Allmendinger getting comfortable in IndyCar

FORT WORTH, Texas — A.J. Allmendinger is completely comfortable getting around Texas Motor Speedway in a Sprint Cup car.

IndyCar is another story, which is exactly why Allmendinger was at the 1½-mile quadoval Wednesday.

Allmendinger is trying to get in as much seat time as possible as he prepares to drive for Team Penske in two Izod IndyCar Series events – the April 7 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama and the May 26 Indianapolis 500.

Tuesday marked the first time Allmendinger has run on an oval in an open-wheel car since 2006. That year, his last in open wheel before transitioning to NASCAR, Allmendinger finished third in the Champ Car World Series standings.

“It’s just like any test for me in an Indy car,” Allmendinger said. “It’s about getting comfortable. It all feels like I’m kind of like a fish out of water, trying to figure out what to feel and how to get around. I think people kind of assume that back when I used to race a lot of Champ cars I raced a lot of ovals. I didn’t. I only did Milwaukee. This is brand new for me and I’m trying to get used to it.”

Allmendinger, who has made three starts for the Phoenix Racing ride in the Sprint Cup Series, doesn’t know what to expect in his two starts for Penske or if they will possibly lead to more. Allmendinger, who won five times in three seasons in the Champ cars, wants to put his best foot forward and see what happens from there.

“Especially going to the Indy 500, it’s something I never expected,” said Allmendinger, who will follow up the Barber run with Indy 500 orientation. “To be able to have this opportunity means the world to me, but at the same point, I want to take advantage of it. I don’t want to be here to be here. There’s a lot of pressure there, a lot of it I put on myself. I don’t want to go out there and waste anyone’s time and waste Roger’s money.”

It’s easy to see why Allmendinger feels loyalty to Penske. Allmendinger was his driver in the Sprint Cup Series last year before he was suspended after failing a random drug test. That led to him losing his full-time Cup ride but not his relationship with Penske.

Even though Allmendinger no longer races for the Penske Cup team, he does keep tabs on it. That included the wild events that transpired Sunday with the current Penske driver Joey Logano being involved in on-track incidents with both Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart.

He wishes nothing but the best for that team.

“The good thing is the equipment is fast,” Allmendinger said. “He (Logano) is fast in it. He’d had the opportunity to win races. It’s good to see it for those guys. They have great sponsors. That was kind of the heartbreaking thing about last year. I let those companies and those people down. It’s cool for them. It’s fun to watch from the outside of it.”

Allmendinger didn’t even mind the off-track incident in which Logano got into a confrontation with Stewart, saying it’s what Sprint Cup needs.

The incident was also a perfect example of the differences in Allmendinger’s two race disciplines.

“The Cup side of it, in a way, you don’t have to have the drivers like you, but you have to have them respect you a little bit,” said Allmendinger, who finished 16th in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race. “In a way, if they don’t like you, they can determine where you finish. In the IndyCar side of it, it’s obviously a lot different because you don’t go out there and run into each other. If you do, you mess your own car up. There’s always been a fine line and that’s the thing I got taught in Cup. You don’t have to be well liked. You have to get respected and you have to earn that. Joey’s fast. He’s going to win races in those cars.”