Q. Does the name "AJ" bring its own pressure?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: No, there's no added pressure with the name. As I said, the most pressure comes from myself to go out there and perform. If I didn't think I could be here and have a chance to win this race, I wouldn't waste these guys' time and money. There's no point in doing that. But I know at the same point there's a lot of work that's going to go into that. There's no pressure except for myself.
It's funny, I never met A.J. until the Sebring test. I walked downstairs in the hotel in the morning. He was sitting there having breakfast. I thought it was a great opportunity to go meet him. A.J. Foyt, my dad told my mom, if it's a boy, the name has to be A.J., if it was a girl he didn't give a crap what the name was.
Mine stands for Anthony James, and A.J. is Anthony Joseph.
Q. AJ, Dario Franchitti was also in CART, he never paid attention to the Indy 500. He started running here, it became a huge deal. Named for A.J. Foyt, being an open-wheel guy, then you went to NASCAR, did you think you would never run the Indy 500 again?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: It was tough back in Champ Car because when the two series were split, not having that opportunity to race here, honestly I felt as a kid growing up when I was 10, 11, 12 years old, when it was the heyday of CART, I loved the Indy 500. I thought the best of the best showed up. It was great to see.
I felt like obviously with the split, it took away from the prestige of the Indy 500 because the best of the best weren't there the whole time. So for me, honestly, it was like I kind of lost a little bit of the concept of what Indy really was until I got here for the first time in a stock car and pulled out in pit lane and realized, "God, this is what Indy is all about," coming down the front straightaway for the first time. My mind immediately went back to, "What's it like in an IndyCar, coming down at 240 and turn into Turn One?"
I didn't think I'd never have a chance to run there, I just didn't know what the opportunity would be. I've always wanted to be here at the Indy 500. It's still the biggest race I think on this planet. You look at the crowd when it shows up on race day and just everything that leads up to the Indy 500, what it means, the names that are on the Borg-Warner trophy, the prestige here.
I'd love to be part of it. It's going to be amazing to be a part of it as a driver being introduced, but it would be a lot better, as Mike has told me several times in the last 12 hours, it would be a lot better to win that. I got that.
Yeah, I'm real excited about it.
Q. Tim, you obviously sat with Roger and assessed the risk. How big do you think the risk was and why did you take the risk when Penske has the pick of any driver that they would want?
TIM CINDRIC: Well, I'm not sure we have a pick of any driver. I think with regard to the confidence that we have, again, we were pretty close to his whole situation. When you look at it, yeah, you take calculated risks throughout this business every day. For us it's not really a risk. We look at it and say, If you're sitting in his shoes, you've gone down the road to recovery, the only other road there is is a dead end. There's nothing there.
I feel like Roger has always been a loyal guy, always been somebody that's been there for anybody. There's a lot of stories like this that a lot of people don't know about, a lot more than you think, in terms of giving somebody a second chance, being there for them when they're needed.
When you look at this thing, we talked about it, there's more good that can come out of it than bad. At the end of the day, the worst thing that can come out of it is we get another driver, in some ways, when you break it down to the very simple aspects of it.
But when you look at situations like last night, perfect example. A friend of mine calls me, a good friend in the business, and he says, "Hey, man, I've got somebody that's in the business that has a son. That son is a great athlete. He's got a scholarship. He's at the top of his game in high school sports. This kid hung out with the wrong buddies, wrong friends, and ended up making a mistake, got tested. Now he's got his whole future on the line, his scholarship, his athletics, everything else. His parents have talked to me to see if there's a way if he can talk to AJ Allmendinger to see how he can go through that process to see if their son can do that."
To me that was like really cool and brought the whole thing full circle as I'm driving back from Savannah last night about why we're doing this.
Q. AJ, you can see a mistake can be humbling. Racecar driving itself will make you humble. Have you discussed the mistake you made with some of your colleagues, friends, drivers? Could you share with us some advice that someone may have given you?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: As you said, the sport will always humble you. Most of the time you'll have more downs than ups. It's the ups that make the downs worth it.
When it all happened, I feel like for a while I kind of closed off because I was trying to figure it out myself. The thing that really helped was I had a lot of family and friends that were there, my parents, people like Roger, that were close to me that helped me get through it.
A lot that helped me get through it was the people I was racing against at that time in NASCAR, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart. Those guys reached out to me and saw how I was, just told me advice, whether it was just be honest, tell the truth, do what you have to do, or just events that they went through. Whether people have seen or haven't seen behind the scenes the stuff they went through, the fact that they trusted me more than anything.
Guys like Ryan Hunter-Reay, for instance, I hadn't talked to him much in the past because obviously our paths were going down a different way. He reached out to me. A guy like Will Power, Helio, all those guys, even guys I hadn't spoke to a lot that reached out. There was a lot of support there from them. That helped me get through it.
Family and friends are obviously really important in life. But at the same point when you're racing against people at over 200 miles per hour, those are the ones that have to trust you. If they don't trust you to start with, you're not going to be back in the sport or not. They're going to be the ones that determine whether they want you there or not.
It was those people that meant so much because they trusted me and they said, "Just do what you do, get back. Do whatever it is that you have to do, whatever the process is, and get back as quick as possible." That to me has meant more than anything.
As Tim talked about, with a situation like that, I'm not scared to talk about it. I think sometimes people get scared to bring it up and discuss it or anything like that, or people try to shy away from it. It's happened. It's out there in the press. Nothing's going to change about what was said in the past, what people are going to determine in the future. I learned through all of this, all you can do is work on yourself. If you're happy with yourself, in certain ways it doesn't matter what anybody else thinks.
I'm always open to talk about it, whether it's people that are going through it, people that made mistakes, people that just want to discuss it, it's something to be open about, something to be open from, it's life.
Q. Mike, several years ago IZOD made a huge commitment to the IndyCar series. It's my understanding this is the last year of that contract. Moving forward, have there been discussions internally about where to take this thing?
MIKE KELLY: It's our sixth year. We're proud of the series. I'm a huge fan. IZOD is a fan of the sport. It's an amazing product, what goes on here, the 500 alone. But each of these races, I don't know how many there are this year exactly. Each of the races, the road courses, ovals.
Today is about AJ, our relationship with Penske. We're not here to talk about our deal with the league. But we're supportive of everything that's going on here, especially this idea. The idea of getting an American in the winner's circle at the Indy 500 is great for the sport, great for the league. What's good for the league is good for us because we've got our name on it.
Q. Tim, you said initially early on that you have your own testing program. What did you say when NASCAR says, "Uh-oh, the red flag is up"?
TIM CINDRIC: Maybe you misunderstood in terms of the drivers and that type of thing. They have a program that's right in parallel, if not more so, than what we have to do as employers. In that case, Roger was actually on an airplane on his way back from Europe. Roger knows I only call him when I need something. I usually wait for him to call me. If I'm calling him, he usually takes my call because I don't call him very often. He'll check in daily for the most part.
Anyway, I get a hold of him. So what did you forget last time we talked? This probably isn't the way you want to come back from your vacation, but in the next couple hours we have to decide who is going in this car at Daytona, went through the situation. His response was, "Hey, nothing I can do about it from here so figure out the next steps." That was kind of how that all took place.
With regard to the drivers, the sanctioning bodies, you have such a stringent program for them, one that's very random, that to do that across the masses isn't really practical. We rely on the sanctioning bodies a lot relative to the drivers.
Q. AJ, did the potential accelerate to come back to IndyCar, that you might like to go back to open-wheel again?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I always told Roger, I told him every day, if he wants me to drive one of his racecars, I'm not going to be dumb and say no. We were focused on the Cup program, trying to go out there and win races. At that point the year hadn't started off very well. What was tough was I felt like we were actually making headway right before it all happened, starting to have some of our better runs.
Once something like that happens, for me I'm open to all opportunities. At that point last year Roger asked me to come to Fontana as a guest of his and come back to an IndyCar race, see what it was all about. At that point the championship was on the line. It had been a great season for IndyCar in general when it came to the racing aspect of it.
I have a lot of great friends still in IndyCar, so I keep up with it every weekend I can, every race they have. It was just an opportunity to show up and say, "What's out there?" What opportunities might there be? What chances are there going to be, whether it's IndyCar, NASCAR, Grand-Am, whatever? I've learned quickly in life, you don't say no to anything. You kind of look at all options and see what is best in life.
For me it's just been about finding out what that opportunity is, whether it's IndyCar or NASCAR. Be competitive, have chances to win races and just enjoy it, just have fun being in a racecar no matter what it is.
Did I think it would lead to this? I didn't know. Generally I just take every day as it comes now. I'm not surprised by anything. As I said, more than anything, I'm just trying to make myself ready, whatever those chances are. Be physically, mentally, emotionally ready to go. When I get a call to go in a racecar, I can know I'm 100% committed to it. That's what I feel like now.
The fortunate thing is at least my phone has kept ringing. It hasn't been silent. Ring, somebody call me. There's not enough adjectives to say what I feel now. Amazing, excited, nervous, just pumped up to have this chance, to be back with Roger and the Penske family, to have IZOD take a chance and say they want to be a part of me and they want me to be a part of them.
So I'm ready to go. Anything better would be maybe get some more golf clothes. I'm a huge golfer, too. Just throwing that out. Checking out their stuff on the course. If I have to represent them out there, too, I will. Just saying, whatever you need. I think you have a couple of good golfers you represent. One lives by me. So if you want to throw that out there. We could do some TV stuff, whatever you want. Just throwing it out there, thinking ahead.
Q. AJ, compare what you'll feel the day you'll go out on the track in an IndyCar compared to a stock car. Roger expects a lot from his drivers beyond most owners. Is that an added pressure or do you accept that?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I mean, the first part of that question, I'm not going to lie, I'm going to be nervous as hell rolling out. It was the same way when I was in a stock car. For me, when I haven't done something before, I have those nerves. I think it's a good thing. If I wasn't nervous, I wouldn't care.
The anticipation of rolling out there first day, rookie orientation, it's going to be fun and nerve-wracking, so many emotions wrapped together at the same time. It's going to take a few laps to get used to it. Once I get used to it, it's down to business.
With your second question, Roger, yeah, he demands a lot from his drivers, but he's one of the easiest guys to work for, which surprised me last year. I was so stressed out at the beginning of the year, things weren't going right, we were having mechanical issues. He was going to be on me saying, We got to go out there and do it this weekend. He was at ease more than anybody else. It takes time, don't worry about it, things will come together, you're doing fine, just relax.
TIM CINDRIC: The drivers, they got it easy!