Tim Cindric, president of Penske Racing; AJ Allmendinger and Mike Kelly, executive vice president of marketing, for the IZOD brand, met with the media in Indianapolis to discuss the new arrangement under which Allmendinger will race Penske's No. 2 IZOD-backed car at the Indianapolis 500 as well as Barber Motorsports Park.
Q: Tim, we'll start with you. Obviously we've been working on this for a while. Can you give us an overview of how the opportunity arose with AJ and how we were able to pull things together.
TIM CINDRIC: It's always cool to have a new chapter in Roger [Penske]'s book. When you look at the things that we've been through over the years, this kind of marks another day.
When we looked at this and said, "How do we put this together in a short period of time?" Mike [Kelly]'s help, the support that IZOD put together really in a very short period of discussions, as we looked at how to take advantage of that, we discussed a bit about what about AJ Allmendinger, when you look at the best available guys out there. Mike, he didn't even hesitate. He said, "I'm all in. I think that's a great idea."
For us to be able to sit back up here, he and I have been through quite a bit in the last 15 months. To sit back here and have another chapter, another opportunity to win this place is really cool.
Q: AJ, obviously a very exciting day for you. You've been through a lot in the past year. To work your way back here with Penske Racing in this place, talk about looking forward to the Indy 500 as well as Barber coming up.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: For me it's amazing to go through the last year of what happened, get back to this point. For me to be able to run Indy is amazing, but the fact to have Roger Penske, everybody at the Penske organization, Tim, to ask me to come back, still be a part of the family. Roger told me the first day when I signed with him last year, Once you're in the family, you're always in the family.
As everything occurred to go through that, have Roger not just say those words but act them, not with this, but every week calling me to make sure I'm all right, make sure I'm doing the right things, just more than anything being okay, that to me meant the world.
To have him ask me to come back and ask me to drive one of his IndyCars here at the Speedway, and in general, that means more than anything I could have imagined. At that point, Roger didn't need to help me if he didn't want to. To have him do that, have Mike and IZOD come aboard and take a shot with me at this, it's fantastic.
I feel excited about it. Just the short amount of time we've spent together, dinner last night, learning about the company, just being a part of it, for me it's kind of a second coming of a dream come true in a lot of different days.
Q: Mike, could you talk a little bit about having this guy represent IZOD and what you're looking forward to?
MIKE KELLY: We couldn't be happier. We get to race, first off, at the Indy 500. That in and of itself it's amazing. This track is so cool. To race with the Penske organization, to be with Roger, then to support AJ to get a shot at an American drinking the milk, being in the winner's circle, we couldn't be prouder.
Take any one of those three, racing at the Indy 500, be with Roger Penske, Tim and those guys in the office and in the pit, then AJ, he's an interesting cat, an interesting guy, this is going to be a lot of fun. I found out that last night.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Not sure how to take that (laughter).
Q. Will AJ be in all the races? Any conflicts NASCAR-wise?
TIM CINDRIC: Right now we have two IZOD races for AJ, Barber and Indianapolis. Mike, can we have some more?
MIKE KELLY: That's called: Being put on the spot! We got Barber, we got Indy.
TIM CINDRIC: It's our goal to put together more races. Whether or not they're IZOD races or what have you, it's our goal to expand in whatever way we can.
Q. Tim, does Penske Racing have a drug test policy within its own boundaries?
TIM CINDRIC: We do. I think it was pretty well-documented when we went through this situation last year with AJ, as we looked at it, it was very difficult for us to put the driver in a different scenario than the rest of the expectations of us.
So there was really no choice but to have things play out the way they did. The difference, and some people missed this, AJ has looked at that whole situation, he's gone through what's required of him, and he continues to be I guess selected to be sure that everybody's behind him and he's doing the right things.
Those assurances, there was a timeout there for a while, he's paid his dues, he's assured everybody he's on the right track, and we totally support that.
Q. AJ, when you were sat down initially, did you have any indication that if you follow a certain track, you may get the call back or was the call back a surprise?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: As it all went down, I wasn't worried about a call from anybody, honestly. The first things I had to go through was figure out the process and what was expected of me, what I had to do to get back in racing as quick as possible, which is all I wanted to do.
Honestly, through that process, there's a lot of things that for me I had to go through as a person. We all know that anybody that has been around me, I always put the most pressure on myself. I always have or always will, whether it's the biggest strength of mine or biggest weakness.
Last year I was driving for Roger Penske, things weren't going right, I was stressed, I wasn't myself. First things first, I had to figure out if I wanted to race anymore. Finally for the first time in my life for the first time in 25 years I wasn't racing every weekend. In a way it was good because I had to figure out if I wanted to continue doing that. I quickly learned as I watched races on TV, I did.
I had to be happier first before I got into a racecar. I always looked at it, if racing is going well, that will make everything else happy. Well, for me it's the total opposite. When you get in the racecar, you're totally focused, physically, mentally, everything that goes with it.
I wasn't worried about a phone call from anybody, getting a chance. I had to make sure if I got the chance, if and when, I was ready to go. That time period, going through that, is what I focused on.
There's no secrets. Nobody's perfect in life. Unfortunately mine was played out on TV over one dumb mistake. But with that mistake, you can do two things: you can keep making those mistakes or learn from them and be a lot better.
I said it when I started, I'll say it every day, I'm a lot better for it. I'm a lot better mentally and physically for whatever opportunity. No, I wasn't expecting the opportunity to be at the Indy 500 with Roger Penske, but that was something for me I had to work hard on. Like we all go through, certain days are good, certain days are bad.
I feel a lot better for going through it. I can actually look at Tim Cindric, Mike Kelly, Roger Penske in the eye and say, I'm ready to go and I'm going to work hard. I'm going to do all the right things. Whether that's good enough in the end? I hope so. If not, I can look myself in the mirror and be happy with it.
I went through a lot in the last few months for the good. Certain people may wonder why you get a second opportunity, but for me it's just through hard work and being happier away from the racetrack. When I'm at the racetrack I'm really happy.
Q. AJ, now you're on this big stage, assuming you're going to be able to handle the position, talk about the challenges that this track presents for a person such as yourself.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I've been told I'm not supposed to hit the brakes when I get down to the end of the straightaway now. I'm so used to that in a stock car. It's going to be the first challenge, to hold my foot down (laughter).
I mean, it's just the challenge of not being in one of these cars in seven years. It's a lot different. When I tested at Sebring, it's a lot different than what I remember. There's a lot of work that goes into that. Obviously, being around this place in its own right it's completely different than anything I'll do. Fortunately enough, there's a lot of great people on this team. I'm with the best organization to start with, and they have Rick Mears, Helio [Castroneves], just everybody, Roger, everybody that has been a part of this great place for so many years that can help me out.
The good thing about Indy is you get a couple weeks leading up to the race to keep working on that. There's a lot of challenges, not just one little challenge. It's about putting it all together.
Luckily we'll have a test in Barber, the race in Barber. Obviously it's not an oval, but it's getting used to the car. I'll be prepared as much as possible as I can be before I get on the racetrack. Once I get on here, it's about trying to learn and take it step by step.
For me, I'm fortunate enough to have a lot of great people in this organization that will be there to help me.