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Allmendinger taking return on week-by-week basis

October 21, 2012, Holly Cain, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com



Allmendinger taking return on week-by-week basis

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- AJ Allmendinger came back from a workout at his gym early last Thursday morning to find four missed calls and five text messages on his cell phone.

He quickly returned the calls and by 9 a.m. had a job -- his first since being reinstated by NASCAR following a three-month suspension for failing a drug test.

"For me, there is a lot of unfinished business. My goals were always to win races, win championships. Maybe it won't happen, maybe it will."

--AJ ALLMENDINGER

And after a 24th-place finish at Charlotte last Saturday driving the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevy, Allmendinger got another call this Monday morning. And another job in the No. 51 this weekend at Kansas Speedway.

It's the new week-to-week, race-to-race reality for Allmendinger, who couldn't be more grateful for the opportunity -- a chance made possible because of the domino-effect of Kurt Busch leaving the team and Busch's initial replacement, Regan Smith, getting a seat filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is recovering from a concussion.

"That's the way this sport is, it's all about timing,'' Allmendinger said Saturday from Kansas, fresh off a 13th-place qualifying effort -- the best start for the team since early August.

"I wouldn't want to get in a race car because of a situation like that, Dale Earnhardt Jr. being injured and Regan going there. But at the same time, somebody's got to get in the car," he said.

"I've learned in life, I don't expect anything or not expect anything. To jump back in a couple of weeks after being reinstated, I feel very fortunate.''

Sitting for an interview trackside at Kansas, Allmendinger was all smiles and optimism this weekend.

It's a vastly different atmosphere at the small-budget, no-frills Phoenix Racing team compared to the mighty Penske Racing operation, where he had been driving before his suspension.

The biggest difference?

"About 470 people,''Allmendinger joked.

The Phoenix team may not operate out of a massive, state-of-the-art facility such as Penske or have truckloads of spare engines and parts or wear fancy uniforms, but they have something Allmendinger needs more.

"All the guys really made me feel like they wanted me here and were excited to have me at the race track,'' Allmendinger said. "That for me, did more than anything, even than driving the race car.

"They make me feel they are genuinely happy and believe in me driving the race car. When you go three months without driving a race car, obviously there are tough weekends when I wondered, 'am I ever going to drive again, do I even deserve to be in a race car?'

"For them to make me feel wanted has done more than anything."

It's the small victories and feel-good moments that count most these days. Allmendinger insists the greatest lesson he learned while serving his suspension was that he needed to re-prioritize his life, to find perspective. He completed NASCAR's Road to Recovery program and maintains that his positive test came after he mistakenly took an Adderall pill -- which is often prescribed for attention deficit disorder.

In his case, Allmendinger insists there wasn't a substance-abuse issue. He needed to address his decision-making.

"This schedule is so insane, you don't ever have time to fix anything away from the race track,'' Allmendinger explained. "And if you do, all you're thinking about is fixing the stuff at the race track. I'm by no means a perfect person, but I know I need to work on it.''

"Over the three months, it made me realize how much I really do enjoy being here and how much I missed it. When it's going bad, I put so much pressure on myself. And driving for Roger Penske was a dream come true and then everything just wasn't happening right.

"Five of the first seven races we broke. Next thing you know, you're 32nd in points and it feels like the world is crashing down. I just wasn't having fun and I lost the enjoyment factor.

"When it got taken away, I realized, I really do want to do this. I need to get the priorities I do have in life in order and that's being happy as a person back at home doing the things daily that make me enjoy life.''

Allmendinger knows that his future is tenuous -- both short-term and long-term. He said he is talking with teams about a ride in 2013, but there simply aren't many vacant seats; certainly not many quality vacant seats.

He recognizes that his behavior has probably frightened some sponsors but is hopeful his candor and repentance will attract a company ready to capitalize on his second chance.

In the near-term, he doesn't even know where he will be next week. Phoenix Racing general manager Steve Barkdoll was non-committal.

"Once Kurt left, it was going to be race to race till the end of the season and Regan was going to get the nod,'' Barkdoll explained. "Then when Dale needed Regan, AJ was available and AJ has done a wonderful job.

"We are really excited and I think we could have a wonderful run here. So come next week, it's going to be a tough decision. We'll see what happens with Dale.''

In the meantime, a humbled Allmendinger says he isn't any more motivated now than he was before. But he's certainly got a different outlook.

"For me, there is a lot of unfinished business,'' Allmendinger said. "My goals were always to win races, win championships. Maybe it won't happen, maybe it will.

"In my heart, if I were to leave and go race IndyCars or sports cars -- which I love doing -- I'd always have that little part of me that said, 'You never completed your goals.'

"And that's not the way I want to go out. Especially the way it happened. I really enjoy being here.''