I got my questions ready, and lined up, and we’re going to get right into it to talk about the Playoffs.

So again, congratulations on advancing into the Round of 8. You know, since we last talked, you tallied three more wins with the ones at Michigan, Bristol, and of course, the ROVAL at Charlotte. So, first of all, how pumped up are you about this incredible ride that you’ve been on with your 16? team and with crew chief Jason Trinchiere?

No doubt that AJ Allmendinger cherishes this incredible season. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

No doubt that AJ Allmendinger cherishes this incredible season. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Allmendinger : Yeah, it’s been, it’s been great. I mean, great’s an understatement. So you know, I didn’t really know what to expect going into the year. Obviously, you always have expectations of you want to go out there and be at your best and win races. But you know what that that set number was or anything like that. I didn’t.

I didn’t truly know what to expect and have a number set, I just wanted to keep trying to get better and hopefully be in contention and have chances to win races and, you know, be one of the cars in front. So I think we’ve done a really good job of that.

You know, through the season, we’ve had some ups and downs of outright speeds and race car. And you know what, it could have shadows, we could add a couple more. But there’s also probably a couple that we stole there when wise, and then you know, to top it off with the Cup win at Indy as well.

It’s been really just something I had always dreamed about and never expected, especially over the last couple years. So all around, it’s been amazing, no matter what happens the rest of the playoffs.

It doesn’t take away that of the year that we’ve had. But of course at the end of the day, you’d love to be able to get to Phoenix and have a shot at the championship. And that’s the ultimate goal. So that’s what we’re working hard towards.

Tiongson : For sure. You’ve mentioned about kind of the ups and downs that comes with racing and how you’ve kind of taken it all in mentally and of course on the racetrack. And obviously, you’ve gotten the great results this year. And those memorable wins.

You know, kind of looking back at the Round of 12, for instance, it was kind of like a microcosm of how racing has its ups and downs. So you started off with a seventh at Las Vegas before you had the 39th place finish at Talladega because of the lap 24 crash. But then you went into the ROVAL race weekend and you punched your way into the Playoffs with that win.

So when you have those pendulum swings like you and your team experienced, how do you manage your mindset and your emotions so that you’re refreshed for those next races?

Boom. Confetti. (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

Boom. Confetti. (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

Allmendinger : Yeah, that’s a good question. I probably not the best one to answer that because I don’t think I do a good job of that sometimes I keep trying to be better at it. But overall you don’t want to just everything that I’ve experienced in my life and all the years of racing you always try to say you don’t want the highs get too high lows get too low well you know I’ve been at some of the lowest points and I know how that feels.

So I really when we’ve had success and especially the races that we’ve won, I’ve got to take it in a lot more than that I have in the past life where you’re you’re you win and that’s fine and great and then all of a sudden it’s like the next day clicks over and immediately you’re focusing on the next one.

I just truly try to enjoy the victories, you know, at home with my family, you know, at the shop with all the men and women at Kaulig Racing with Chris Rice and Matt Kaulig, we go do fun stuff. Like we golf every time after a win. We go somewhere and wherever that may be and and go out and have a good time with it. So we’ve definitely enjoyed the success because you just don’t know when when that will end. So I’ve really tried to enjoy that.

You know, the lows, you just, you take it as it comes. You know, it’s one of those things that I think it helps knowing that even when we’ve had some disappointments, for the most part, we’ve always had speed in the race cars. Maybe not race winning speed in those certain races, but we’ve had a lot of speed.

And you just know, “OK, well, we got to clean up some areas or we got to execute better or it’s just pure bad luck. And that’s a part of it.” So Talladega was a race that, I mean, I go and I’ve had some bad wrecks there. I’ve had some some good finishes. It’s superspeedway racing, you expect the unexpected at times. I probably expect the worst because I know what happens there. And yeah, that was a disappointment to get caught up. But it was nothing I could control. I was just out there and got caught up in a wreck. And that happens. And it was disappointing.

But with that said, I knew we were going to the ROVAL. And we had to be smart to kind of race for points early in the race. But at the end of the day, if we did the right stuff during the stages, we had a shot to go win the race. And that’s what we did.

So yeah, the first round was kind of (filled with) some ups and downs. But you know, that’s why you worked so hard the regular season to get those bonus points so you can have a down (day) and it doesn’t just kind of bury you in the points.

Tiongson : Kind of like your golfing game sometimes where you might have a little bit of a handicap. So that is you know, one of those little holes goes badly, you can say “OK, well the next one, I’ll definitely get a birdie out of this or maybe do even better than before.”

Allmendinger : I don’t know about that, Rob. My golf game is more up and down than my racing right now.

Tiongson : (laughs) I just have to tease you there. Giving it back to you! I can play that game for you know, my friend. Now, it seems like you work so well with your team. I mean, it’s no secret that your son, Justin Haley, he really loves working with you. And you’ve got your teammate in Jeb Burton as well.

You know, racing is so competitive. And there’s not a lot of time that you can spend with your teammates. But you know, when you’re on the track, and just before the race is, of course, you try to coalesce with them. So with how competitive things are in NASCAR and outside of Kaulig, what is it like to build upon the team chemistry you have this year?

The cat dad salutes his racing son. (Photo: Jonathan Huff | The Podium Finish)

The cat dad salutes his racing son. (Photo: Jonathan Huff | The Podium Finish)

Allmendinger : Yeah, I mean, with Justin, I’ve had a good relationship over for three years now. Even in the part time side of it, I was always trying to watch and help the best way I could or more than anything, be there if he had questions. And I mean, he’s got all the talent in the world. So, you know, I’ve just always let him know, I never want to be that person that you know, you force yourself on that person and say, “Oh, this is what I think.”

So I’m always just trying to let Justin know, especially like, “If you got questions or if you want to talk, I’m always here. If not, then I totally get it.” And we’ve worked really well together. And, at the end of the day, I think his vision is the same as mine.

And in the sense of trying to grow Kaulig, I think what he’s gonna do, moving on next year to the full time Cup car, is just gonna keep pushing the the Kaulig Racing organization to keep getting better. I mean, the reason why the XFINITY program’s where it’s at now, a lot of it is because of Justin Haley. So I love that relationship. And we try to take care of each other on the racetrack.

Sure, at the end of the day, you still want to beat each other, we’re still trying to go out there and win the championship for ourselves and for our team. But we also both know that it’s the bigger picture, we want Kaulig Racing to succeed. And if he wins, then I win. If I win, he wins. And Jeb, coming in this year, has bought into that culture as well.

And it’s been a lot of fun to work with Jeb. So you know, it’s the XFINITY side of it is tough, because sometimes you have. …XFINITY itself is, for the most part, you’re grooming young drivers to try to get to the Cup series. And sometimes, it’s hard to get drivers to buy in because they’re looking at that program as the next step to try to get to Cup. And they’re going to do whatever it takes to do that. But Justin’s done a great job with that. And so has Jeb.

Obviously, I’m at a different point in my career where I just love this team. And I’ve said it many times that I want to just keep trying to do everything that I can to help it grow. Whether that’s, you know, me in the Cup car, or me in an XFINITY car or me helping outside of the race car, so, it’s just been a great dynamic that I’ve really enjoyed.

Tiongson : It is really a great dynamic, and it’s so fun to watch you guys interact with each other, race against each other and achieve the results that’s been going on since you’ve been with the team on a part time basis back in 2019, and full time this year. And like I said to Justin, if you think about it, even though he’s only 22 years old, he is the most senior driver at Kaulig based on experience, so maybe he should be your father instead of the son.

Allmendinger is taking it to the streets....of Charlotte. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Allmendinger is taking it to the streets….of Charlotte. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Allmendinger : (chuckles) Yeah, I’ve I still got a lot of years on him in life and knowing how grueling this sport can be. So, I mean, it’s funny that you say that because it’s something that in our team meeting today, we’re talking about that, you know, I’m a rookie going to Kansas.

I haven’t been to Kansas in three years. I guess I didn’t know this. I was told I did a Kansas Busch race in 2007. But that doesn’t really count. (chuckles) So you know I’m going to a lot of these tracks for the first time in a long time and not have driven these cars. So, I mean it is. I gotta lean on Justin sometimes to to figure out what you know what the cars do.

I’m still learning every every race. I think that’s it’s a challenge sometimes because we’ve had a lot of success. So, sometimes you feel like, oh man, we run at Texas. For instance, you run sixth, you’re like, “Ah, that’s a disappointment.” Well, I mean, it’s not really cuz I’m still learning what what I want out of these cars that each racetrack that we go to, and there’s no practice.

So yeah, I mean, to a certain extent, you know, Justin leads that program because he’s been to these racetracks, he knows how. …where the cars were when he started and where they are now. So yeah, I mean, he does lead it for sure.

Editor’s Notes

Special thanks to AJ Allmendinger for taking the time this week for this latest “In the Hot Seat” interview! Also, special thanks to Carly Miktuk and Kaulig Racing for their assistance with this latest interview on The Podium Finish. You can keep track of AJ Allmendinger on his Twitter account and of course, here on TPF.

Stay tuned for Part II of my interview with Allmendinger coming soon here on The Podium Finish Live! on St. Bonaventure University’s WSBU 88.3 FM, “The Buzz!”

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 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 his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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