Life looked bleak for A.J. Allmendinger last summer when he was suspended from NASCAR and his dream job at Penske Racing. Yet, A.J. has made a quick rebound and though he doesn’t have a fulltime job, he does have a couple part-time gigs. Included in these new jobs is a ride with Penske Racing – however, it’s in IndyCar and not NASCAR. And it appears Allmendinger and Penske might be working on a permanent IndyCar program.
Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama, is one of the toughest and most grueling of all IndyCar races on the schedule. The undulating twisting turning course offers g-force from every angle and most drivers are exhausted when it’s over. Having not been in an open wheel cockpit for more than seven years (see related articles), Allmendinger started his IndyCar career in a demanding event that would test his resolve along with the physical challenge.
A.J. qualified a respectable 10th out of 26 cars but Allmendinger wasn’t happy or even content with the result (source: Indianapolis Star). However, owner Roger Penske was happy with his new driver’s disappointment saying last weekend, “He’s not satisfied, and that’s exactly what we like about him.” Yet, race day would be when performing truly mattered.
Finish belies performance
On Sunday, A.J. finished 19th. On paper, that would appear inadequate considering Allmendinger’s own expectations, plus his earlier excellent qualifying spot. However, the final numbers don’t offer the real picture of how A.J. executed as a driver.
He impressively moved up the grid early on and was seventh for a stretch of the race. Later, Allmendinger stalled the car in the pits but considering the guy hasn’t had but a handful of practices to get his pit exiting down, a mistake like that is certainly plausible. Then a fuel mileage strategy didn’t go their way and he lost more time trying to save fuel. By the way, American Ryan Hunter-Reay won the event in Birmingham.
Also, A.J. felt pretty good afterwards which is important because this was one of the toughest challenges on the schedule from a physical standpoint. More races are envisioned by Roger Penske who wanted Allmendinger to close out the Barber race strong (source: NBC Sports) saying on the radio during the event,
“Finish this and just learn, learn, learn. You are doing fine.”
Long Beach & Indy next
Next up for Allmendinger is Indy 500 rookie orientation this week and then the Long Beach Grand Prix in Southern California on April 21. It had been rumored that Penske was trying to set up another race before the Indy 500 – which A.J. will be entered in – and Long Beach was confirmed by team president Tim Cendric (source: Fox News). Allmendinger is from California and has raced three times at Long Beach so he has a familiarity with the famous street course. In fact, in 2003, the year that A.J. won the Toyota Atlantic championship, he won the Atlantic race at Long Beach that same season.
With Long Beach and Indy, A.J. Allmendinger will entering two of the biggest open wheel events in North America. Allmendinger will be making his debut at Indianapolis but he’s certainly no stranger to the revered two-and-half mile track, having raced their several times in NASCAR. Detroit is also rumored to be in the works for an extra race with Penske this season.
A.J.’s second chance continues and if he can maintain his improvement, a rebirth for a career in IndyCar looks good and may lead to something bigger.
Additional source: Penske Racing