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In the Hot Seat with AJ Allmendinger (Part II)

AJ Allmendinger can't be that excited for "Hot Seat," can he? (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

AJ Allmendinger can’t be that excited for “Hot Seat,” can he? (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Undoubtedly, AJ Allmendinger enjoys his finest season in NASCAR with one of the top XFINITY Series teams. Specifically, Allmendinger and his No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet Camaro team look like one of the teams to beat.

Allmendinger and crew chief Jason Trinchere mesh well together as far as driver and crew chief chemistry is concerned. When the going gets tough, this duo and their team refuse to yield.

For example, Allmendinger somewhat struggled with a car that averaged a fifth place run. Sure, he won stage 1 but did not have the same long term pace as his challengers.

However, Allmendinger, Trinchere and the No. 16 Hyperice Chevy team kept their heads up. Taking advantage of a short, 16 lap sprint to the finish, Allmendinger drove from 11th on lap 185 to third on lap 188 where he ultimately finished.

Earlier in the year, Allmendinger sat “In the Hot Seat” after his wins at Las Vegas and Mid-Ohio. With victories at Michigan and Bristol in the regular season, Allmendinger scored a pivotal win at the Charlotte ROVAL.

As of press time, Allmendinger has five wins, 18 top fives and 21 top 10 results which results in an average finish 9.1. By all means, the 39-year-old Los Gatos, California native looks like the man to beat.

Last 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” is 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 second of this two part interview with AJ Allmendinger!

Rob Tiongson : We’re starting to see so much renewed interest in NASCAR with the Next Gen car in Cup, with a lot of new driver and team combinations. And of course, those new to the series racetracks on the schedule. So, having been around the sport for the last 15 years or so, you know, what is it like witness all of this and experience the new energy around NASCAR?

Allmendinger sports the distinct colors of Hyperice on his No. 16 Chevy Camaro. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Allmendinger sports the distinct colors of Hyperice on his No. 16 Chevy Camaro. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

AJ Allmendinger : I mean, it’s great because when I came into the sport back in 2006 into the 2007 season, you know, I felt like that’s. …the, you know, in that area was the peak of the popularity of NASCAR from the late 90s as it really grew into the 2000s when it just seemed like you’re building racetracks and and sponsors galore.

You know, when I got in the sport, there were 55 to 60 fully funded cars in Cup just trying to make the race. And it was at its peak in that. You know, and then we saw the kind of the downside of the economy back in 2008 that started a little bit of the downfall with NASCAR. And, you know, just with everything as we get social media outlets and things like that, rating start to go down a little bit and maybe not as many people come to the racetracks.

And, for sure, there was a time probably about four or five years ago where you’re kind of looking around thinking, “Uh, like there’s not any new blood coming in the sport. Sponsors were leaving and and there was no real new team ownership, not just in Cup, but really in all three series at the top.”

So, with what we’re seeing now with guys like Matt Kaulig and Justin Marks, and you know, Justin, bringing in somebody like Pitbull, and then you got Denny [Hamlin] and MJ and you know, heck, at the test at the ROVAL last week, one of the NASCAR Euro teams was there and and they were being a part of it and and moving forward. And you know, so, with all that said, you get some new sponsors.

We’ve been very fortunate this year to bring in a lot of new companies like RAMCO and Barger Precast, Hyperice has been a great partner this year and Celsius and you know, on down the line really. And you see that around with with new sponsors coming in and new team owners and hopefully this new car does what it’s supposed to and that allow team owners to not have such giant budgets and kind of brings in new team owners even more and things like that.

So, you always got to have the eye on keeping the people that are in the sport that have made the sport great and happy but also trying to attract new people. And I think NASCAR is doing a good job of trying to do that. And you know, we’ll see what the Next Gen car holds next year.

Tiongson : It is exciting to say the least just because you know when I got to the ROVAL a few weekends ago, you know, I didn’t expect to see a Euro NASCAR team and driver decide to go part time racing in Cup. So, I was like, wow, this is a really cool and healthy sign that things are going in the right direction.

No doubt that Allmendinger loves racing his No. 16 ride in the Cup ranks too. (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

No doubt that Allmendinger loves racing his No. 16 ride in the Cup ranks too. (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

Allmendinger : Yeah, I mean, I agree completely. It’s what we need. We love the Rick Hendricks and Roger Penskes and Jack Roushes, the Joe Gibbs and, you know, on down the line of, you know, Richard Childress and the team owners that have made this sport so great (like) Richard Petty. But, you know, we need Matt Kauligs and Justin Marks and, you know, guys like Denny that really want to give back to the sport.

A guy like Kyle Busch has done it for so long with Trucks. And, you know, obviously Brad (Keselowski) now being part ownership in Roush. Like, that’s what we need. We need that heavy mix of what we have in and new people, new sponsors, and maybe some new manufacturers that come in.

Tiongson : That would be exciting to say the least. Because that means that lifeline for NASCAR is not only going to be great in the next few years, but for generations to come when both of us are a little bit older, but we can say, “Hey, you know what, NASCAR’s still strong and alive.”

Allmendinger : Yeah, we got to, we all got to do our part. And I mean, sometimes, the grand scheme of this sports seems, or motorsports in general, just seems so gigantic. But, at the end of the day, it’s not. It’s small. And it takes all of us. It takes the team owners and it takes the drivers and the crew and the media, and all of it, the partners to keep trying to make this sport flourish.

And I think it’s all of our jobs to a certain extent to try to, you know, whatever way you want to do it is to try to leave it better than when it started. So you know, hopefully, we’re on the right path for that, because I felt like a few years ago, we definitely weren’t. So, hopefully the Next Gen car and new tracks and all the above just kind of keep helping it grow.

Tiongson : I think so too. And I think good stories like you having the season that you’re having so far adds to it just because folks like me who are not exactly in our 20s anymore, we can look at you and say, “Hey, he’s had his ups and downs, he’s with a thriving organization that’s really kicking some, you know what, at the racetrack. And results are being achieved through hard work from the women and men at Kaulig.”

So, I think you have to give yourself some credit on that because that’s the reason why I love interviewing you. Because you’re doing some incredible stuff that makes me believe hard work still matters in this sport.

"I feel very fortunate and lucky in life, that I still have this opportunity." - AJ Allmendinger (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

“I feel very fortunate and lucky in life, that I still have this opportunity.” – AJ Allmendinger (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Allmendinger : Yeah, I mean, it’s. …I’ve been very fortunate in my life to have people give me opportunities. And it’s. ….l’ll never take that for granted. But for sure, always. …when I was younger and stuff, I was just so worried about, “OK, what’s next week look like? What’s next year look like?” And, you know, the passion of going out there and winning and being hard on myself and all that, it’s still the same. I’m still just as nervous before every race and maybe even more nervous now because I know there’s opportunities to win every time I strap in into a Kaulig Racing car. And I take it serious.

But you know, I think. …I’ve always looked at it a little bit that if you’re open, and you sometimes tell the truth about being scared, whether that’s, “Man, I might lose my ride. Or maybe I don’t have confidence at this racetrack,” or things like that, that’s a sign of weakness. And I always kind of took that, as, “I just, I’m not gonna talk about it. Like, I’ll hide it and deal with it outright have to deal with it. Because if you maybe tell a competitor or somebody that you feel that way, you’re weak and they can use that against you.”

Well, now it’s one of those things that like, I don’t care, right? Like I’m just fully open about like, it’s no joke, when I tell people I kind of laugh when I see people like, “I’m not a big fan of him. He’s so cocky.” I’m like, “Oh, maybe I’m outgoing. But God, if you only knew in my head, how much self doubt there is, every time I strap into a car to go be better the next time.”

Like that’s, that’s what pushes me. And that’s not weakness. That’s who I am. And that’s. …we all have different ways of motivating ourselves. So just things like that. I feel very fortunate and lucky in life, that I still have this opportunity. And it’s been, like I’ve said, great. And I hope (for) many years to come because I really am enjoying it.

There’s so many times at this point in the season, especially on the Cup side where you’re just like, “Good lord, please get to the end of the season. Like I’m counting, the days are going by slow. I want to get to the end of the year. And just take a break.”

This year feels like it’s gone by so fast. And I can’t believe there’s only three races to go. And I’m loving it. And hopefully we can keep doing what we’ve been doing all year so we can get to Phoenix and at least give ourselves a chance. Because at the end of the day, that’s all we want. At least that’s what I want. I want a chance to go win a championship.

If we get to Phoenix, and we have a chance to win it and we don’t, well, that’s how this championship works. It’s one race and those four guys that are in it, whoever hits it the best that day is the champion whether they were the best all year. But right or wrong, we at least want to give ourselves a chance. And hopefully that’s what we can do.

Tiongson : Absolutely, for sure. And I totally relate to your mindset as well. I mean, I don’t drive race cars. But you know how I’ve been in the sport for a while and I do have those self doubts myself too. I mean, I know it’s just with a keyboard and trying to think of a story. But there’s often times I get nervous going to the racetrack just because I’m like, “Can I do better than last time? Are people thinking that I can still succeed in this industry as a journalist?

So, from my standpoint, I 100% appreciate what you think on that aspect of yourself just because I don’t see it as cockiness. I see it as honesty which is something that any walk of life is always appreciated, to say the least.

Allmendinger : Yeah, definitely. I appreciate that.

Tiongson : You got it. I got a couple more questions for before we wrap things up because we took it into a conversational tone which I actually like interview versus any of what we’ve done in the past, including the one with my buddy Isabelle from many years ago, and she did say hi. (laughs) Let me ask you, what would you consider to be the definitive AJ Allmendinger theme song that speaks perfectly about you?

Allmendinger : Oh my goodness. The definitive AJ song?

Tiongson : Yea. (chuckles)

Maybe AJ Allmendinger is a Survivor fan? (Photo: Landen Ciardullo | The Podium Finish)

Maybe AJ Allmendinger is a Survivor fan? (Photo: Landen Ciardullo | The Podium Finish)

Allmendinger : Ah, wow that’s a good question. Trying to think of all the songs I listened to on what, on what it would be. I don’t know. I’d have to think about that. That would be, I mean something resilient and something (about) never giving up. You know, it’s funny. I love music. But like it’s hard for me to name songs.

It just. …you just get into a theme of what that song is. And you know, I think it’s, I’d have to think about. …the problem is I’d have to like listen to songs and be like, “OK, now that’s it,” like right away. Because I definitely have songs that I love and get to be pumped up but. I don’t know, Rob. I’d have to think about that.

Tiongson : I was gonna take you for being a fan of Survivor. Not “Eye of the Tiger” necessarily, but I was thinking more of “Moment of Truth” or even “The Search is Over.” So I don’t know what other songs would come up for me when I think about you as a driver and even as a person.

Allmendinger : Yeah, yeah, I mean, it’s funny. You know, there’s definitely songs that when I listen to them in the moment, like they they hit home. But it’s like one of those that I can’t really think of them when I don’t listen to them, so…

Tiongson : I totally get it for sure. Well, hopefully I’m not going to stump you when you’re in the race car next weekend, and you’re like leading with seven laps to go and you’re like, “Damn it, Rob.”

Allmendinger : (laughs) What was that song?!? Yeah, I need something.

Tiongson : You can bit you can blame me when Snider or Dave Burns interview you. You can say, “Well, if it wasn’t for The Podium Finish, I would have won this race.” (laughs)

Allmendinger : (chuckles) Yeah, exactly.

Tiongson : Well, my last question for you is actually, well, it’s not really for the interview, but something fun I’m going to do. So I’ll be interviewing your wife Tara for a future feature and podcast on The Podium Finish. So, you know, knowing she’s your lovely wife and also the cat mom to Mr. Tickles, what question do you have for her?

Allmendinger : Why does she put up with me every day?

Tiongson : That’s honestly a very serious and really thoughtful question. I mean, I don’t know the answer. But you’re a nice guy.

AJ Allmendinger describes wife Tara in a powerful way. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

AJ Allmendinger describes wife Tara in a powerful way. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Allmendinger : (chuckles) Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know. She’s way too sweet to be with me. I don’t know. I’m not really sure why she puts up with me. But out of everything that she’s doing, it’s fun that she’s got a passion for trying to be Mrs. America and and pushing hard.

She’s definitely beast mode. She’s way more beast mode than I am. She’s digging hard every day. And it’s fun to see her be so passionate about something. But it is a legitimate question that I have. I’ve asked her personally, but she won’t tell me the truth. So maybe you can get it out of her.

Tiongson : If I do, I will definitely share that answer with you. But do not blame me if you have man tears after that.

Allmendinger : (laughs) For sure.

Tiongson : (chuckles) Well, AJ, I know it’s been a busy day and week ahead as you go to Kansas for these final XFINITY races. But before I do let you go, is there anything else you wanted to share to the fans who will be reading or listening to this interview or doing both?

Allmendinger : Yeah, I mean, it’s just, I always appreciate it. It’s great. I mean, the fans truly make the sport. And that’s something that none of us as drivers should ever and I don’t think really do take for granted. But yeah, it was one of those things that last year, we got to see what it was like to actually have nobody at the racetrack when we were racing and it honestly sucked. So it’s great to have everybody back that are at the tracks, that are watching at home and I just appreciate it. Love me or hate me, either one.

Tiongson : I would say prefer to love. That’s what we try to do on The Podium Finish is to foster love, almost like Barney the Purple Dinosaur on PBS back in the day…

There's no purple on Allmendinger's No. 16 ride. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

There’s no purple on Allmendinger’s No. 16 ride. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Allmendinger : Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let’s stop that, Rob. We don’t need you to go Barney on there.

Tiongson : (laughter) Now, you can psychoanalyze me after this interview, as I did with you at Charlotte. I always love talking to you, buddy. Because you always keep it real with me. And I know it’s a sign of respect when you can tease me, one on one, or even in the group of people that I don’t know very well. So you’re definitely not only just a great colleague to (me in) racing, but a good friend of mine as well. So I always love talking to you.

Allmendinger : You know, I appreciate it. Rob. I look forward to seeing you soon. Hopefully, it’ll be like after a victory and we can talk some more.

Editor’s Notes

Special thanks to AJ Allmendinger for taking the time last 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 my audio interview with Allmendinger coming soon on The Podium Finish Live! on St. Bonaventure University’s WSBU 88.3 FM, “The Buzz!”

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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