BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — AJ Allmendinger’s comeback to open-wheel racing stalled briefly on pit road.
Allmendinger left his IndyCar Series debut at Barber Motorsports Park considerably more bothered by his performance than team owner Roger Penske. He ran seventh much of the way in Sunday’s Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, but finished 19th after his Team Penske Chevrolet stalled on the final pit stop.
Allmendinger spent several minutes sitting on the pit road wall discussing his race with team members, and Penske Racing teammate Will Power joined in briefly, too. Then it was time to go back to work and continue a challenging transition.
“That’s all you can do,” Allmendinger said. “I’ve got to be a lot better than that; 19th isn’t going to cut it, whether this is my first time or not. Without the stall, we probably should have been about 10th or 11th, which is OK, but we still want to be better than that.”
Penske encouraged with the driver he gave a second chance after firing him last summer when Allmendinger failed a random NASCAR drug test
“Finish this and just learn, learn, learn. You are doing fine,” Penske radioed Allmendinger late in the race.
Allmendinger initially signed to race at Barber and the Indianapolis 500. On Saturday, Penske Racing said it would pay his way to Long Beach.
Penske said before the race that Allmendinger will drive for James Finch’s Phoenix Racing at the NASCAR race in Richmond and might also get another IndyCar race in Detroit.
Allmendinger started 10th in his first open-wheel race since moving full-time to NASCAR after the 2006 Champ Car season.
The stall wasn’t the only issue. Race strategy might have backfired, too.
“I knew we were in a little bit of trouble because we tested the red tires in warm-up. A lot of the guys didn’t, so they had three sets of reds,” Allmendinger said. “It’s just trying to learn how to be better. I’d like to have stayed out longer and tried to wait it out and then went like hell on the red tires when I had open track. But we pitted early. The black tires just weren’t as fast no matter what you did. After that, we’re just running 10th or 11th, which was going to be OK.
“I just want to be better for them. I felt like the weekend was pretty solid overall, but 19th isn’t very good. We can learn from it and be better. I want to be better than that.”
The hard part is being patient and taking Penske’s advice to just learn.
“It’s all about trying to get better,” Allmendinger said. “It’s just frustrating. I want to be great right away, whether it’s realistic or not.”