The car is different, the sanctioning body is different, the team is definitely different, but AJ Allmendinger seemed to be back in his element. For the first time since Surfers Paradise in 2006, Allmendinger turned laps in an open-wheel car.
His test at Sebring for Penske Racing didn't light the world on fire or make jaws drop, but it sure seemed like Allmendinger had very little trouble getting back in the seat. At 12:39pm, Marshall Pruett tweeted unofficially times and Scott Dixon was the fastest at 52 seconds, with Will Power second at 52.15 and Helio Castroneves third at a 52.41. Allmendinger was just under a half second off Power at a 52.64 and only Charlie Kimball, Takuma Sato and Dario Franchitti were ahead of him. He was quicker than the likes of Justin Wilson, Tony Kanaan, Oriol Servia and Josef Newgarden.
Though nothing has been announced past this test, verbal cues were dropped by Allmendinger, suggesting there is more to be announced saying, "When it comes to working with my engineer, that's a relationship that is just starting." Allmendinger worked with Ron Ruzewski at Sebring.
Allmendinger left open-wheel racing when his career was just taking off. After losing his RuSport ride four races in to the 2006 season, he was picked up by Forsythe Racing, where he won five races (three in a row) and finished third in the championship after deciding to skip the final round at Mexico City to begin his career in NASCAR. He defeated the likes of Bourdais, Wilson, Power, Servia and Tagliani, all who currently race in IndyCar. He left just before the introduction of the Panoz DP01 and right before reunification occurred. We can speculate all we want had Allmendinger stayed in IndyCar but after a slow start with Red Bull Racing, he found success with Richard Petty Motorsports and Penske Racing. A failed drug test for Adderall caused Allmendinger to miss a fair chunk of 2012, costed his seat at Penske and left him with uncertain plans for 2013. Allmendinger went through the Road to Recovery program and returned to racing in late 2012. Penske is giving him a rare second shot, this one in IndyCar. He is back in open-wheel racing and is focused on turning this test into more seat time. And it appears he is well on his way.