He may stand only 5'6" in his driver's suit, but the newest edition to my comeback stable-of-the-year pick, A.J. Allmendinger is hard to miss.
He's currently the part time driver for the Valvoline #44 Dodge for and if you are looking for him, chances are you won't find him by looking behind you in your rear view mirror since he's likely the guy that if he hasn't lapped you, he's going to give it his all in order to do so while maintaining impressive control over his car.
Cast off rather unceremoniously last silly season by Team Red Bull in favor of their next pet project, that being Rookie of the Year candidate, and my personal pick Scott Speed, "the Dinger" as he is affectionately known on online boards, gracefully landed a partial ten race ride with newly re-branded Richard Petty Motor sports, formerly Gillette Evernham Motor sports.
Not to my surprise, Allmendiger finished the Daytona 500 with his best career finish yet on NASCAR's biggest stage with his third place showing for his new team. The question remains, what does the man have to do to get the full time ride that his former employers refused to give to him? What more does he need to show?
Like Speed, he's young (27), and everything Team Red Bull is looking for and hoping for with Speed they had at their disposal in Allmendinger, yet they refused to acknowledge it by giving him the stability he earned and deserved. He could very well end up being the worst business decision the team ever made along the lines of a "one that got away" scenario.
Some of the comments I read yesterday's race included: "Can you believe my boy 'Dinger is in fourth?" under an appropriately titled thread bearing a similar name, and "Oh my God, that kid is for real." This was before all the expected anti-Team Red Bull rhetoric which followed in separate postings by different users.
Coupled with a catchy and cult-like name, "the Dinger" has a chance to truly be the driver that Richard Petty Motor sports builds their faith and team around, if only they give him the chance that Red Bull did not. I believe he gives Richard Petty is most legitimate chance at reaching Victory Lane since John Andretti last did it at Martinsville in 1999 for Petty Enterprises, in fact, I believe given proper seasoning and support he can achieve this multiple times—before the end of this season.
RPM as part of its overall facelift still has trendy pick Kasey Kahne who at the age of 28 is still young enough to form quite a duo with 'Dinger for years to come as Kahne is typically good for a few wins a year every few years (he gets his wins in bunches). Mix this in with the perfect complement in veteran Elliot Sadler and inconsistent Reed Sorenson and you've got yourself a pretty solid team, one that Richard Petty and his fans could really be proud of.
We've seen what this combination can do in the Daytona 500 with their third, fifth, and ninth place finishes respectively. Three top tens! Not a bad start, but one they can certainly build from. RPM with the financial backing of Montreal Canadiens owner, Geroge Gillette, now have more financial capability than Petty ever could have dreamed of and as long as he maintains a distance relationship by cutting the checks only similar to Roush-Fenway's operation, they may have a formula for success.
It is too soon to know whether Sorsenson who also achieved a top ten in last year's Daytona 500, simply has this individual race down or if he being only 23 himself, similarly has years of unlimited potential that was basically being held down while at Ganassi Racing, his former employer.
Should 'Dinger have a good showing next week in California or whenever the rest of his ten week trial resumes, sponsors may have no choice but to plaster themselves to the very driver suit that A.J. wears to the tracks in which he races and deservedly so.
The fact remains that Allmendiger, who while he only has two career top ten's last year came on strong last year only to be shafted for his good work following the season in which an extension never came.
If anyone ever deserved one, it was him.
His average starting position has improved from 29th in his rookie year of 2007 to 24th last year while running a partial schedule in starting only 29 races. His ability to maintain this competitiveness and desire is impressive considering he not only switched teams but also makes and models ditching a Toyota for a Dodge. Furthermore, it is due to this competitiveness that makes it easy to see that its not the car but the driver that makes this situation successful and shouldn't be surprised that success seems to follow him wherever he goes.
Richard Petty Motorsports, you clearly have a good thing going. Don't make the same mistake Team Red Bull did. Give the man a full time ride and the sponsorship will come and you can sit back to reap the benefits.