What a Year it had been for
Photo Credit: Aaron Fisher / TheRacingExperts.com
AJ Allmendinger in the #22 at Dover in 2012
By Eric Webler
AJ Allmendinger has had one heck of a year. Last year at this time, Allmendinger was racing in the Sprint Cup Series for Penske Racing and Shell Pennzoil. There was high hopes for him after he was announced to drive the car in the off-season after the 2011 year. AJ had many promising runs with Richard Petty Motorsports and he had a good race here and there with the now closed Red Bull Racing. He did get a win in the Showdown to be in the All-Star race with Red Bull Racing in 2008 and was also the runner up to get into the All-Star event in 2012 with the Penske team. Things were looks promising for Allmendinger, many people thought he was going to be the next first time winner in 2012. July 7, 2012 is when everything changed for AJ. NASCAR did a random drug test and Allmendinger was selected. Results were put out just a few hours before the race. AJ Allmendinger failed the test. He had been suspended from competing in NASCAR. The NASCAR world was in shock. AJ Allmendinger himself was shocked. The weeks following, AJ and Penske went through a second test and much frustrations. The second test failed and Allmendinger had to go through the NASCAR Road to Recovery program. Sam Hornish Jr. was tagged to drive the #22 for the rest of the year.
After around 7 to 8 weeks, AJ Allmendinger successfully completed the NASCAR Road to Recovery program. Within the time he was officially released from Penske. Even though he was released, Roger Penske, owner of Penske Racing, stayed in contact with him. Mr. Penske was helping him every step of the way. AJ did get a few more races in 2012. James Finch hired him to run a few races for the #51 car after Kurt Busch went to Furniture Row Racing towards the end of the year. Allmendinger ran good for him but the finishes didn't show it. He had bad luck when he ran those races. During the 2012 off-season and into the NASCAR season, it was announced that AJ would run some races for Phoenix Racing. He had a good run for them during race 2 at Phoenix finishing 11th, just outside the top 10. Not only were things going good for him in NASCAR, Roger Penske never gave up on him. AJ Allmendinger was hired to drive some races for Team Penske in the IZOD IndyCar Series. He ran decent in the few races he ran. Then the Indy 500 came. Roger put him in the #2 Chevy and was representing the series sponsor IZOD for the biggest race in IndyCar. AJ turned heads during the race, running up front, leading laps, and actually competing with top drivers such as Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti. AJ ended up finishing 7th but he deserved a top 5 at least.
Life was turning around for AJ. Things were going well in NASCAR and AJ still had connections with a top team in motorsports. Roger Penske really enjoyed AJ and after all the good that has happened to AJ in IndyCar and what he has done so far for Phoenix Racing, he was able to get a 2 race deal to run the #22 Discount Tire Ford in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. He would be racing at the road courses that don't share a weekend with the Sprint Cup Series and that is Road America and Mid-Ohio. This would be the best opportunity for Allmendinger to get his first NASCAR win and to put everything that has happened within last year behind him. Well, the weekend finally came and everything started off good. AJ was fast in practice and Saturday Morning, he put the #22 on pole. That pretty good considering it was his first time actually racing in the Nationwide Series since 2008. AJ had the best car all race leading 29 of the 50 laps. AJ got his first ever win that day in a NASCAR sanctioned event at Road America. He was so happy after it. He was fighting back tears during the post-race interview with ESPN. This win proved something for him. I feel like the past is officially behind AJ Allmendinger.
Well, it is very nice to see AJ back on the right track. Now he is a NASCAR winner. After the problem that happened, he set his sights on what is really important, and that is being successful in racing. The future looks bright for Allmendinger. He has some more starts for Phoenix Racing before they shut down after Brickyard and he also has 4 more starts with JTG Daugherty Racing scheduled in the Sprint Cup Series. He also has one more scheduled start in the #22 in the Nationwide Series but I think after yesterday, that number will get bigger.