As a long-time Indycar fan, it saddened me back a few years back when rising open-wheel star A.J. Allmendinger left for the land of stockers(i.e. NASCAR) but if there is a deal in the works between him and his former NASCAR boss, Roger Penske, to run ‘Dinger in several IndyCar Series events in 2013, including the Indy 500, that would be a heck of a shot in the arm for both ‘Dinger and open-wheel racing in North America. Quoting Speed’s Marshall Pruett…
I still marvel at what I witnessed A.J. Allmendinger accomplish behind the wheel of Gerry Forsythe’s Lola-Ford/Cosworth Champ Car in 2006.
If you got the chance to see Allmendinger in action, he was pure speed, balls and confidence wrapped in an American flag. Teamed with engineer Michael Cannon, the Californian scored five wins that season and looked like he was destined to a future paved with open-wheel championships.
And then he went to NASCAR.
It’s hard to blame Allmendinger; he cashed in on his name and gunslinger reputation at precisely the right time, depositing ridiculous checks from a variety of teams from 2007 to the midpoint of 2012. His well-documented suspension from NASCAR and firing by Roger Penske aside, Allmendinger’s new free-agent status provided a sliver of hope for those of us who saw the 31-year-old at his best in Champ Car.
Was there a chance he could return to open-wheel, a place he belonged all along?
We’ll find out how much of that hunter-killer swagger remains when Allmendinger gets his first taste of a Team Penske Dallara DW12-Chevrolet on Feb. 19th at Sebring. And if all goes well, Penske says the diminutive driver could contest a few races this year in a third entry with an eye to going full-time in 2014.
To this day, like Pruett above, I still wonder why Allmendinger made the jump to NASCAR back then. Yes, I understand the monetary part; even with the backmarkers, stock car drivers pocket a helluva’ lot more cash than all but the top Indycar compatriots but what gnawed at me and most every other AOWR fan at the time was seeing this bright young hot-shoe, an American no less, run with the big-dogs in ChampCar only to chase the dollar signs down south. If the racing gods are smart, they’ll light a path for ole’ Dinger’ to come back to the sport he once raced in…the sooner, the better.