February 18, 2011
Allmendinger shakes flu, eyes Daytona crownFormer Toronto Indy champ looking for first NASCAR win
By DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency
DAYTONA — AJ Allmendinger steps gingerly from his luxurious motor home on Friday morning at Daytona International Speedway and extends his hand to the visiting reporter from Toronto.
He laughs when his handshake is refused.
“I don’t blame you,” Allmendinger said. “Yesterday at this time I was flat on my back, trying to figure out if a flu bug would cost me a start in the Daytona 500.”
While he still appears a little green around the gills, Allmendinger says he’s over the worst part of a flu epidemic that cut a wide swath through the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage this week.
“It was bad enough that (Thursday) I wasn’t even certain if I could finish my half of the (Gatorade Duel) 150s,” Allmendinger said.
But after a night of nursing from his wife Lynne — a chiropractor — the 29-year-old is almost as good as new.
Allmendinger is anxious to hear about what’s going on in Canada, in general, and Toronto specifically.
He has strong connections to Hogtown — starting with Lynne, a native of Scarborough and a former SUNshine girl.
Allmendinger is also a Champ Car World Series race winner in Toronto.
“I know it’s the 25th anniversary of the Molson Indy (I tell him it is now called the Honda Indy Toronto) and if ever there was an INDYCAR race I’d like to try again, that would be it,” he said.
Not that it would ever happen.
Allmendinger is signed to a lucrative deal with Richard Petty Motorsports that pays him about three times what an INDYCAR champion could earn in one season.
And with NASCAR Sprint Cup now a 38-weekend-a-year deal, there’s precious little time for Allmendinger to dabble in extra curricular activities.
Which brings up the subject of Canada ever landing a Sprint Cup race.
The question of whether NASCAR would schedule a Cup race in Canada any time soon shouldn’t even be a debate according Allmendinger.
Heck, the California driver — if he had the power — would put four Cup dates in Canada right now, one each in Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver.
“When I look at how successful the Nationwide race is in Montreal, there is not one iota of a doubt in my mind that a Cup race would sell out in a day there,” he said.
“And I have seen first hand what kind of crowds the old Champ Car series drew in Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton,” he said.
Allmendinger said he still keeps in touch with his Champ Car teammate Justin Wilson and the pair joke about one day getting back together, maybe for a run at the Indianapolis 500.
But right now Allmendinger wants to put all his formidable energy and talent into getting a first Sprint Cup win for his No. 43 Best Buy Ford team.
“There were a couple of races last season where I thought we had chance to notch that first win,” he said. “But we were close and that does count in a series where as many as 20 cars are capable of winning every week.”
What he doesn’t talk about is how much last season’s ownership turmoil — when one-time Montreal Canadiens owner George Gillett Jr. lost the team after he couldn’t meet loan obligations to several big U.S. banks — cost his chance at a win.
“Honestly, as a driver I couldn’t get too worried about that stuff,” Allmendinger said. “Tara (his manager Tara Regan), she did all the worrying for me.”
It did, however, affect the progress of the team, especially after Roush Yates Engines — who supplied motors for the team — sent a truck to the track late in the season to repossess the powerplants.
Those concerns are in past Allmendinger insists, since company namesake Richard Petty — who made the No. 43 a NASCAR icon — rallied support from a group of Wall Street investors to re-take control of the outfit.
“The infusion of new capital has given everyone in the RPM shop a big lift,” Allmendinger said.
And going into Sunday’s Daytona 500 he feels there is no reason not to think he can’t put Petty’s car back in Victory Lane.
Allmendinger will start on row eight — in 15th spot — as a result of his impressive seventh place finish in the first of the 150s on Thursday.
“The car behaved great” he said. “It really gives me a lot of confidence going into (Sunday’s) 500. Our engine program is strong and our whole team is revitalized.”
And another night of tender, loving care from Lynne should take care of any lingering affects from his bout with the flu.