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CHARLOTTE -- In addition to being the longest race of the season in terms of distance, the Coca-Cola 600 has had a reputation for producing first-time series winners, including last year’s winner – David Reutimann. Other drivers who made this race their first victory include: David Pearson (1961), Jeff Gordon (1994), Bobby Labonte (1995), Matt Kenseth (2000), and Casey Mears (2007).
Paul Menard and AJ Allmendinger, two Ford drivers with the potential to join that list, spoke about this weekend’s race and what it’s going to take to reach Victory Lane.
PAUL MENARD – No. 98 Menards Ford Fusion
Q. WHAT IS YOUR MINDSET FOR A 600-MILE RACE LIKE THIS ONE?
A. It’s just 100 miles longer. You really have no different mindset coming into it. I’ve run pretty good here at Charlotte in the past. We had a really good two days of testing. The car has a lot of speed in it, so hopefully we can build on that.
Q. YOU RAN WELL AT CALIFORNIA AND VEGAS EARLIER THIS YEAR. IS THIS THE KIND OF TRACK WHERE YOU WOULD EXPECT TO GET YOUR FIRST WIN?
A. Right now, our short track program is our weakest and the mile-and-a-halfs are probably our strongest, so we definitely look forward to coming to these type of tracks. I’ll take a win anywhere, it doesn’t really matter, but if we can get one this week, it’ll be big.
Q. IS CHARLOTTE THE KIND OF TRACK YOU LIKE?
A. I’m pretty comfortable on all the tracks, it’s just that there are so many variables that go into running well. Right now, our package works good at these tracks and it shows in our results.
Q. DO YOU LIKE RUNNING 600 MILES?
A. It’s cool to do it one time a year. In general, I think all the races are too long, but I think we should always have a 600-mile race just to change things up a bit. Honestly, when you’re in the car you don’t know if it’s 400 miles or 300 miles or 600 miles.
Q. HAVE YOU EVER LOST TRACK OF WHERE YOU ARE IN THIS RACE?
A. The second half of the race generally goes quicker than the first half. Everything kind of plays out and you kind of know what you’ve got by then and you can start knocking off laps, but sometimes you do wish the race would end a little bit sooner. Then again, there are other times you wish you had some more laps to work on it and improve.
AJ ALLMENDINGER – No. 43 Insignia/Best Buy Ford Fusion
Q. DO YOU FEEL CHARLOTTE IS MORE SUITED FOR A FIRST TIME WINNER?
A. If you’re in that position, you definitely try to take it and do that, but I think, for us, we just need to keep being better as a race team. We’re getting faster, but it’s just little mistakes that keep hurting us. I really do believe our equipment is getting there. We’re gonna have a brand new car and everybody at Ford and Best Buy and Richard Petty Motorsports is working hard. I think we’re jelling together, so if that position happens, we’ll be there. It’s such a long race and you just have to pace yourself, but if I could come out with a solid top-10 finish, and we just keep building as a race team, I’ll be happy.
Q. IS THIS THE KIND OF TRACK YOU EXPECT TO GET YOUR FIRST WIN?
A. I don’t know. There are weeks when I think, ‘The short track, that’s where it’s gonna be.’ Then there are weeks I think, ‘This mile-and-a-half is the one.’ Heck, I thought we were gonna win Daytona, too. You never know, but I’ll be honest, I’m not gonna be picky. I’ll take my first win wherever I can get it. I feel like we’re getting there. To say that we’re a race-winning team right now, I don’t know, but I think the potential to be there each weekend as we get better is definitely there. You generally lose a couple before you finally start to win one. For us, we just have to consistently run in the top 10, get in that top five, and then keep contending for wins and maybe one will fall in your place. That’s the ultimate goal and we’re gonna get there, I promise that.
Q. DO YOU NOTICE THE LAST 100 MILES?
A. No. For me, the track is not as physically demanding so as the race gets further along, the track gets cooler and the air temp gets cooler. It’s not like being struck by the heat all day. I look at a race like when it’s hot at Pocono. That seems a lot longer than any race here at the 600, so you just work hard all week. I work hard training. You just hydrate, a lot of Active Water going in the body and staying hydrated, and you just keep pacing yourself all week. You know that this is one of those weeks that you just try to go easy when you can and stay off your feet, and then the race is no problem.