Former open-wheel racer AJ Allmendinger admits he is relieved to head into the sixth event on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule this weekend in Martinsville knowing that his position in the field is already secured.
As strong start to the season for the Richard Petty Motorsports driver has seen him carry the #44 Dodge to 16th place in owners points after the opening five races of the year, meaning he will no longer need to worry about qualifying for this weekend's event 'on speed'.
While that hasn't been an issue thus far for the former Champ Car star – who is the only driver without a guaranteed starting position to line up for every race this season – Allmendinger admitted he was relieved to have some of the pressure lifted ahead of the race weekend.
“It's a huge relief for us,” he said. “To have to worry about qualifying each week just wears you out, but we've made every race and we are sitting pretty decent in points so I'm pretty happy.
“It's even more impressive considering how late we put this deal together. I don't think we have really shown what we can do. We've struggled more than I expected at some tracks this year where I think we will do better when we go back. There's just a bunch of racers on this team. We might not have the sponsorship other teams have, but once the green flag drops we seem to pass a lot of guys who have more advantages than we do.”
Allmendinger's performances so far this season also drew praise from NASCAR legend Richard Petty.
“I think with AJ, its just the deal where – even though he is 27-years-old and has a lot of experience – he's just getting experience in Cup racing,” he said. “I think he has just run about 50 races, and I think it is going to be up to Richard Petty Motorsports to get him a better car, because he is a better driver right now than what the car is. We have to be able to draw stuff out of him, and he has to learn a little bit. If they ever hit their stride, he is going to be really, really tough to beat. They're doing a real good job right now.”