NASCAR Cup Series
AJ Allmendinger on his Cup struggles, racing in the streets of Chicago and more
NASCAR Cup Series

AJ Allmendinger on his Cup struggles, racing in the streets of Chicago and more

Updated Jun. 29, 2023 8:54 a.m. ET

CHICAGO — Few NASCAR Cup Series drivers have experience on street courses, but AJ Allmendinger has some thanks to his open-wheel racing days.

Over the last week, Allmendinger has answered several questions from FOX Sports on street-course racing and this weekend's Chicago event, the first-ever Cup race on a street course. It's an event that is being billed as a festival with The Black Crowes, The Chainsmokers and Miranda Lambert all performing concerts.

Considered one of the top road-course racers in NASCAR due to his open-wheel and stock-car experience, the Kaulig Racing driver offers a unique perspective heading into this race.

Here are his answers, with some editing for brevity and clarity.


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Does your Xfinity win at Nashville last week help you handle the struggles on the Cup side this year (Allmendinger is 19th in the standings)?

Bob, I spent a lot of years not winning anything, so I need wins just to make me mentally OK every week, whether it's Cup or Xfinity. This is why you go out here and do this — to try to win races. So I don't take anything for granted. Whether it's an Xfinity or a Cup win, it means a lot to me because you never know when the last one is going to be. 

On the Cup side of it, I felt like over the last month that we're making gains. We have had tough meetings at the shop. I've said this from Day 1, there's no finger-pointing on the team. We just kind of all look at each other like, ‘We all suck right now, we've all got to be better.' Over the last month, ... our Cup program is getting there, but it's the best of the best and we're racing against the best teams and the best drivers. On the Cup side of it, there's going to be more down days at times than good ones. But it's all about having perspective on what we're trying to do on the Cup side of it. Winning anything is important. I don't take any of that for granted.

You've raced street courses. Very few of these guys have competed on road courses with no run-off space. What are they in for?

A lot of the street courses you have run-off, at least in certain corners. It's intimidating. With the Xfinity cars, if you wheel-hop, you're probably going to get into the fence because you can't bail out anywhere. In the Cup car, you don't wheel-hop as much but how these things bounce off the [bump] stops [in the shocks] and stuff, one small error and you're in the wall. You're going to be on the ragged edge.

"It's intimidating"

AJ Allmendinger shares his thoughts on how challenging it will be for drivers to compete on a street course with no run-off.

You are used to street-course races that are part of festivals. What are NASCAR teams going to experience as maybe just being part of the show? And do you take a different outlook?

To be 100 percent honest, I've told my guys it's going to be a pain in the ass for them, just coordinating everything, where the haulers are, things like that. But that's what street-course racing — part of it — always is. It's an event with a race that's going on. That's what makes it fun.

Does the Chicago street course favor drivers who are good on road courses or does it even things out?

That's a good question. I guess it's a wait-and-see. I don't think it favors anybody in the sense of what you do because a lot of the corners are first-gear corners, so you can kind of call it like a short-track, slow-apex speed at that. 

The biggest thing is what car and what driver is the most confident on the brakes. I think that is where a lot of your time in qualifying is going to be made up, and passing is really going to be about the brake zones. If you feel like you are really good on the brakes, that's probably where you're going to shine. I don't know if that lends itself to the road-course drivers. 

In the Cup Series, we have the best of the best. As we've seen at these road courses, it used to be maybe 10-12 [drivers] deep and it's 25-30 deep now about who can be competitive. I really do believe it's just going to be about who can unload and get comfortable the quickest and have a good setup and more importantly be the most comfortable being that close to the wall at every apex. If you can do that in the short amount of time that we'll have, I definitely think you're going to have an advantage.

If you can win this thing, what will be bigger — winning the first Chicago street course race or making the playoffs?

It's probably a boring answer — for me, it is everything. It's a win in the Cup Series. It's hard to do. We're getting better with our speed at Kaulig Racing. We definitely showed at Nashville to be pretty quick. I thought Sonoma [the race prior] we were probably not a race-winning car, but we probably were top-3-to-5. If we keep doing that, we'll have a shot to win. To me, it's just winning a Cup race. It's cool to be able to win an inaugural race. I was able to do that at Indy on the road course. But just winning a Cup race, man, it's big no matter what. You don't get too many opportunities at it. If we get it, it's going to be one hell of a party.

AJ Allmendinger on his weekend plans

Will he take a peek at Chicago's skyscrapers? Just how fast will he be going? Will he attend any of the concerts?

During the race, will you get a chance to peek at the skyscrapers and the scenes of Chicago? Maybe under caution? Or from a driver standpoint, do you just see road and fences?

I'm sure under yellow, I'll probably kind of take a glance at it and look around. Although it almost seems like a life ago, this is what I used to do a lot, get between all these buildings and things like that, and it was really cool. The walls get so tall, you're just going to have to be 100 percent focused at all times. As bad as it sounds, even under yellow, you can't let your mind wander. Because if somebody checks up in front of you or the pace car is going slow or you're just not even paying attention, the wall is right there. You've really got to be focused at all times. That will be more like Saturday during the Xfinity race checking it out. I'll probably be pretty busy on Sunday.

Do you know what your top speed will likely be and is there anything cool that these are roads that you're not normally allowed to go these speeds on?

Honestly, in sim, I haven't paid real close attention to what the actual speed is down the back straightaway [on Lake Shore Drive]. It probably is 140, 150 [mph], right around there. But I don't know that for a fact. That, to me, is what is cool about street-course racing. Not so much for the driver because we do these speeds every week no matter what type of racetrack. It's cool for just the normal person that was like, ‘Hey, on Thursday I was driving 25 miles per hour down this road and now there's race cars doing 140-150.' That's one of the things that's intriguing to the person that maybe isn't a race fan.

Are you going to any of the concerts this weekend? I know you have to go to The Chainsmokers on Saturday night after the Xfinity race to be introduced, but are you going to stay? 

We'll see how the day goes on Saturday [in practice and qualifying]. If it goes well and I'm happy and we want to hang out, then there's a good chance I might stay out there and take in all the festivities. If it's just a bad day, no, probably not. I'll probably want to get back to my room and focus on how to get better.

What To Watch For

Patience while being aggressive.

You could probably say that every week, but this week that will be the biggest challenge for drivers — when to make that aggressive move and when to be patient.

NASCAR hits the Windy City

Chase Elliott says that in order for the Chicago street course to feel successful from a fan perspective, it needs to be exciting and feel like a big event.

It is likely going to be a track-position race, and the drivers who don't achieve solid qualifying results will have to make a choice on whether to make daring moves to gain track position or just wait and hope for attrition.

There likely will be attrition even if drivers don't make daring moves. This course will be tough enough that drivers will make mistakes on their own and end up in the wall.

Thinking Out Loud

I've said it for months, but it likely won't hurt to say it again this weekend ...

When I get asked about what I think about the Chicago street race, I reply that, "I think it will be a great event."

Notice that I didn't say "race" but "event." Races on street circuits typically aren't the most dynamic due to relatively narrow racing grooves. They tend to be track-position affairs. The one this weekend has the potential for a lot of cautions as drivers learn the course.

It could be a good race. There certainly is a chance for it to be dramatic with overtime(s). But this weekend will be judged on whether it creates new fans by exposing them to the sounds and the personalities in addition to the number of passes on the track.

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"He can be one of the greatest to ever hold a steering wheel in this sport." — Trackhouse Racing's Justin Marks on his driver, Ross Chastain, who won his first race of the season at Nashville last week

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.

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