Not many people get second chances in sports, let alone in life itself. A.J. Allmendinger is on his third chance. The first was in open wheel cars which he dominated. The second came with his entrance to NASCAR in 2007 with the Red Bull Racing team. The third has come with Phoenix Racing and JTG-Daugherty Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series which happens to be colliding with an extra chance at redemption.
Arguably on his fourth chance, Allmendinger received an opportunity to drive for Penske Racing this year in the IZOD INDY Car Series on a part-time basis. The key for Allmendinger there was to run the Indianapolis 500 and do so with a power house organization. He was able to lead 23 laps in one of the most prestigious races in the world which showed he’s capable of driving any type of race car. However, it wasn’t the first time Allmendinger drove a car for Penske Racing.
For those who don’t remember, Kurt Busch was the driver of the No. 22 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car once Brad Keselowski moved over to the No. 2 Blue Deuce in 2011. Busch ended up getting fired once the season concluded because of his bad mouth was set off one too many times. Though he had the results throughout the regular season, Busch finished 20th or worse in half of the races during the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup and shelled out his anger to the media. Busch ended up going to Phoenix Racing which Allmendinger now drives for, but let’s explain how Allmendinger wound up there.
When Busch was fired, I mean when he and Penske Racing “mutually agreed to part ways”, the only options for the team to replace such a high caliber driver late in the year were David Ragan and Allmendinger. There were a few other drivers, but those were the only real options. Eventually, Ragan headed for Front Row Motorsports and Allmendinger signed on with Penske Racing.
Though Allmendinger hadn’t previously been too successful in NASCAR’s highest level, the team had confidence that he could win races in equipment plenty better than what he was driving at Richard Petty Motorsports. Back when Allmendinger drove for them, he could either be running 20th and be laps down or run upfront until he had a mechanical issue. It took him a while to get things going at Penske Racing, but eventually he got adjusted to the new team. Allmendinger had a runner-up finish at Martinsville and back-to-back top 10’s at Sonoma and Kentucky. Then, he got suspended for using Adderall which he was tricked into using and had to participate in NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program.
Penske Racing had no choice but to fire Allmendinger. They once again split ways with an elite driver and filled the seat with their NASCAR Nationwide Series driver, Sam Hornish Jr. This year, the team has put Joey Logano in the car who’s done relatively well. It was with Allmendinger that Phoenix Racing decided to give him the opportunity to climb aboard the No. 51 Chevrolet because Busch headed over to Furniture Row Racing. For some reason, everything comes back to Busch.
— AJ Allmendinger (@AJDinger) June 17, 2013
Now, after running a limited NASCAR schedule with select INDY Car Series races, Penske Racing has realized that Allmendinger is still a fan favorite. The sponsors still love his personality and he has proven he can drive a race car rather well. The team is enabling Allmendinger to drive the No. 22 Ford in the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Road America this weekend as well as the inaugural race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. It’s the final shot for Allmendinger to prove himself to a power house NASCAR team, otherwise he’ll be driving for secondary teams until he can prove he’s capable of running upfront.
Allmendinger hasn’t raced in the NASCAR Nationwide Series since 2008, with what was Gillett-Evernham Motorsports at Phoenix and finished 12th, one lap down. If Allmendinger does well at Road America, expect him to have more opportunities with Penske Racing. If not, then he may be driving for JTG-Daugherty Racing next year since Phoenix Racing may be closing.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.