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Why AJ Allmendinger was so emotional after winning at the NASCAR Cup ROVAL 400

aj allmendinger
Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

CHARLOTTE, NC — AJ Allmendinger was very emotional after winning the Bank of America ROVAL 400 on Sunday, but it’s hard to tell why.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Allmendinger will not return to the Kaulig Racing Cup Series car next season, instead likely returning to the Xfinity Series. And one never knows when they’ve won for the last time at the highest level.

Maybe that plays a factor, but the truth is that Allmendinger is simply emotional about everything.

He is full heart all the time towards literally everything he does. Chris Rice, the president of Kaulig Racing, says he has never met a driver that cares as much and as powerfully as Allmendinger, and this is a man who has been in motorsports circles from birth.

“I’ve met a lot of race car drivers, and I’ve talked to a lot of race car drivers in my life, but I’ve never met somebody like AJ Allmendinger,” Kaulig said. “I think he got run through the ringer so many times and nobody ever dug into his life and how he is and how he acts enough to understand him.

“I’ll tell you over the last month, he’s been very key and pivotal to everything we’re doing at Kaulig Racing. He knows everything we’re doing at Kaulig Racing, and he supports 98 percent of it, I would say. He shouldn’t support it all because that’s what makes you better.”

AJ Allmendinger rips his boss in phone call

NASCAR: Bank of America ROVAL 400
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To that point, Allmendinger, who has become every bit part of the company leadership structure, called Rice over the summer just to chew his boss out about how bad their Xfinity cars “sucked” simply because he cared peripherally as their Cup Series driver.

“When he fusses us out about winning and not winning and what we’re going to do, how we’re going to get better,” Rice said. “He called me when our Xfinity cars were terrible this year, and he said, ‘do you know how bad you suck?’ I said, really? ‘Yes, I do.’

“I told all of you (in the media) that it was unacceptable and that’s because of this guy. For him to win and be upset, we love it because we know how much he loves us.”

Allmendinger has always been candid publicly about his drive and determination but also bouts with self-doubt.

“I always say I have the best life possible and that’s why I’m miserable every day because I wake up and ask myself ‘what the hell are you going to do to be better today?’ God it’s ugly, sometimes but it’s the way I am. I won’t ever change. These are the moments I dream of, knowing ‘hey, you got the best of the best in the world behind you and it’s on you to not let them down.”

And he didn’t on Sunday.

Allmendinger says he can exist this way, constantly redlining because his wife Tara is a unicorn who allows him to be that way.

“And she looks good,” Rice said of the perpetual beauty queen with a master’s degree in architecture.

“She’s gorgeous, yes, that’s part of the unicorn masterpiece of Tara,” Allmendinger said. “She supports me and puts up with all the ups and downs, and she’s just always there for whatever, comfort, leave me alone, whatever it may be.”

‘This organization … saved my life’

Allmendinger also credits Rice and team owner Matt Kaulig for saving his career. Allmendinger was done after the 2018 season when he left JTG Daugherty. He was burned out, down on himself, and ready to do something else when Rice came calling.

“This organization over the last five years, and I’ve said this before, but they’ve saved my life,” Allmendinger said. “Not just living day-to-day but the happiness of day-to-day because if 2018 would have been it, I did some cool things, but there’s always the ‘God, I wish I could have done some more.’

“But because of them, I’ve won on every type of oval in Xfinity, got to kiss the bricks at Indy …”

Twice, Rice interjected gleefully.

“We have done a lot of really special things and because of that, they’ve saved my happiness,” Allmendinger said.

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
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Allmendinger says this whole thing works because Kaulig and Rice understands him, his drive and motivation in ways others may have misinterpreted.

“My goal has always been no matter what team I drive for, whether it’s the owner or crew chief, men and women, pit crew, all that, they understand how much I care,” Allmendinger said. “That’s the only thing I’ve ever cared about is for them.

“If they walk away and say, what do you think of AJ, they can say he’s an asshole and he bitches too much, but damn, we know he cares. They know I’m going to lay everything I’ve got.

“I’ve gotten better and it’s really because of Matt and Chris because they allow me to be that way. When they see me going to a dark level of that, we’ll do something fun and bring me back and start all over again.”

Learning how to manage AJ Allmendinger

Rice agrees that he’s had to rewrite the rules for how to manage drivers when it comes to Allmendinger but that every racer is fundamentally different in their own ways.

“What I’ve learned with AJ is you leave him alone when it’s time to leave him alone, but you also get in his ass when it’s time to get in his ass,” Rice said. “He takes it. That’s the way it is.

“But the key to AJ is he knows we have his back no matter what. If you think about a stat, he’s won a NASCAR race over the last five years. He’s won in NASCAR in either the Xfinity Series or Cup Series, he’s won one race over the last five years. He’s won every single year he’s signed a contract for Kaulig Racing. That’s why we have his back.”

NASCAR: Xfinity Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard
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And that Rice and Kaulig has his back, and brought him into this family, explains a great deal of why Allmendinger was so emotional in Victory Lane. It’s why he took the celebration into the grandstands with the fans.

“I spent many years not even coming close to winning,” Allmendinger said. “You’re never going to see me get out of the car and do the ‘hey’ and walk away thing.”

He has won a dozen races at Kaulig across Xfinity and Cup since joining the company in 2019. These are wins and years he never banked on or anticipated. They are the byproduct of Rice and Kaulig saving his happiness and he was going to share it with everyone.

“I think you see my emotion, and that’s real,” Allmendinger said. “It’s raw. I don’t want to be crying on TV, but it comes down to that’s how much I care.

“You know, I hope fans respect that. You don’t have to be a fan of mine, but I hope you respect how much I care and how much winning a race — the thing I hate most is watching somebody win a race and it’s because they win too much and they get out of the car, and they’re like,’ yay.’

“Maybe I would like to be like that, winning too much, but this is just raw emotion and I wanted to go up there and celebrate.”

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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