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Allmendinger remembers roots, Talladega flip

May 02, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com



Allmendinger remembers roots, Talladega flip

AJ Allmendinger remembers his racing roots.

That's why he has decided to start a scholarship program targeting young go-kart racers. The Sprint Cup driver has partnered with his primary sponsor -- Shell/Pennzoil -- to create the program and recently named Kyle Kirkwood as the first recipient of the scholarship designed to promote and help develop young drivers who show potential.

"You know, when you flip down the front straightaway, it kind of takes the excitement level of going back there again away."

--AJ ALLMENDINGER

"It's exciting to start this program and have Shell come on board. To me, it's a huge deal," Allmendinger said. "It shows their support of me, that they want to be part of this program. But more importantly, it shows they want to be part of helping get young drivers into this sport -- which I think we need more help with."

Allmendinger recalled how he would not be where he is today -- he drives the No. 22 Dodge for Penske Racing -- without the assistance of open-wheel driver Paul Tracy, who asked Allmendinger to drive for his karting team when Allmendinger was a fledgling driver himself.

"I was 16, 17 years old, trying to figure out what I was going to do," said Allmendinger, who is now 30. "Paul Tracy had this karting team and really stepped up. At that point in my life, it was amazing to me to have such a superstar in the kart world series wanting me to be part of his race team.

"That was something I took to heart. It was something where I told myself that once I got to the right point in my own life, I wanted to do the same sort of thing."

Allmendinger said karting doesn't get the kind of recognition in the United States that perhaps it should.

"To me, it's the most pure form of racing there is, whether you're 6 or 7 years old and trying to work your way through the ranks or you're somebody like me trying to relive my old glory. You can still race go-karts," he said.

Of course now Allmendinger gets paid mostly to drive his 3,400-pound Sprint Cup stock car. He admitted that he has some trepidation about going back to Talladega Superspeedway this weekend after flipping the car he was driving there in Oct. 2010 in a frightening and all-too-memorable accident.

"I look forward to hanging out in the infield at Talladega," joked Allmendinger, smiling. "You know, when you flip down the front straightaway, it kind of takes the excitement level of going back there again away."

All kidding aside, he said he will look to be in position to contend for the win at the end at the 2.66-mile track. He said he expects this Sunday's Aaron's 499 to look much like the Daytona 500 did in February.

"At the end, it'll still be the same thing: you're going to try to hook up with whoever you're working with and try to push each other to the win," said Allmendinger, who is 21st in the point standings after finishing 16th last Saturday in the Capital City 400 at Richmond International Raceway. "But I think it'll be mostly big-pack racing. I think that's what the fans wanted. I think the drivers, for the most part, enjoyed it back in Daytona. So hopefully it'll be the same way."

Allmendinger will be looking for a better finish, however. He finished 34th in the season-opening Daytona 500.