IndyCar: A.J. Allmendinger rules out Indy 500 return

NASCAR driver A.J. Allmendinger has no interest in returning to the Indy 500, a race he nearly won on debut in 2013.
A.J. Allmendinger, Kaulig Racing, NASCAR
A.J. Allmendinger, Kaulig Racing, NASCAR / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Before he competed in the NASCAR Cup Series, A.J. Allmendinger was an open-wheel race car driver, and a good one at that.

The Los Gatos, California native competed in Champ Car from 2004 to 2006, and after securing his first win at Portland International Raceway in 2004, he followed it up with victories at Burke Lakefront Airport and the streets of Exhibition Place. To this day, he remains the most recent driver to secure his first victories back-to-back, and he did it back-to-back-to-back.

He added two more wins later in the year, and he finished in third place in the championship standings behind only four-time champion Sebastien Bourdais and Justin Wilson, a frequent Bourdais runner-up.

When Allmendinger's racing career found itself at a crossroads in 2013, he returned to IndyCar on a part-time deal with Team Penske, a deal which included the Indy 500.

He qualified on the middle of the front row in fifth place for the 200-lap race around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. He led 23 laps, only to have his afternoon derailed by a loose seat belt. An unexpected pit stop set him back, and he could only rally to finish in seventh.

Allmendinger has not compete in the Indy 500 since.

The now 42-year-old was a close friend of Wilson, who passed away in August 2015 after his helmet was struck by a piece of debris following a crash at Pocono Raceway. Allmendinger was adamant afterward that he would never return to IndyCar unless the series implemented cockpit protection.

That protection came in the form of the aeroscreen in 2020, which is basically an improved version of the halo device Formula 1 implemented two years prior. However, Allmendinger is not considering a return to the series or to the Indy 500.

"No, I'm plenty happy watching it!" he admitted to Beyond the Flag. "The race on Sunday had me on the edge of my couch, like I was holding my breath.

"The restarts, I said to my wife Tara, I was like – because that was the first race she ever went to, that’s how we met was the Indy 500, so she had never seen a race before in person, and that was the first race when I did it in 2013 – I remember saying to her, I was like, is this what this looked like when I was out there? Because this looks crazy now!"

It was indeed crazy when Allmendinger competed and led laps in 2013. That race produced 68 lead changes, twice what the previous record was at the time. It did not, however, feature a green flag run to the finish, with Tony Kanaan winning the 97th running under yellow flag conditions.

Sunday's race featured 49 lead changes and a 46-lap dash to the checkered flag, won by Team Penske's Josef Newgarden. Like Allmendinger in 2013, Newgarden drives the No. 2 Chevrolet.

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"But yeah, I don't need to go do it again," Allmendinger concluded. "I love watching it. I still have a lot of friends in it, so I'm good with where I'm at now."