Allmendinger’s return to open wheel racing
So I guess that IZOD IndyCar Series test at Sebring worked out well for Team Penske and AJ Allmendinger? The team announced this morning that The Dinger will be racing for them at least twice this year, first on the Barber Motorsports Park road course round the first weekend of April and then at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in this year’s Indianapolis 500, both with support from series sponsor IZOD. The car is a No. 2 IZOD Dallara DW12 with Chevrolet power and Firestone tires.
The announcement came at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where an ebullient and focused Allmendinger explained his plans with Penske Racing president Tim Cindric and Mike Kelly, vice president of marketing for IZOD and its parent company, PVH.
This is good news for INDYCAR and even better news for Allmendinger, whose roots lie in open wheel racing. Initially discovered by Paul Tracy, AJ moved from karting titles up through the ranks with rapid ascension, going from championships in the Skip Barber series and Atlantic series to Champ cars, with success building on even more success.
It wasn’t until The Dinger went to NASCAR with Red Bull that reality set in and it wasn’t the kind of reality the star was looking for. It was a tough transition on a team that wanted to do well but never seemed to grasp the intricacies of stock car racing. Red Bull seemed more suited to open wheel; so did Allmendinger and fellow driver Scott Speed, who moved from Formula One to NASCAR with Red Bull.
It was quite a change for a driver who’d earned five wins, two poles and 14 podium results in Champ Car. He struggled with a team that simply didn’t have the best technical setups. When Red Bull went away Allmendinger went to Richard Petty Motorsports and then, last year signed with Penske Racing to drive the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge as teammate to 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski.
Rather than rehash the history of last summer, where Allmendinger failed a drug test and went through NASCAR’s Road to Recovery, i’d like to focus on what happened within the Penske Racing family. Roger Penske is loyal – occasionally to a fault – with his drivers and crewmembers, but even though he had to fire Allmendinger after his failed drug test, he kept the Los Gatos, CA driver on payroll and tried to find a spot for him.
“It is exciting to welcome AJ back to Penske Racing,” Roger Penske said in announcing this signing. “He obviously went through a tough time last year but he has done everything he needed to in order to get back to racing at the top level of the sport. We have always believed in AJ and his ability and he deserves this opportunity.”
Cindric said it is the team’s goal “to put together more races. Whether or not they’re IZOD races or what have you, it’s our goal to expand in whatever way we can” with Allmendinger.
In initial preparation for this day, Penske invited Allmendinger to the INDYCAR season finale on Auto Club Speedway at Fontana, CA where he watched the Indy cars on the 2-mile oval that was originally built by Penske, then sold to International Speedway Corp. Shortly thereafter the Sebring test was announced. And here we are, with Allmendinger scheduled to see if he still has it in open wheel. I’m guessing it’ll be like he never left.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back to my roots and racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series,” Allmendinger said. “I have to thank Roger (Penske), Tim (Cindric) and everyone at Team Penske for this opportunity. I think it”s every driver’s dream to race for Team Penske at the Indy 500 and that experience is going to be incredible. I also have to thank IZOD for their support and for giving me a chance to show what I can do. I definitely intend to make the most of it.”
Because his season begins at Barber Motorsports Park the first weekend of April, Allmendinger will take part in next week’s INDYCAR open test at the facility, giving him an opportunity to size up the competition and prepare mentally and physically for the challenges ahead.
The match-up of Team Penske and AJ Allmendinger brings a formidable competitor to the Indy cars at least twice in 2013. In a series where competition has always been tight, Allmendinger is just one more hurdle for the balance of the Indy car set to get past – at least on two separate occasions and hopefully more. “This sport will always humble you,” Allmendinger mused. “Most of the time you’ll have more downs than ups but it’s the ups that make the downs worth it.”
By Anne Proffit