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Allmendinger has taken a very unconventional career path. He was originally a rising star in open-wheel racing, winning five races during the 2006 Champ Car season.
But then began his foray into NASCAR. His career started with Red Bull, and then Richard Petty Motorsports, before finally getting his big break behind the wheel of the No. 22 Penske entry.
However, it all came crashing down during the 2012 season when he was indefinitely suspended for failing a random drug test, testing positive for a banned stimulant. He lost his Cup ride with Penske, but returned to competition after completing the Road to Recovery program.
He starred in the 2013 Indy 500, and was fulltime again at the Cup level the following year. In 2014, he earned his first Cup win with JTG Daugherty Racing at Watkins Glen. But what followed were years of struggle, and he did not return to Victory Lane.
Many thought his NASCAR career to have reached its conclusion after 2018, but he would return with a vengeance once more. He joined Kaulig Racing part-time in the Xfinity Series, winning in just his fifth start with the team.
The wins kept coming and in 2021, he competed for the NXS title. He won five races, and ended the season fourth in points after advancing into the Championship 4. He also returned to Victory Lane at the Cup level, earning Kaulig their first ever victory as a Cup team at the Indianapolis RC.
AJ Allmendinger, Kaulig Racing, Action Industries Chevrolet
Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images
Now, at 41 years old, he’s back again as a fulltime Cup driver. His rollercoaster career has proved his resilience, but that doesn’t mean A.J. isn’t sometimes full of doubts.
Speaking candidly during Daytona 500 Media Day, he said: “Every offseason I feel like I have to question myself like, ‘Maybe you’ve forgotten how to drive this year.’ You can have a good race and go to the next one and say, ‘It doesn’t matter until you do it at this race.’ I’m still the same way. It can be stressful sometimes in my inner turmoil in my head with it.
“But I’ve done this for over 20 years professionally now. I’m not going to change. It’s what pushes me every day. That’s why I love this race team because Matt (Kaulig) and Chris (Rice) know how much I care … not just myself winning and winning for our team, but the success of our race team in general when it comes to the organization. There’s always those questions in my head but that’s what pushes me every day.”
Allmendinger has never placed higher than 13th in the championship standings, and has only made the Cup playoffs once. It’s been five years since he ran the entire 36-race Cup schedule, and he is well aware of the difficult task ahead of him.
Even so, he had the opportunity to battle for Cup wins as a part-time driver at road courses and even some ovals last season. And with the current points format, winning is everything.
“I know when we get to the road courses, we’re going to be really fast,” said Allmendinger. “But as we’ve seen in the Cup Series, there are about 30 guys that are really fast. It’s not just five or eight guys that you have to worry about and the rest you don’t have to. There are 25-30 guys that show up and potentially can go win at any road course. I don’t try to circle those racetracks. I definitely put a little more added pressure on myself when we get there.
“But I feel we showed at other races – Homestead, Bristol and even the ones where we didn’t contend but were in the top-10 – that we can run up front at a lot of racetracks. We definitely have our weaknesses. Our short-track program was off last year so that’s something we have to focus on and be better at. I go with the mindset that on any given Saturday or Sunday, we can win at any racetrack. We know there are racetracks that we like as drivers and a team more than others. But that doesn’t mean we can’t go and win those ones we don’t like.”
Looking ahead to the 500
First up is the Daytona 500, a race Allmendinger knows well. This will be his tenth start in the 500, finishing as high as third on two occasions. And with the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet Camaro, this might just be his best chance yet at winning the crown jewel event.
“I’ve always had an idea of how to superspeedway race,” said Allmendinger. “The difference at Kaulig Racing compared to the Cup Series back in the day when I would run it, particularly in the last four or five years, we didn’t have strong enough superspeedway cars to consistently run up front. I kind of had to wait in the back, and pick and choose the right time to get up front and have a shot to win the race. At Kaulig Racing, it took me a while even in the Xfinity Series to learn how to run up front and dictate the lead line and the pack and stuff like that. So we’ll see.
“Last year, the superspeedway cars at Kaulig Racing were really fast. Daniel (Hemric) and Justin (Haley) were up front a lot. (This is) a new year. We’ll see what kind of speed we have and kind of go from there.”