Following his suspension and release from Roger Penske’s Sprint Cup team last summer due to failing a drug test, A.J. Allmendinger didn’t fret over whether or not the next opportunity would come. Instead, he focused on himself.
“I had to be happier first before I got into a race car,” he said on Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “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 race car, 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.”
It appears that the American has certainly done the latter, and now he has the opportunity to bring Penske a 16th Indianapolis 500 victory this May in the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet alongside regulars Helio Castroneves and Will Power. Allmendinger will tune up for the ‘500’ by competing in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 7 at Barber Motorsports Park.
In addition to getting a chance to repay Penske’s faith in him, Allmendinger will also experience the Month of May for the first time as a driver. He’s made four Brickyard 400 starts at IMS, but he was previously unable to compete in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” as a result of the chaotic open-wheel split between Champ Car, where he raced from 2004-2006, and the Indy Racing League (now the IZOD IndyCar Series).
“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,” Allmendinger said. “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 [miles per hour] and turn into Turn 1?'”
It won’t be long before he finds out.