AJ Allmendinger started the 2012 Sprint Cup season driving for a top owner in Roger Penske and that all changed when he got suspended by NASCAR for failing a random drug test in July.
Allmendinger’s suspension led him to being let go by Penske Racing and starting NASCAR’s substance abuse rehab program, “Road to Recovery”. In the process Allmendinger has been on his own path to reclaiming his passion and drive to be part of a Sprint Cup team again.
CHARLOTTE, NC – OCTOBER 11: AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #51 Phoenix Construction Chevrolet, is interviewed on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 11, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Tyler Barrick/Getty Images for NASCAR)
That passion and drive was renewed during Allmendinger’s “Road to Recovery” program where he reset his priorities and rediscovered the drive that got him into NASCAR’s top series in 2007. With a new mindset Allmendinger got his second chance to return to Sprint Cup competition driving for Phoenix Racing in the No. 51 a week after Kurt Busch left the team for a new ride.
Allmendinger’s comeback in Sprint Cup started with Phoenix Racing and a 24th place finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday. It was a solid finish for a driver who was driving a Cup car for the first time in over three months along with driving for a low budget team.
So where does AJ Allmendinger go from here and beyond?
Allmendinger will be making his second straight start with Phoenix Racing this up coming weekend at Kansas. AJ will most likely finish out the season in the No. 51 if Regan Smith, who is subbing for Dale Earnhardt. Jr. due to an concussion, remains in the No. 88 for the rest of the season or James Finch, owner of Phoenix Racing, is satisfied with Allmendinger’s results. A 24th finish last Saturday night certainly helped Allmendinger’s chances of staying in the No. 51.
There are not many open seats in the Sprint Cup for the 2013 season. All the top teams have solidified their drivers for 2013 and beyond including Furniture Row Racing who signed Kurt Busch through 2013. Allmendinger’s main obstacle will be finding sponsorship with a team.
The No. 51 is currently unsponsored as Phoenix Racing has been searching for sponsorship all season long including while Kurt Busch, a past champion, was driving for the team. Since the team does not have sponsorship there were no potential sponsorship obstacles that hindered Allmendinger to drive for Phoenix Racing.
AJ could drive for Phoenix Racing in 2013 if James Finch chooses to keep him with the team. Finch’s original concern about Allmendinger driving for the team was fear of missing out on sponsorship because of Allmendinger’s past and suspension. Finch had no sponsor before AJ drove for the team so Phoenix Racing had nothing to lose by putting him in the car. We will learn of Finch’s plans for Phoenix Racing and the 2013 season in the coming weeks.
Other possibilities for AJ Allmendinger in 2013 will be limited. Allmendinger could always drive for a start and park team where he will not be guaranteed to compete every week or finish an event as a team may park the car early in the race.
Allmendinger could always look to the Nationwide series for potential rides but he will still face the obstacle of sponsorship. He will also have to accept the fact that he may not drive in NASCAR’s top series in 2013 as he looks to complete his comeback in NASCAR.
AJ Allmendinger has made big strides in his comeback into NASCAR. Two big steps were completing the “Road to Recovery” program, which has a low success rate, and making his first Cup start in over three months at Charlotte on Saturday night. Allmendinger has taken all the right steps to drive in NASCAR again and if he keeps it up he will certainly find himself in a Cup ride again one day.
AJ may not be racing for a top Cup series team in 2013 but look for him to be back in a good ride in the coming years.