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In the Hot Seat with AJ Allmendinger

AJ Allmendinger is always amped up for some NASCAR Xfinity Series racing. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

AJ Allmendinger is always amped up for some NASCAR Xfinity Series racing. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

For the past 15 years, AJ Allmendinger has made a name for himself as one of the most tenacious, grittiest and determined drivers in NASCAR. In all honesty, Allmendinger pours his heart and soul into his motorsports efforts, regardless of the car and track.

Allmendinger continually excels and thrives with the spotlight on him and his No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevy team in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. At age 40, the Los Gatos, California native has as much fire and passion for racing as his younger counterparts.

Since joining Kaulig Racing in 2019, he’s showcased his competitiveness with three wins before going full-time in 2021. Last year, he battled for the championship on the strength of five victories, 18 top fives and 22 top 10 results before placing fourth in the standings.

After six races, Allmendinger recently earned his first victory of the year at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. With three top fives, six top 10 results and two poles, the popular racer is a single point behind leader Noah Gragson.

To say the least, Allmendinger wears his heart on his sleeves as he’s motivated not only be self interest, but for his support system. He battles on the track for his family, including his mother, Karen, his father, Greg, wife, Tara, and of course, Mr. Tickles, his cat, and canine companion, Xena.

When it comes to a driver who’s relatable, genuine and likable with the fans, Allmendinger epitomizes these qualities as a man of the people. Moreover, he fights hard on a weekly basis for his Kaulig Racing crew, an admirable trait in a sport that typically spotlights the drivers.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve caught up with the Los Gatos, California native via Zoom and at Circuit of the Americas following his victory last Saturday. With this, here’s a special edition of “In the Hot Seat” with AJ Allmendinger here on The Podium Finish!

Allmendinger basks in his latest glory in Austin, Texas. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Allmendinger basks in his latest glory in Austin, Texas. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Rob Tiongson : Congratulations on your big win here at COTA. How does this moment feel particularly with the possibility of sweeping the weekend at COTA?

AJ Allmendinger : Yeah. I mean, this racetrack last year, I just. …the fans that showed up in the weather was, especially on Sunday, it was absolutely amazing. Like how packed it was. I think the new, Next Gen cars are gonna put on a great show. They’re really fun to drive. But you know, it’s. …you always like coming to a new city and maybe you create a new fan base. And we already have a great fan base that with the people that show up.

But, you know, there’s a lot of history around this racetrack, even though it hadn’t been there super long between Formula One and Moto GP and INDYCAR and sports cars. So, you get a lot of great names that win at this racetrack. So, of course, you always wanna put your name on that list and be a part of the history of this racetrack.

Tiongson : Being a really experienced racecar driver, what does it mean to you to go to a place like Austin and kind of expose NASCAR to an audience that may not be so motorsports savvy outside of F1?

Allmendinger : I felt like last year the point that we showed up to Austin we were kind of just coming out of what we you know over the past couple years of what we all had to deal with with COVID. The crowd for as bad as the weather was, I couldn’t believe on Sunday how packed the racetrack was for just the monsoon that we all sat in and had to deal with.

I feel like the first couple of races of a new market or a new racetrack you get a really good crowd, so I think it’s about trying to keep that crowd there or keep growing the crowd. Austin has shown with the IndyCar race and the F1 races there that motorsports side of Austin, Texas is very savvy.

It’s very popular. I hope that this weekend you know good weather, we get a huge crowd again and we go put on a great show for three different races there.

That’s what I think is unique about NASCAR is you know you have three great series that show up and go put on a show at a place like this and you get a lot of bang for your buck. Hopefully that crowd shows up and we put on a great show and keep growing what is just an amazing city.

I think that’s what it’s about is we’ve got great racetracks that we go to, but you go to new cities, and you know you bring out a new crowd and Austin, Texas for sure is a fantastic city to be a part of.

Tiongson : Parker Kligerman said that there’s no such thing as a NASCAR fan or F1 fan, you’re just motosports fans, whether you know it or not. How helpful would it be for NASCAR to have an F1 type of documentary like Drive to Survive but with NASCAR?

Who wouldn't want to see a NASCAR version of Drive to Survive? (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Who wouldn’t want to see a NASCAR version of Drive to Survive? (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Allmendinger : Rob, that’s a really good question, because you know on the F1 side of it, it’s relatively to say NASCAR or other motorsports, maybe it’s not quite as popular because I think the biggest reason why is we haven’t had American in there full-time since I think Scott Speed.

Formula One being around the world you get drawn to it whether you have a favorite driver or it’s a driver from your country that you love and you follow. So, I think with Netflix has shown just all parts of the sport in a relative short amount of time. Our attention spans aren’t very long, so you watch a 45-minute documentary of that week of whatever they’re covering and then you go to the next one and the next one.

That’s really grown to allow people that maybe have never been a part of Formula One or never truly watched it, to all of a sudden say, “Well, hell, I want to watch this race now because look what’s going on.

You know, here in the U.S., would it be as popular for NASCAR? I don’t know. Maybe it might be, but I think it’s a little bit different just because NASCAR is more implemented here in the U.S. than say around the world like Formula One.

I look at it, anything you can do you know the Bubba Wallace documentary; I think is going to help bring some fans to the sport.

Anything you can do to get NASCAR mainstream is only going to help grow the sport. By how much, we don’t know. But, it’s only going to help all the people, the sponsors, the sport itself.

Tiongson : You have the dream team lineup with Landon Cassill and Daniel Hemric. The thing that I thought about you three is that you’ve all had to be part time drivers before you got your full time opportunities. When you think about that commonality, how much do you think that’s going to help grow Kaulig and help you guys out with these Xfinity championship runs?

"Say, Landon, you're gonna be on TPF soon!" - Allmendinger, maybe. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

“Say, Landon, you’re gonna be on TPF soon!” – Allmendinger, maybe. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Allmendinger : Yea, Rob, I think it comes down to that…we’ve all, between myself, Landon and Daniel, we’ve all had our ups and downs for different reasons and things like that. We’ve had to claw and scratch at times to just stay in the sport.

At the end of the day, we all want to win for ourselves first and for the team. I think there’s a different mentality when we’ve all had those ups and downs of A) you’ve gotta enjoy it when you’re here, B) you just have to work as a team and kind of work through things.

Even though you want to win, it’s not that extreme of, “I’m gonna do whatever it takes because I’m young and I just want to prove to myself that I want to move up to the next level.” So, it’s been fun.

Daniel brings a lot of knowledge. What I like about Daniel is the fact that he’s driven so many different Xfinity cars for different companies that he can bring that knowledge to Kaulig Racing and say, “OK. This is what I felt with a Joe Gibbs car or back when I was with RCR or the JR Motorsports car.” And that helps me because all I’ve driven really, besides early in my career, is a Kaulig Xfinity car. So, this is all I know. So, he brings a good knowledge of what was different in different places.

Landon’s still trying to get his feet under himself a little bit. But he’s going to be so good and so fast. He’s driven a lot of cars so he brings a different knowledge to it as well.

So, that’s what I really enjoy about the relationships that we have and it’s going to continue to build as the season goes on. And it’s only going to make Kaulig Racing grow for sure.

Tiongson : AJ, you know, I typically like to ask you serious questions, so I hope this one’s not too much of a downer, but you talked about how much the men and women at Kaulig means so much to you with the efforts they put in.

But how much inspiration do you draw from your family, knowing that they’ve been with you through the ups and downs, and you keep having these excellent victories at these road courses?

AJ draws strength and inspiration from wife, Tara. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

AJ draws strength and inspiration from wife, Tara. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Allmendinger : Well, my wife has to listen to me, whine and bitch constantly at home about how bad I’m, you know, I’m not great. So for her, at least she gets a night of happiness. So we got that for her. (laughs) And my mom and dad, especially, you know, they’ve always done it for me. You know, they mortgaged their house three times. My dad and my mom are still my biggest fans.

There’s a bit of a different type of pressure. I want to perform, especially for, my parents because, I partially do it for ’em because my dad loves watching me race, especially, and he asked me this week, “Hey, when you win a race, can I get the checkered flag?: I’m like, “Yeah, dad, I’ll work on that. Like, I’d love to win the race. Like, and in the moment, I’ll try to remember to grab the checkered flag for you.”

So I mean, stuff like that. There’s still a big part of me that continually races just for them, because especially my dad. My mom too, but my dad’s more vocal about it. He loves watching his son race and I don’t want to take that away from him.

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson 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 is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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