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DARLINGTON -- AJ Allmendinger, driver of the No. 43 Valvoline/Best Buy Ford Fusion will run the new FR9 engine at Darlington Raceway Saturday night. Allmendinger, who likes the setup at Darlington, took time to talk with Ford Racing about his season to date, the FR9, what he likes about Darlington, and if his open-wheel background is an asset or hindrance at the egg-shaped track.
Q. ARE YOU HAPPY WITH YOUR SEASON THUS FAR?
A. I would definitely like to be higher in points, but the points are really close. If we can put a couple of good weeks together we could jump up around 14th or 15th, somewhere in there. I’ve really liked the last few weeks that we’ve ran. We have had good overall weekends from the time we start practicing on Friday through the end of the race. I know a lot of people say that we haven’t had the finishes where we’ve been running, and that is true. We’ve been inside the top-10 at a lot of the races. Phoenix, we qualified on the pole, and Talladega, we led some laps. At Texas we were really fast, but we didn’t have any luck on our side. I have been pleased with that and if we can keep doing that, have three strong weeks and be around 16th in points going into the All-Star race, we will be pretty good. I really feel like the team has gotten a lot stronger each week and our car is getting better. We just need to have a little better finish than where we have been running.
Q. HOW BIG ARE THE NEXT SIX WEEKS FOR YOU GUYS?
A. If you go through and look at where you are at the end of July, that is where you see where you are as a race team. Even at the All-Star break that is how I look at it. If you can be around the 125-point range of the chase and getting better each week, then you can look at it and truly say you are on the cusp of being a chase team. Now, on the other hand, if you struggle and are 250 points out, you probably won’t turn that around and need to set different goals. We have some good race tracks coming up the next six weeks. We should be good at Darlington and we were really fast at Dover last year. I was really happy with the Charlotte test, so I am really looking forward to both the All-Star weekend and the 600. I am a road course guy, so Sonoma should be good. We are building new cars also, so Michigan and places like Pocono I really enjoy and those are coming up. We just have to keep getting better each weekend.
Q. WHAT IS IT ABOUT DARLINGTON THAT YOU LIKE PARTICULARLY?
A. Well, it is fast. You are right up against the wall. I wish they wouldn’t have repaved it actually. I got to drive it one time the old way and it was a blast. Now it is fast, so if you get your car turning really good, there is a lot of grip in the race track. If you get it turning, you will be pretty hooked up around there. You have a lot of horsepower with our Roush Yates motors, so it is a fun place. We were pretty good there last year, and I think we should be even better there this year.
Q. YOU WILL BE RUNNING THE FR9 AT DARLINGTON, WHAT DO YOU ANTICIPATE FROM IT IN A NON-RESTRICTOR PLATE SETTING?
A. That is a good question, we are still learning a lot of things each time. I can tell you that the engine is a great engine and I am looking forward to running it again. It is like the spoiler though, every track we go to we get asked what it is like to run it in this setting, or that setting. I understand that, but until we go through it, it is really hard to answer. Anything that helps us improve our race car, improve our weekend, will be good.
Q. DOES YOUR OPEN-WHEEL BACKGROUND COME IN HANDY OR HARM YOU AT A TRACK LIKE DARLINGTON?
A. The transition from an Indy car to a stock car in general is tough. I always laugh because they told me that Pocono is just like a road course and I should be good there, then I get out there and it is just three messed up left-handers, it isn’t anything like a road course. Darlington is the same way. You show up there and it is the funkiest looking oval you have ever seen. It is an awesome place though. The tradition there is really cool and I have gotten better each year that I have raced there, so I am really looking forward to it this time around.