AJ Allmendinger has been through a lot since his suspension from NASCAR on July 7 for taking Performance Enhancing Drug Substances and testing positive for it. He eventually got reinstated and raced a couple of Sprint Cup races for Phoenix Racing which is owned by James Finch after Penske released Allmendinger but kept him on his payroll for the whole season. Roger Penske was very instrumental in giving AJ his second chance with Phoenix Racing.
Allmendinger left the ChampCar World Series after receiving an offer from from an upstart team, Red Bull Racing to drive in NASCAR in 2006. AJ’s NASCAR career started out very rough, then he eventually moved to Richard Petty’s team where he was making strides as a driver. Roger Penske then signed the California driver to replace 2004 champion of NASCAR Kurt Busch. Then came his suspension from NASCAR.
AJ started out his open wheel career in Atlantics in 2003, where he won the championship with RuSport. He moved into ChampCar with RuSport in 2004 and stayed there until the mid part of 2006. Then he transitioned to Forsythe Championship Racing where he won his first race out and won five races on the season. He finished third in the points that year only behind Bourdais and Wilson.
I always thought AJ would come back to IndyCar at some point but who would it be with? At first I thought it was going to be last year with his fellow friend Michael Shank who was scheduled to start up an IndyCar team but those plans didn’t work out.
Like most people I am very excited for the test involving AJ Allmendinger in an IndyCar for Roger Penske at Sebring International Raceway on February 18th and 19th. I am very happy that Roger Penske took the 31 year old Allmendinger under his wing and gave him a chance to test. Remember this is only a test but it could lead to big things. Team Penske president Tim Cindric said that if the test goes well, Allmendinger could run Long Beach and Indianapolis plus a few more races. AJ has a NASCAR event he is already signed up for on the weekend of the opening race in St. Petersburg. Maybe he could pull of a James Hinchcliffe from 2011 and run the remainder of the races starting at Barber on April 7th. Maybe he might end up skipping Brazil but the key thing is sponsorship.
One thing Penske might have in mind is do what he did with WIll Power in 2009. Run AJ part time at Long Beach, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Pocono, Toronto, Mid Ohio and Houston and sign him on full time in 2014 as a third driver or replace Helio Castroneves. The key thing is that Penske wouldn’t take just a check to run a third car for this season he wants a winning driver in the car. There is no doubt in my mind that if AJ gets a part time schedule that he could be contending for wins. Remember WIll Power won a race in his part time schedule in 2009 then was signed on full time in 2010. Could this happen for AJ?
All in all, I think AJ Allmendinger has made a statement as a driver and is on a clean slate and deserves a second chance and IndyCar is a good thing for him at this time in his career.