Two years ago, AJ Allmendinger was struggling just to qualify for races. Today, he's being courted by some of the biggest organizations in NASCAR.
A free agent at the end of this season, Allmendinger is in the process of deciding where he'll race next. Yahoo! Sports talked to him about that, his place in the sport and what, if any, impact NASCAR fining drivers for making supposed disparaging comments will have on him.
1. Y! Sports: How will NASCAR fining drivers for making supposed disparaging comments about the sport impact you?
Allmendinger: It doesn't impact me any. There's no secret that there's things that probably need to be fixed in NASCAR. I think there's thing that get blown out of proportion by certain media people. And drivers make more of a big deal on certain things than should be made of. So, in that way it just doesn't affect me.
I know that NASCAR is doing things to try to make the sport better. You know, it's kind of in a point where it's kind of plateaued and we need to find the next thing to help make it better. The economy is part of that. It's not all of it, but it's part of it.
The racing, I actually think it's been pretty good this year for the most part. I mean, yeah, there's certain races that are going to be boring, but that's racing. There's certain races that that's just the way it is.
But when drivers make comments, A, they're a lot more experienced, the ones that are making it. They got more pull. But I don't know, I don't ever feel like saying things out in public is going to help anything.
I do feel like it's an honor to be part of the Sprint Cup Series and to be in NASCAR in general. So, I don't want to do anything to try to hurt that.
2. Y! Sports: You're a free agent at the end of the season. What can you tell us about 2011?
Allmendinger: We've had talks with several teams, which makes me feel good about what I'm doing on and off the race tracks that a lot of big-name teams and big-name team owners have called me and asked about what I might want to do and where I might be going.
Obviously sponsorship is a big part of it, and that's tough.
I've had a lot of great talks with teams, I've had a lot of great talks with RPM. I feel like we're moving closer to deciding. I feel like we need to decide soon.
It's one of those things where a lot of it's talk, obviously since I'm at RPM, more of it has been with them in trying to figure out what's the best opportunity and where to go. I really feel like in the next hopefully week or two we'll be talking about it in public and having a decision. Because at this point, you just need to decide where you're going to go and start building the future at that, because you can't get behind in this sport at all.
3. Y! Sports: When I look at your NASCAR career, I see someone who started out just fighting to survive, and you did, then transitioned to a driver looking to crack that next level, which is scoring top 10s. You're not there yet, but you're getting closer. Is there some satisfaction in that, or is it still frustrating because, ultimately, your goal is to win?
Allmendinger: I'm definitely not satisfied. I'm happy with the progress we've made since the beginning of the year. We've really come a long way since the first few races when we were inconsistent from weekend to weekend not knowing what we were going to show up with to now where I feel like every weekend we're showing up with something that I feel confident in and we can at least be competitive with.
But, at the same point, now we've kind of hit a plateau of where we need to get better. We're kind of just sitting there. It's funny, however the weekend works out right now, whether we have a great run going and we get kind of a little misfortune at the end and we get pushed back to 10th or 11th, or we're having a terrible race like the last couple of weeks at Chicago and Indy and we still finish 14th or 15th or whatever. We're kind of in that range.
In one way, I'm really happy about it because it's tough to run in the top 15. It's definitely not easy to do. We're definitely making up points on the guys we're racing around. But, we need those more solid runs inside the top 10, top 5. You look at the guys we're racing around – the Reuitmanns, the McMurrays, Truex, Logano, those kind of guys that we're racing in points – I feel like on a consistent basis, we're making up points on them. But they're able to have those really strong runs, where McMurray wins and Reutimann won.
We just need to get a little bit better. We're not far off, but there's little things we need to do to get better so we're in that top 10 consistently.
4. Y! Sports: In this sport, how much of success depends on equipment, and how much is it about the driver?
Allmendinger: You definitely can't go win with bad equipment. I mean, Jimmie Johnson is one of the best guys out there, but he's also in the best equipment, too, you know.
It's one of those things that you have to have not just the equipment, but the whole team around you. You have to have the experience around you – team and driver. You can't do it on your own. But at same point, you have to have a good driver in the car to get the job done.
But I really do feel like that there's so many great drivers. You just start picking the guys in the top 25, there's not a lot of difference from top to bottom, I really feel, about talent level. And the car differences aren't that big of a deal, either. It's just very little things.
5. Y! Sports: Saturday night before a Sunday race: what do you do?
Allmendinger: Depends on the racetrack. There's certain racetracks where there's nothing to do, and you're tired and you just chill on the bus. And there's other racetracks where you go out and grab a nice dinner. It depends on if I have friends in town.
You try to keep it fairly low-key no matter what.
Y! Sports: When you're chilling on the bus, what are you doing?
Allmendinger: Usually watching TV. I haven't been playing games a lot lately, although this last weekend my friend was in town and we bought the MMA game. He's gotten into fighting a little bit, so we bought that and we spent many hours beating the living daylights out of each other on PS3.
6. Y! Sports: As an open-wheel guy, if you had a choice, which race would you rather win: the Indianapolis 500 or Daytona 500?
Allmendinger: Daytona 500. I'm in NASCAR here to stay, hopefully. That kicks off the season; it's the biggest race for us – it's the Super Bowl. So that would be it.
7. Y! Sports: What's the most frivolous thing you spend money on?
Allmendinger: Probably TVs. It's just stuff at Best Buy. I'm not really into cars and things like that. Thank God that I get discounts now and get hook ups, but in general I still spend a lot of money there for a lot of stuff that really doesn't matter.
Y! Sports: How many TVs do you have in your house?
Allmendinger: Uhhh, five or six. If I could start mounting them [on] other places just for the hell of it, I would. My ultimate goal is to put a TV over my toilet like at a Fox & The Hound bathroom.
8. Y! Sports: Say you have the No. 1 pick in your fantasy football league. Do you take your man crush Brett Favre?
Allmendinger: Nah, I can't do that. I know Brett's going to be around in the first few rounds, so it's Chris Johnson.
9. Y! Sports: How did you do in your fantasy league last year?
Allmendinger: Which one? I had four. One was awful. Picks that I thought were good tanked. I won the championship in one of them. I finished third in another and went out in the first round of the playoffs in another.
9 ½ The one thing I want fans to know about me is …
Allmendinger: When it comes to not knowing me, like when I'm not in my element and I'm not around people that I know or anything like that, I'm very shy.