SPARTA, KY (FOX19 Sports)—"I know what the 43 means to NASCAR in general, to the sport, to our race team, to everything about it," A.J. Allmendinger, driver of the No. 43 Best Buy Ford said on Wednesday afternoon at Kentucky Speedway.
And if you don't know anything about the No. 43 car, perhaps you've at least heard of its most famous driver and NASCAR Hall of Famer, "The King," Richard Petty.
Allmendinger, who came into racing driving open-wheel cars, said he's amazed that he gets to work with such a legend every week.
"To me, what I love about sports in general—and especially NASCAR—is the history behind the sport, of how we've gotten to this point, and there's no secret what the No. 43 and Richard Petty and the Petty family means to this sport," Allmendinger said. "So, being an open-wheel guy like I was, to say that I drive a truly legendary racecar and to have The King personally come up and want me in his racecar means the world to me."
Petty visited victory lane 200 times in his NASCAR Sprint Cup career, but as an owner, he hasn't seen the same success.
"I feel like we're getting closer but we still have a long way to go," the 29 year old Allmendinger said. "It'd be cool to finally get The King back in Victory Lane in his own racecar."
Petty's famed No. 43 hasn't visited victory lane since John Andretti piloted the car to a win at Martinsville in April 1999. The last time Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM) visited Victory Lane was in September 2009 at Atlanta.
Allmendinger, a native of Los Gatos, Calif., isn't discouraged. He wants to put the No. 43 back in Victory Lane soon.
"I put all the pressure on my shoulders for myself to go out there and try to win," Allmendinger said. "I'm the hardest on myself. So I know the pressure is out there from other people but honestly it's all on my shoulders."
"I put it on my shoulders."
Allmendinger, a fifth-year Sprint Cup driver, has never visited victory lane in his short career at NASCAR's highest level. He's shouldering the expectations of a team that was almost disbanded at the end of last season.
"It was tough but I think with everything we went through, to fight hard and to show just not myself but the whole race team it was more credit to my crew chief Mike Shiplett and all the guys who were working hard," he said. "They had to jump through a lot of hoops to make sure the cars just got to the racetrack."
Allmendinger went through some tribulations as a member of Richard Petty Motorsports at the tail end of last year. RPM's cars almost didn't make the final two events of the season. After the November race at Texas, the haulers sat outside the track and didn't move until Wednesday, when they hauled out for Phoenix.
"I think in the end it made us a lot stronger," Allmendinger said. "It made us a lot closer as a race team and going into this year."
Allmendinger is 11th in Sprint Cup points as the series heads to Dover, Del., for the FedEx 400 this weekend. He'd love nothing more than to capture the checkers and make his first NASCAR victory the first for the No. 43 in the 2000s.
"I want to go out there and win for myself and win for The King," Allmendinger said, referencing his car owner. "[I want to] win for [my] sponsors, win for Ford. So it's all there but nothing's ever going to take over what I want to do for myself."
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