Q&A: Allmendinger Speaks Out
A.J. Allemendinger joined NASCAR Race Hub on SPEED last night to speak out about what his life has been like since his early July suspension, and subsequent release from Penske Racing after being admitted into NASCAR’s ‘Road to Recovery’ program.
Here is a complete transcript of last night’s interview with SPEED NASCAR reporter Bob Dillner.
Bob Dillner: Describe the event and the emotions, when NASCAR informed you in Daytona.
A.J. Allmendinger: A lot of confusion because, at that point, I went to my knees. I wasn’t going to be in a race car in a couple of hours, and everything else that was going to follow after that.
Dillner: That night, where did you go? What did you do? What were you thinking?
Allmendinger: I drove home. After I talked to the race team, they thought it was the best idea for me to get home. So, I drove home from there, from Daytona back to Charlotte. A lot of emotions driving back, a lot of crying, then a lot of, ‘what am I going to do next?’ Just trying to figure out what was happening… where everything was going, just, lost at that point.
Dillner: From that point until now, what has this all been like for you?
Allmendinger: For the first few weeks it was basically a step-by-step process. I’m just trying to figure out what it was. I was having everything tested that I had ever taken. Work out supplements, Advil PM, Nyquil. At that point, all I knew it was an amphetamine. I’ll be honest; I’m naïve to drugs… I don’t even know what that was. Then obviously, after the ‘B’ sample, then figuring out what it was, and retracing my steps to figure out how it got there. Then talking to Mr. Penske about what was going to happen and, obviously, being released from the race team. After that, it was just about soul searching. Figuring out, up until this week, I wasn’t even ready to talk.
Dillner: What was the moment like when you said, ‘Wait a second, maybe it was that?’
Allmendinger: I’ve never done drugs. When I think of drugs, I think of hardcore drugs. That’s never been a want, never been near it, never will be near it. I don’t surround myself with people that do that stuff. So, it was just really trying to figure out what it was, and retrace it back to that night. To know, in one way, I was told the wrong thing to what it was, and in another way, it was my fault for make a huge, bad judgment, on my part. One pill that adults and children take as prescription is what’s gotten me to this place.
Dillner: When you were given that pill, did you ever question, really, I wonder exactly what this is?
Allmendinger: I should have. I know people are going to sit here and watch and go, ‘God, how stupid can you be as an athlete, to put something that you don’t have in your own hands, and take that?’ But at that point, I was just really tired. He said it was a workout supplement for energy, which I’ve taken in the past. It was just something that I really should have thought a lot more about, but I didn’t. I just took it, and that was it.
Dillner: Adderall. Would you even know that that was a banned substance by NASCAR?
Allmendinger: No, and that’s the sad thing, is that you could have told me that night that, ‘Hey, this is Adderall,” I wouldn’t have known what that is. That’s how naïve I am to drugs just because I’ve never been around them. I’ve never taken stuff like that.
Dillner: When we spoke in Kentucky before the race, we talked about stress. What was that stress like?
Allmendinger: Well, I mean I came into this year, driving for Roger Penske has been my dream come true. That was the guy that, when I was racing go-karts, was the pinnacle of open-wheel racing. That’s who I wanted to drive for, and I was getting that opportunity. And I was so excited. But at the same point, the year wasn’t going the way I had planned – by far. So because of that I was stressed, putting so much pressure on myself to go out there and perform.
Dillner: You said you couldn’t sleep. What would you lie awake and be thinking about?
Allmendinger: There are a thousand things running through my head. Racing, life in general, happiness, and things felt like they were spinning out of control, just not being happy in general, at home, any of it. It wasn’t one thing, but it was a thousand things that kept me awake at night.
Dillner: You reached out to Jeff Gordon and talked to him. What was that conversation like? What did he tell you?
Allmendinger: Its personal stuff that he told me about his life, and stuff that I told him about mine. Honestly, I probably should have asked for advice sooner in my career because… especially guys like Jeff and Tony (Stewart), Jimmie (Johnson), those types of guys. All of them, this sport is so great about the drivers that are at the top level, but will be willing to help you out. Talk to you. I was always afraid to ask them because I didn’t want to seem weak. As I talked to them, it’s not about being weak, it’s about growing up, and we all deal with things as we grow up, especially in a sport as tough as this sport. It’s so tough, every week, it’s part of this sport. Things happen and not be emotional about it.
Dillner: This program that you’re going through right now. What does it teach you?
Allmendinger: For me, it’s learning how to cope with stress. Learning more about substance abuse and what’s out there because I said, I was naive. I didn’t even know what Adderall was. I wouldn’t have known what any of those pills are or anything like that. So it’s just about helping me cope with stress and learning about that, and making the right decisions, not putting myself in a bad position.
Dillner: We joked about it before the interview started, but what have the race weekends been like for you when you’re sitting at home?
Allmendinger: It’s a constant fight with the remote, flipping back and forth between watching the race and not watching the race. But I have to watch the race; ‘A’ to keep in tune with what’s going on. And ‘B,’ out of all of this, I still want Penske, the whole organization, to go out there and win races.
Dillner: When you see Sam Hornish, Jr. in that 22, what is that like?
Allmendinger: Oh it hurts for sure. You don’t ever want to see another guy in your race car, but at the same point, I want him running up front. They deserve that as a race team. It hurts, but I want him running up front, competing for wins. But I can only watch in about a five to 10-lap stints. Then I have to shut it off and turn it on in about 40 laps as its going. I guess it’s a constant fight with the remote.
Dillner: If you had to look in your crystal ball, 10 years from now, where do you see A.J. Allmendinger?
Allmendinger: I think the most important thing is that I see myself as a happy person, with or without racing.
Dillner: What would make you happy?
Allmendinger: I don’t know right now, you know – step by step. It’s the fact that I’ve struggled for six years and haven’t been happy. A lot of things haven’t made me happy, a lot of things that we’ve seen on camera, a lot of things that we haven’t seen; so just having my family – the right people around me. Always going out there and enjoying life, and being happy for what I have. I’m healthy. I have a lot of things that a lot of people are… in a lot worse state than me, and I feel very fortunate for that.
Dillner: Have you learned through all of this to lean on people more? To deal with all of that?
Allmendinger: Of course… I have a lot of great people around me. My parents are amazing people. Maybe, I haven’t turned to them enough, and I have now. I have a lot of close friends that really love me, and trust me, a lot of family, so yeah. Obviously I have a lot of drivers in the sport that want me back in, that are opening, saying, ‘Call me, whatever you want, just for advice.’ So there are a lot of people that I can lean on. I’ve always had those people; I’ve just not done a good job of leaning on them. I know now, that it’s okay. It’s not weak, you can do that.
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