AJ Allmendinger admits that he is having to work to keep his nerves in check as he prepares for his first open-wheel race since 2006, despite an encouraging start to his IndyCar weekend at Barber Motorsports Park.
The Champ Car race winner, who moved to NASCAR in 2007, finished both of Friday's IndyCar practice sessions in the top 10, but said that he is still far from feeling comfortable.
"I thought I was going to throw up right before the first session," he said. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous. I want to go out there and be competitive in this series.
"I'm always going to have nerves. I'm going to have nerves going into qualifying because I've never done it before – or, haven't done it in seven years. I'm definitely going to have a lot of nerves going into Sunday before the race. They are good nerves though, I enjoy them."
Allmendinger tested at the Alabama track last month, but encountered different grip levels going into this weekend due to the combination of rubber laid down by Grand-Am cars, and rainfall cleaning the surface the previous night. On top of that, he believes that the limited amount of track time compared to that available in NASCAR has forced him to dig deeper to try to get settled in the car.
"After seven years I kind of hoped it was kind of like riding a bike, and coming back I would get on it and learn how to do it again," he said. "It kind of feels like a unicycle right now. I'm still like hanging on and trying to figure out what I am doing out there. In a way, for me, the mindset is, it is time to go get ready. But at the same point, it's just still about trying to get laps in this car, and take it all in; get more comfortable."
While he said he was pleased with his Friday efforts, Allmendinger is convinced that there is still a lot that he is yet to get out of the car. This, he says, is a concern going into qualifying.
"I know the car is going to be fast and the set-up is going to be very close and it's just going to be me going out there and figuring it out, what I need in a race car, how I get the speed out of it," he said.
"I still left a lot out there on that [quickest] lap that I did, so I think the biggest and toughest thing for me is that qualifying lap. Going out there for the first time and not having any practice and you've just got to go get that lap."