DAYTONA BEACH, Florida: AJ Allmen¬dinger made a decision when close friend and IndyCar driver Justin Wilson died last year.
He won’t race open cockpit cars again.
Wilson died one day after suffering a head injury when he was struck by debris during a race at Pocono Raceway last August.
During Tuesday’s (Wednesday in Manila) NASCAR media day at Daytona International Speedway, Allmendinger, 34, was asked if he would consider racing the Indianapolis 500 again.
“No. The moment Justin Wilson passed away I said ‘Never again,’ ” Allmendinger said. “The only way I would do it is if they put in a closed cockpit over the car and tested it and they thought that was a good direction in safety then I might think about doing it again.”
Allmendinger, who competed three seasons in CART/Champ Car World Series — earning five wins — and has six starts in the Verizon IndyCar Series — including a seventh-place finish in the 2013 Indy 500 — looked up to Wilson as he came up through the open-wheel ranks. They were team-mates at five Rolex 24 events and they teamed to win the season-opening sports car race at Daytona with tiny Michael Shank Racing in 2012.
Returning for the endurance race this year obviously brought back memories.
“There are good days and bad. I thought at the Rolex I had done a pretty good job. We would remember the good times, joke about it. I remember that we played a mini-golf tournament that [driver and coach]Barry Waddell and Stef Wilson [Justin’s younger brother were in]. It was a tradition that Justin and Barry and I would do. We played awful that day and said that Justin is up there messing with us,” he said.
“So we had the good times and I woke up Saturday [Sunday in Manila] and read a tweet that [team owner Michael]Shank had sent out and it killed me inside. It hurt, and it was tough. But you always think about him. We all have to experience stuff of our losses. He always made me a better race car driver and I remember everything about it,” Allmendinger said.
Allmendinger believes the next step in helping to keep drivers safer in NASCAR involves removing any grass near the racing surface. He is not the first to suggest this — drivers Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are among many who have been calling for all grass to be removed and for tracks to install pavement instead.
“It looks pretty but the grass is one thing that tears many race cars apart,” Allmendinger said. “Certain ways when it’s wet [the car]picks up speed.”
For example, here at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, there is a large swath of grass in front of the grandstand and more in different patches along the backstretch. Jimmie Johnson took a ride through the backstretch grass during a crash on Saturday in the Sprint Unlimited, tearing up the front of his car and ending his race.
“Right now, the grass [here]has gotten thicker,” Allmendinger said. “I remember the Fourth of July race here two years ago they all wrecked in front of me and I hit a wet patch and went to go down pit road and locked the tires up and hit the grass and it looked like I had been in 200 miles per hour [320 kilometers per hour] power front impact and I didn’t hit anything. Pavement would be nicer,” he added.