I'll come right out and say it. Right now A.J. Allmendinger is the biggest name in the NASCAR paddock with a full time ride heading into the new season.
This might sound absurd, A.J. has hardly had the best time since he moved from a successful seat in the Forsythe Champ Car team to join NASCAR for the start of 2007 season. From the start it looked as if A.J. would fail to make the move from open wheel racing—much like many of his fellow converts have.
He failed to make the field, after having to qualify into the race on speed, courtesy of Red Bull being a new organisation, in any of the first four races of his debut season, making his points race debut at Bristol, where he struggled to a 40th place finish. A.J. only made a further 16 points race starts, compiling a season with an average finish of 32nd, coming from an average of a 29th place start.
After that rookie season, with the quality of the free agent drivers available after the 2007 season, and the reunification of open wheel racing (albeit one that saw the end of Allmendinger's former employers) I wouldn't have blamed Red Bull for showing him the door. However they kept faith in him enough to keep him in the same seat for a second campaign.
And Allmendinger picked up where he left off, failing to make the race at the first three races, before Red Bull replaced him with Mike Skinner for the following five races (all of which Skinner made the field for). However, from there, with the car firmly in the top 35 in owner points he competed in every points race until Kansas - in September.
It was there that Red Bull came over all dynastic, pushing Allmendinger out in favour of Scott Speed. From there A.J. took a weeks holiday (missing the fall Talladega race), before embarking on a final six races of the season that should have seen him in a safe seat long before now.
OK, so he blotted his copybook with his too much too soon move in his one off drive in the No. 00 car at Charlotte. However, his performances in the GEM No. 10 car showed what he can do. Over those closing 5 races A.J. turned in an average finish of 16.4, bettering Scott Speed (average 31), Kasey Kahne (21.8) and a certain Elliott Sadler (31.8).
If his debut season stats condemned him, then surely his final five races show he should be racing full time in 2009.