A.J. Allmendinger is back in the Bay Area, competing in today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota-Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway and doing what he’s done all of his life: simply drive cars.
Allmendinger grew up in Los Gatos always around a racetrack as he started off racing go-karts. He started racing stock cars in 2002, winning the Barber Dodge Pro Series Championship in 2002, and the Champ Car Atlantic Championship in 2003.
“My dad was a local dirt-track racer in California before I was even born,” Allmendinger said. “Seemed like every weekend of my life, I was always at a race or watching it on television.”
Even though he enjoyed football and basketball growing up, Allmendinger’s heart has always been in racing.
“Growing up, kids would ask me if I wanted to go to a party, and I would tell them I’m going to race karts. They’d look at me like, ‘OK. I guess,’” said Allmendinger, expressing what some people thought of his race car ambitions. “Now, when I see those same friends, they come up to me and say, ‘Wow, you really made it.’”
However, his introduction to NASCAR wasn’t such a pleasant one, as he struggled to find his mark in the sport. But late in 2009 with Allmendinger in a bit of flux with his standing in the Sprint Cup Series, the greatest driver in the history of the sport introduced himself — The King, Richard Petty.
“I remember he walked to me and introduced himself, which was odd, and said, ‘You’re good. I want you in my race car,’” Allmendinger said. “At that point in time, in which I was struggling and trying to make it, it meant the world for him to say that.”
Fast-forward to today and he now finds himself making his third start in front of family and friends in Sonoma, driving the No. 43 car for Richard Petty Motorsports.
Allmendinger currently sits in 16th place in the battle for the Sprint Cup championship as he has one top five finish and three top 10 finishes. He’s looking to duplicate a result like the one he had in 2009 at the Sonoma track, where he finished seventh.
“I love the sport, and I’m working hard to stay in it for a very long time,” Allmendinger said. “Having the ability to talk to Richard weekly, I think we’re only going to get better and start competing for championships.”
WHEN: Today, noon
WHERE: Infineon Raceway, Sonoma
TRACK: Road course, 1.99 miles
DISTANCE: 218.9 miles, 110 laps
LAST YEAR: Jimmie Johnson won for the first time on a road course, taking advantage of Marcos Ambrose’s gaffe. Ambrose lost the lead when he stalled his engine trying to conserve gas under caution with six laps left. He restarted seventh and finished sixth.