AJ Allmendinger and his No. 47 Kingsford Charcoal Chevy crew have made strides for JTG Daugherty Racing in 2014.  After 18 races, Allmendinger has one top five in Talladega and top ten results at Fontana and Richmond.  Although they sit in the top 25 in points, like most teams outside the Chase bubble, they are searching for speed and consistency.

He placed 17th in Friday morning practice, which indicates that they are getting closer to their goals.  We caught up with Allmendinger prior to opening practice here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.  Now, we’re taking you “On The Podium with AJ Allmendinger” here on The Podium Finish!

The Podium Finish :  What do you think your odds are of making the Chase?

AJ Allmendinger :  Really when it comes to the Chase, I don’t even worry about it because I look at it two ways.  I want to be in the Chase because it means we’ve won a race. But are we a championship winning team?  No.  So making the Chase, to me, besides saying we’re a race winner, really isn’t that big of a deal for me because you know, we’re trying to build this team into something bigger.  We’re not trying to hide that fact; we’re not Hendrick right now.

If we go win this weekend and now we’re in the Chase, do we think we’ll beat Jimmie Johnson in a ten-race stretch?  No.  So making the Chase isn’t really my first concern. I look at as we’re starting the second half of the season and basically we know where we are as a race team.  We say we’re better than we show in points.  We’ve had a tough six to eight week stretch. We ran well, we just don’t have the finish to show it.  We are what we are right now so I look at the next eighteen races as we take the first half of the season, now we take the second half the season and we should be better by the end of the year.  And if we are, that to me is a success.  Making the Chase isn’t a big deal. I’d love to win a race and say we’re in the Chase, but to say we’re in the Chase to win a championship – we’re not there yet.

TPF :  After Kurt Busch’s attempt at the double, would you consider doing it?

Allmendinger : I would do it if it were the right situation.  You get spoiled doing it for the first time ever with Roger Penske.  There were a couple opportunities this year that I had small conversations, nothing that was really leading into anything, potentially doing the double this year.  As I say, if Roger walked up to me the next year and said, “Let’s do this,” I’d do it in a heartbeat.  For anybody else, I’m not sure.  

It’s a tough challenge.  It was cool to see Kurt do it.  He did such a good job in going back and forth, adapting to the IndyCar and jumping back in the Sprint Cup car.  I think it’d be fun to do in the right situation but like I said, I’m spoiled, I got to do my first ever Indy 500 with Roger and have a shot to win it so it’s hard to think about doing it with anyone else.

TPF :  As this is your first full season with the 47 team, what are some things that you’re liking so far this season and some parts that could improve?

Allmendinger :  I think there’s a lot we all could improve.  Each of us in this race team can keep improving just as a person and come together as a whole team.  What I really enjoy about this team is even through the ups and downs, it’s like a family in here because it is such a small race team. It starts with our team owners, Tad and Jodi (Geschickter) and Brad Daugherty.  They make us all feel like part of their family.  So I think we have some strengths in the fact that because we are a small race team. We come together and work really hard together to be a better team because we know we have to work harder than anybody just to get to their level because a Hendrick, a Penske, and a Gibbs have so many resources.  I really enjoy that fact, especially with Tad through all the ups and downs, especially over the past couple months. It’s been hard to feel excited about “we’re getting better.”  I think we are, but it’s hard to see that when you look at a result.

At the same point, he’s such a positive influence on my life at the race track and away from the race track.  I really enjoy that. It makes you, for me at least and I think for all of us, want to come into this hauler, go to the race shop, and work that much harder because him and his wife and Brad, they deserve that. I really enjoy it.  When it comes to dislikes, there’s nothing I dislike.  We just got to be better.  We just got to keep getting better.  I’m not the most patient person so the good thing is our owner is probably the most patient person you’ll ever meet.  As he keeps telling me, this is a long-term investment, this isn’t a one-year deal that we’re trying to get to the next year.  We’re trying to do this over a long period, so it’s going to take time. I’m persistent, I just want it right now.  It makes it a lot of fun.

TPF :  You were recently on an episode of The Chew. What was it like filming that?

Allmendinger : That was nerve-wracking, because I am no chef by any means.  It was really fun, the way they did the show.  On the show, I closely worked with Carla Hall, so she was able to come to my world a little a bit.  We went to Orlando to Walt Disney World Speedway and did some driving there and then I came to her world.  But all the hosts and the whole show made it such a fun time because I was so nervous about it, taking me out of my own and basically putting me on TV to show all my non-cooking skills.  It was a lot of fun and they were a cool group to work with.  To look back on it, watching the show and the way they did it was well done.

TPF :  As far as where you stood two years ago compared to where you are now, what’s different in AJ Allmendinger’s world?

Allmendinger :  Everything.  Everything’s a lot different.  It’s all for the positive.  There’s a lot of stuff, personally and everything that I needed to get right, and a lot of stuff that I think as it was happening, I didn’t realize it, like how bad it was and how unhappy I was. 

When you step back and look back at it two years later, you look back and go, “Oh my gosh, I was really unhappy.”  There was a lot of things that needed to be changed.  Honestly, if that didn’t happen, I don’t know if it would make me have to make those changes. 

It’s a lot better now.  When I look at being at the racetrack, to a certain degree, I enjoy it more and to a certain degree, I probably put more pressure on myself now but for different reasons.  I put pressure on myself now because I care about this team as a whole so much.  I always keep coming because it’s like a family here. 

If you ever meet Tad and Jodi Geschickter and Brad Daugherty and just spend five minutes with them, you see and understand what kind of people they are.  They’re genuine, so caring, and so loving.  It makes me want to come here and put this team on my back and try to take it 10 levels higher.  Because of that, I put pressure on myself.  There’s good and bad with it but as a person and as a whole, it is way better than it’s ever been and I wouldn’t ever go back and change anything.

TPF :  Would you say that the change from Toyota to Chevrolet has been a huge help for your team?

Allmendinger :  For sure.  The alliance with RCR and everything that comes with it, from engineering and cars and motors, has helped us out a lot.  If you look at the sport right now and compare it to last year, the field is that much deeper.  

Last year, when I drove this car, I felt like we showed up and we had to be realistic and say, “This is the group of cars we’re racing with.”  I looked at it like, we could easily be 22nd or 23rd and anything better than that was outdoing the kind of equipment we had.  Now if you look at it, it’s 30-32 cars deep.  There’s at least another five to seven cars that have stepped up their game.  You take Danica and she’s had great runs.  Michael Annett with Tommy Baldwin Racing has seen their equipment get better. 

The little teams like us are trying to get better and it’s made this field a lot deeper.  I think we have a lot better equipment and we’re slowly improving.  I look forward to the second half of the season and to come back to a lot of these tracks that we’ve been to once and hopefully improve at. 

TPF :  Speaking of tracks that you’re looking forward to improve at, what track on your schedule or calendar have you circled and said, “OK, we maybe we can be a lot better than we were the first time around?”

Allmendinger :  I look at the short track program for the most part, which I thought was pretty good.  We had some good runs at Martinsville and Richmond.  At Bristol, we were fast but just had bad luck with pit stops.  I look at the mile and a halves and two mile racetracks.  Going back to Pocono for a second time and Michigan and a lot of these mile and a halves, that’s been our weakness.  Those are the places we have to get better at. 

Those are really the places that in this sport, the little teams struggle at because that’s where you can put the most resources in and if you have more downforce and horsepower, or you just have a brand new racecar, those are the places that it’s really going to show.  It’s harder to make a difference on those racetracks. 

I hope to go back to those places and be better.  At those places, I always felt like we were an 18th to 25th place racecar.  If we can go there and be 12th-18th place racecar, I’ll feel like we really improved on the second half of the season at those places.

TPF :  We’re at a really tough racetrack in New Hampshire and it’s kind of like Martinsville on steroids.  How do you view your chances here at Loudon?

Allmendinger :  I’ve always enjoyed this place.  For the first couple of years, it took me about three or four times to come here to really understand how to get around it.  I felt some good setups and realized, this is kind of the way you have to drive this place. 

I like it because there are little nuances that drivers can do out there to make their car handle a little bit better.  Track position is so critical here.  Even if you have a good car, it’s tough to pass because it’s a lot of two wide racing.  Looking back, we haven’t been at a short track for a while.  If we can go off of how we ran, I feel confident that we can come here and have a strong run. 

More importantly, it’s about having a solid 301 laps.  That’s something we haven’t had in two months.  If we can come here and limit our mistakes and have a solid day to go off into the off-weekend and start the second half of the season, I’ll be happy.

Author’s Notes : Thank you to JTG Daugherty Racing for letting us interview AJ Allmendinger and also thanks to Rob Tiongson for helping me with the interview!  Photos in this article are courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography via JTG Daugherty Racing.  Catch Allmendinger and his No. 47 team this Sunday for the Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway at 1 PM EST on TNT or on Performance Racing Network radio!