In July of 2012, A.J. Allmendinger failed one of the NASCAR's random drug tests - receiving an indefinite suspension from the sport. In the blink of an eye, many thought the young driver's career was over.
However, Allmendinger began to work his way back and completed NASCAR's Road to Recovery program to be reinstated in September of 2012.
Allmendinger spent the 2013 season running a part-time Sprint Cup schedule for Phoenix Racing, as well as some Nationwide Series and IndyCar races for Penske Racing.
"Last year was just an unbelievable year that I didn’t expect," Allmendinger commented. "When I left Daytona to run the Rolex race, that was the only race that I planned on doing. Very lucky to start with James Finch; he gave me the opportunity to run his Sprint car and at least get my foot back in the door in being a Sprint Cup driver and then Roger Penske and all the chances that he gave me with IndyCar and the Nationwide Series.
"I really think because of that, I got to meet Tad and Brad and start to build that relationship. If I wasn’t there, that couldn’t happen. We all know as drivers if you’re not in the car, you’re quickly forgotten about."
In the end, his hard work paid off as Allmendinger has now landed his feet - ready to tackle the full schedule with JTG Daugherty in 2014. 'Dinger' said the idea came about after running a couple races last year to close out the year for the team.
"It’s a great place to be and these people have made me feel more than just a driver or a employee," Allmendinger commented. "I feel part of their family. They got great beliefs and I felt like as we developed doing a couple more races and things like that really getting to know them – I thought this was the right place to be. As we started talking about the possibility of this year and years on, I felt like this was the right place for me and a good place that I could be for a long time."
Allmendinger added the amount of partners the team has also speaks volumes about team co-owner Tad Geschickter.
"Tad is good at going out there and getting to know the people that he needs to know and building those relationships and partnerships and that was something that really attracted me to this great race team," Allmendinger continued.
Along with signing Dinger for the 2014 season, JTG Daugherty Racing went and formed a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing. Co-owner Brad Daugherty said the idea of forming an alliance came about after evaluating their program. They were trying to think of ways to improve and expand and knew that expanding to two cars in house wouldn't solve their problems.
"Jodi and I sat and talked about it more and more and we knew we had to have the alliance if we truly want to be competitive," Daugherty explained. "Within our four walls, we don’t feel like we’re at 30th place race team; we feel like we’re a 20th place race team. Reality is, we were a 30th place race team. So how do we improve upon that? The obvious opportunity is to go about and partner."
Daugherty said they chose to partner with RCR based on the resources that Richard Childress would open up to them and how they could maximize it.
"The one thing that Richard has been very good about it is giving entry to everything that they’re doing in their building and it’s up to us to take advantage of us," Daugherty commented. "We are very excited – we’re always excited getting ready for Daytona – but with what Richard Childress brings, power plant point, engineering, we’re real excited for Daytona. After the speeds that Austin Dillon ran by himself, we’re really excited. We think its going to be a huge step for our program going forward."
Daugherty added that they hope to do what Furniture Row Racing has been able to do with their alliance with RCR. FRR was able to put Kurt Busch in the Chase last season and contend for wins on multiple weekends.
"We’re going to come, show up and be loud and proud and when we go to some of those places – Walkins Glen, Dover – we’re going to kick their butts," Daugherty commented. "That’s what we’re doing. There’s no need to be shy or beak about – we got our butts kicked the past couple of years so we’re going to return the favor."
JTG Daugherty went down the alliance road before with Michael Waltrip Racing, unable to find success. However, Daugherty expects different results this time due to RCR being an established team versus MWR just starting when they formed that previous alliance.
"If you remember, they were just coming into the sport," Daugherty explained. "That year, we helped them develop some stuff – but each team struggled mightily. It was really to our detriment to be a partner, both ways. We ended up not having success.
"The thing I like about Richard is even through the struggles, he’s stuck with it and he comes back with a present. We feel it’ll benefit us. The other thing I like is his engine program is in house. I think if you’re going to be really successful in this sport, you have to control your engine process and the process we had before didn’t allow that so there were growing pains there. The thing the biggest thing is we won’t have to deal with growing pains; we’re dealing with something that’s built."
For Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty forming the alliance showed him their commitment to having success this year. Having the alliance allowed the team to save on resources and sit out the Daytona pre-season test.
"You’d love to be there, but we had to kind of sit down and thing about how we can use our resources the right way," Allmendinger explained. "With the alliance with RCR and knowing that they are going to do the test and they’ve been show open with this partnership. Richard has opened the doors and really let us be part of their organization. So we thought, ‘Okay, they can go do the test; we can learn for that’.
"Obviously they had really fast racecars so that’s a sign of good things to come going into Daytona, but I think its just going out there and putting it together piece by piece. The big thing for us is knowing that were going to have the opportunities with the resources so putting the right people in place, getting the cars ready to go and maximizing all the data and everything we will get from the alliance."
The team hopes the decisions pay off and Allmendinger hopes that he can be with Geschickter and Daugherty for a long time. Though, to start off, it'll take managing expectations considering the team failed to finish in the top 10 last year.
"You want everything to happen overnight and it’d be nice to, but it’s not easy," Allmendinger commented. "We can continually build this and I hope it’s not a one year thing. we have this for multi-years and we know we can keep building it."
In the end, the goal for the team is simple - score their first Sprint Cup Series win.
"It’d be great to get my first and bring the first into the organization, bring it to the shop. That’s the ultimate goal – but it’s really about taking it piece by piece," Allmendinger said. "You can’t just jump from 30th to 1st; it takes a lot of time. But if I feel if we do everything that we need to do to the maximum ability, people will say that they’re a team that we can’t sleep on. They’re here every weekend and contending but that’s a long ways down the line. We just have to focus day to day."