A.J. Allmendinger Could be Surprise of 2012

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by Ryan Isley

There is a popular saying that goes something like this – when God closes a door, he opens a window. For NASCAR driver A.J. Allmendinger, it may have been reversed – God closed a window but opened a door.

After the 2011 NASCAR season, Allmendinger’s primary sponsor at Richard Petty Racing – Best Buy – left the team to go to Roush Fenway Racing, leaving Allmendinger and the No.43 car without a sponsor for 2012. Within a few days, Allmendinger found himself with the keys to the No.22 Shell Oil Company/Pennzoil Dodge for Penske Racing.

The ride became available after Penske separated itself from Kurt Busch when the driver’s rant against ESPN reporter Dr. Jerry Punch went viral on YouTube. It was the second time in the season that Busch had gone out of control against a member of the media, as he had a confrontation with Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press just two months earlier.

The hiring of Allmendinger may not be just a good move for the driver, but for the team as well.

Obviously, Allmendinger is going from having a ride without a sponsor to having one of the most coveted rides in NASCAR. Also, he will join a team that employs Brad Keselowski, who went from 25th in points in 2010 to finishing 5th in points in 2011.

For Penske, they go from having a whining crybaby in Busch to having one of the more pleasant drivers in the sport in Allmendinger. They also get one of the up and coming stars of the sport to add to Keselowski, which could be a winning combination.

Sure, Allmendinger has yet to win a race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but he has shown the ability to win in different series and has improved in each year he has been in NASCAR.

Before making the leap to stock car racing, Allmendinger was in the Champ Car Series, where he raced in the satellite series before making the jump to the Champ Car Series. While in the satellite series, he was the champion of the Barber Dodge Pro Series in 2002, then won the Toyota Atlantic Series in 2003 and became the rookie of the year in the Champ Car Series in 2004.

While Allmendinger has yet to find victory lane in NASCAR, he has shown tremendous strides in each season, improving his average finishing position every year. In 2008, his average finish was 25.3, then it was 22.8in 2009, 16.1 in 2010 and finally 14.9
last season. The improvement in finishing position also allowed him to climb the standings each season, going from 36th in points in 2008 to 24th in 2009 to 19th in 2010 and then to 15th last season.

Allmendinger was 15th in points in 2011 because he had 17 finishes in the top-12 in 2011 and finished the season strong by finishing in the top-12 in 10 of the final 15 races.

Allmendinger took that momentum and got off on the right foot already in 2012 when he and teammates John Pew, Oswaldo Negri, Jr. and Justin Wilson won the 50th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona back in January for car owner Michael Shank.  It was Allmendinger’s first victory of any kind in five years.

With the way he has progressed, it may not just be Kurt Busch’s ride that Allmendinger ends up taking in 2012 – he just might also take his spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

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