In 2006, AJ Allmendinger was among the class of the field in the 2006 Champ Car World Series season. He started the season driving for RuSPORT, a team that he drove for two seasons prior. RuSPORT was not a horrible team, but it did not have the resources to compete with the likes of Newman-Hass Racing and Forsythe Racing, the two best teams in Champ Car at the time. Allmendinger scored eight podiums while driving for them and nearly won the 2005 Grand Prix of Cleveland.
Four races into the 2006 season, Almendinger received an opportunity to drive for Gerry Forsythe to replace Mario Dominguez starting at Portland. He accepted the offer, and in his debut with the team, he dominated leading 100 out of 105 laps, and won the race. He then won the next two races in a row at Cleveland and Toronto, and was the only driver that could contend with Sebastian Bourdais. He won 2 more races at Denver and Road America, but Bourdais' lead in the points standing was too great and he would have to finish last in the final two races and Allmendinger would have to win in order to snatch the title. At the penultimate round at Surfer's Paradise, Allmendinger crashed on lap 18-that was it, game over. He also announced around that time that he would go to NASCAR driving for the newly formed Red Bull Racing Team in the Sprint Cup series next year. He was subsequently released from Forsythe, and he has not driven an open wheel car since.
His NASCAR career has been a struggle, 2007 was a combination of AJ's lack of experience in a stock car and Red Bull Racing being a new team, the season was a struggle. 2008 started no better, failing to qualify for the first three races before being temporarily replaced for 6 races. After returning to the cockpit, he made a semi-heroic charge to get his team back in the top 35 in owner points. 2009, 2010, and 2011 were all years of improvement for AJ, improving in the final standings each year and in 2012, he joined Penske Racing to replace the departed Kurt Busch. AJ Was with a team that was a front-runner in the series and was showing promise but didn't have the finishes to back it up and posted two consecutive top tens before his life and career took an unexpected turn on the day of the Coke Zero 400. Allmendinger was suspended for failing a random drug test administered at Kentucky Speedway a week before. He then submitted a B Sample as part of the appeals process, but that showed up positive as well. The substance was revealed to be Adderall, which he took under the impression that it was an energy pill. He then enrolled and successfully completed the Road to Recovery Program, but was released from his duties of driving the 22 Shell Pennzoil Dodge for Penske Racing. . He finished the season driving for Phoenix Racing in 4 races, but he maintained contact with Roger Penske and now, he has been offered a test in one of Penske's IndyCar's at Sebring International Raceway during spring training, with promise of a ride if he runs well enough.
Being that he only spent one year in a competitive car in open wheel racing, one can only think of what AJ would have accomplished if he had stayed there rather than going to NASCAR. Yes, during his time in Champ Car, there were only a few competitive teams and drivers (several of the teams had defected to Indycar a few years prior to his time), but AJ ran up front driving for a one of those teams and was a force to be reckoned with. Driving for Penske in IndyCar, he would have a championship caliber team and two great teammates in Will Power and Helio Castroneves, which is what he had in Champ Car with Paul Tracy. His 2006 season in Champ Car is proof that in a good car he can run competitive.
There are challenges ahead for Allmendinger in his open wheel reboot. The Dallara DW12 is vastly different from the Lola B03/00, so naturally that will be a learning curve for AJ. Also, Allmendinger has little experience on ovals in open wheel. His only starts on ovals in Champ Car were at Las Vegas and Milwaukee, so learning how to drive at Indianapolis would be new for him, but with his NASCAR experience on ovals, that gap can be bridged with practice.
In addition to this, will the fans and paddock be suspicious about his suspension from NASCAR for violating the Substance Abuse Policy. The counterpoint to that is that he only took one pill one time as opposed to abusing a drug like heroin or cocaine, and he completed the Road to Recovery program and has been clean and sober since then.
Plus, another clean cut American driver is what IndyCar needs in order to rebuilt its fanbase in the states.
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