Friday, March 8, 2013

Welcome Back Allmendinger

Red Bull decided to form their own NASCAR team when Toyota entered the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series in 2007. At that time their racing résumé was not as grand as it is today. They had recently ended their partnership with Eddie Cheever's team in IndyCar, their Formula One team had only one podium finish and Scott Speed was going to be the savior for F1 in the United States.

For NASCAR, Red Bull picked up Brian Vickers from Hendrick Motorsports and a race winning, Red Bull sponsored driver, who contended for a championship despite having to switch rides midseason. That driver was AJ Allmendinger.

That 2007 season did not go well for Allmendinger. He had more did not qualifies than starts (19 DNQs to 17 starts) and finished better than 30th on only four occasions. Slowly Allmendinger improved. In 2008 he made 27 races, had only 3 DNQs and won the Sprint Showdown to get him in the NASCAR All-Star Race. But more importantly, he scored his first career top ten in NASCAR. A tenth at Indianapolis, his first race at the famed track.

This May, Allmendinger will attempt to qualify for his first Indianapolis 500 with Penske Racing. Currently, he is only scheduled for Barber and Indianapolis, but additional races have not been ruled out.

Allmendinger had a career year in NASCAR in 2011 where he got a top five, ten top tens and finished 15th in the points standings. This success and Kurt Busch getting on Penske's last nerve, created an opportunity for Allmendinger to jump to a top team, capable of competing at a higher level in 2012. What is remembered most from Allmendinger's 2012 season at Penske is not his pole at Kansas or second at Martinsville, rather a failed drug test in July for Adderall, ending his first stint at Penske.

Allmendinger completed the Road to Recovery program and was back in NASCAR that October, driving for James Finch and Phoenix Racing. Allmendinger's ability to get clean got him a second chance with Penske and that does not happen often.

Now he is scheduled to return to American Open-Wheel Racing, six and a half years after his last start at Surfers Paradise in 2006. Unfortunately, Allmendinger's seat at Penske comes at the price of losing Ryan Briscoe, a race winner in 2012 and the pole sitter for the 2012 Indianapolis 500.

Allmendinger heads to IndyCar with with a team that can win, Izod backing and a warm welcome back from many involved.