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Allmendinger: Team bonding leads to great communication

April 19, 2012, A.J. Allmendinger, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com



Allmendinger: Team bonding leads to great communication
The shorthand scanner conversations make perfect sense to tight No. 22 team

The Penske Racing team plane was landing for the race out in Texas last week. I took a look at all the faces around me. I was sitting right by my crew chief, Todd Gordon. I had just politely kicked his rear end in playing Draw Race 2 on his iPad. Every face I looked at had a bright smile. There wasn't a frown to be seen anywhere.

Naturally, I had a big smile on my face, too. It really hit me just by looking around the plane as to what a great group of guys we have working on the two Penske Cup teams. Everyone gets along so well together.

"I think because of all of that, and more importantly how we have reacted to those weekends, it has bonded us quicker. To be honest, the feeling is like we've been together for half a season and not just a handful of races."

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Then I started looking around and doing a mental snapshot of all my guys -- all the members of our No. 22 team who make up our early travel crew to all the races. I felt really good when I thought of just how closely our team has bonded in such a short period of time.

I thought back about what has happened over the last few short months. I thought about coming to the shop the first time and meeting some of the guys then. I thought about going to Daytona for the testing and getting to know everyone better. I thought about going out to eat together and hanging out when we left the track.

All that allowed us all to get to spend some off-track time together. I have always believed that getting to know my guys away from their jobs -- their personalities, their families -- all that really does impact how well you work together. Not just in the good times, but it matters a whole lot in the times when you're not running that great.

Let me clarify that. We have been running great -- the cars have been fast, the pit stops solid, but we just haven't had the finishes because of issues we couldn't control during the race. If you know racers -- and by that I mean people whose jobs are competing every weekend -- at the end of the day, the reason doesn't matter a whole lot why you didn't have that great finish. When you don't finish well, we're still just as grumpy.

I think because of all of that, and more importantly how we have reacted to those weekends, it has bonded us quicker. To be honest, the feeling is like we've been together for half a season and not just a handful of races.

The plane was taxiing in and a weird thought came through my mind. It was one that turned the smile I had into a chuckle. What I was thinking about was how it would be to be a fan sitting in the grandstand on a Friday and listening on their scanner to our 22 team during practice.

It would be funny. If you didn't know our guys, it would be strange, that's for sure. You might even ask what the heck is going on out there? Is there a translator in the house?

Here are a few things you definitely would hear if you listened in:

"Crazy, he's coming atcha..." Translation: We have just finished making our adjustments, I have backed out of our garage stall and I am heading back out onto the race track. You see, "Crazy" is our spotter Chris Osborne's nickname. They are telling my spotter to get ready to start directing me down pit road and back out for more practice.

Does that make sense now?

How about this one? "Stretch, help get it up on the scales ... Steve-O, do what we talked about earlier ... driver, you can get out." Translation: We need to make some adjustments that require us to put our car back up on the four scale pads. "Stretch" is the nickname of one of our mechanics, Eric Bailey, and "Steve-O" is the nickname of Steve Williams, another one of our great mechanics. The driver ... yeah that's me ... and they want me out of the car while they are making their adjustments.

Makes perfectly good sense, huh?

You will definitely hear something like this if you're listening in: "Okay, Mule...have us a set of stickers ready..." Translation: We are coming back into the garage after running many laps on worn tires. "Mule" is the nickname of our tire specialist, Dave Nichols. They are telling him to be prepared to put on a fresh set of Goodyears before we go back out on the track for our next run.

The plane came to a halt. The door opened. Our team guys picked up their iPads, iPods, video players ... whatever they enjoyed during the flight ... and began to file out.

Thinking about heading into our next battle, there are no egos I have seen. Everyone has accepted Todd as our crew chief and team leader. Everybody respects him and knows that he's the man who can take us to race wins and a ton of success in the future. My guys all believe in me and I'm determined to help give them a lot of reasons to celebrate together, and I think that's especially because how we have worked together in handling the adversity.

Hey, we have a great thing going here with this team of ours. What's not to like about a group made up of guys like Crazy, Stretch, Steve-O, Mule and all the rest of them? They do have nicknames for me, but, noooooo, not sharing those! Add to that, a name like "Penske" backing us -- a real badge of honor we all have on our chests -- what can't we overcome ... together?

Behind the Wheel with AJ Allmendinger runs once a month on NASCAR.COM as he shares his experiences throughout the season, both at and away from the track. The opinions expressed are solely those of Allmendinger.