Life has a funny way of throwing you overboard and then throwing you a lifejacket. Such may be the life and career of A.J. Allmendinger who a year ago was on top of the world, only to see A.J. throw himself overboard. Allmendinger may be swimming back to shore even if he no longer has a regular ride. And that might be why he ends up as an IndyCar driver in the near future and if everything goes right, possibly a superstar.
A superstar you say?! A.J. Allmendinger? Isn’t this the guy that was thrown out of racing for taking drugs? Yes, but unlike others before him, Allmendinger was aggressive in making amends and going through the right programs to get himself back on the straight and narrow. NASCAR’s Phoenix Racing has offered Allmendinger a part-time ride, including at Phoenix this coming weekend (source: Fox News).
If the 31 year old Allmendinger appears to be making inroads to patching up his NASCAR career, how will he become a superstar in American open wheel? First off, James Finch, owner of Phoenix Racing’s #51 Chevrolet in Sprint Cup, is going with multiple drivers in 2013; and, it appears Regan Smith will drive the car a majority of the time, with Allmendinger stepping in at tracks where he’s had some success. That’s only part-time — what does A.J. do in the meantime? That’s where IndyCar comes in.
Allmendinger recently tested for Penske Racing and though he was one of the slowest cars on the course at Sebring, his times were competitive. Remember that A.J. hasn’t sat in the cockpit of an IndyCar in well, technically, never. Allmendinger left ChampCar after 2006 to ply his wares in NASCAR. ChampCar and IndyCar merged after the 2007 season. In actuality, Allmendinger has been out of American open wheel racing for seven years.
The question then is how do you go from a simple test to superstardom? Is he that good? A.J. Allmendinger’s career in open wheel cars started off well with a Barber Dodge championship at the age of 20. The Californian then moved into Atlantics the following year while driving for RuSport and won the 2003 championship, winning seven of 12 events. The next year, the team moved up to ChampCar but hardly had a resounding year with only two third-place finishes to A.J.’s credit.
Star is born
He grabbed more podiums but never won at RuSport and after a poor start, was eventually let go in June of 2006. It appeared Allmendinger’s career in ChampCar was over but Forsythe, one of the premier teams in the sport, hired him to replace Mario Dominguez who wasn’t having a good year either. That’s when the magic happened as Allmendinger won three straight races (snapping Sebastien Bourdais four-race win streak) and a total of five victories over just nine events. However, at the same time Sam Hornish Jr. left IndyCar for the stock car world, Red Bull came-a-calling and Allmendinger bolted for the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit (source: USA Today). During A.J.’s two dismal years at Red Bull, Allmendinger was only able to garner two Top 10s.
Yet, except for a one-off win in Grand-Am, those victories in open wheel sealed Allmendinger’s fate as the last victories of his professional motorsports career. Once Allmendinger was in a quality vehicle with a quality team, his talent has shown through as to what he does best: drive open wheel racecars.
As he well knows, Allmendinger won’t find better equipment than at Penske Racing. And although A.J. showed an affinity for improving every season of his Cup career, his penchant for driving and winning in open wheel is palpable. A.J. Allmendinger can rise to the level of superstar with some seat-time in an IndyCar — even if only for a few races in 2013. Along with marketing dollars, he then can use this to propel him full-time into superstardom.
A.J. Allmendinger as an IndyCar superstar? It’s possible.