Now that A.J. Allmendinger has been released from Penske racing for failing a second drug test, it's time to start wondering who will end up in the 22 car.
Allmendinger won't be back, at least not for Penske racing. While he is going to go through NASCAR's road to recovery program, it's hard to see how a driver who has failed a drug test and never won a Sprint Cup race could make a comeback with the organization he was fired from, let alone the Sprint Cup series itself.
While Allmendinger has the support of Tony Stewart and other drivers, it won't be enough to see this former NASCAR driver make a comeback
Stewart was quoted over at ESPN.com as saying:
"It's not a position we really have had to deal with much in this series. He's a talented driver and a good guy. He deserves to be in this series. Whatever he has to do to make those steps happen, he has the talent and skill to do it, and he deserves another chance."
The status of the 22 car is extremely important for next season because it has what other teams don’t: Big sponsorship.
Still, what will happen to the No. 22? With great sponsorship and being on one of NASCAR's top racing teams, whoever gets the chance to drive the 22 should consider themselves extremely lucky and take full advantage of it.
When the season comes to an end, Penske racing will have several options.
The Shift From Dodge to Ford
The shift back to Ford from Dodge will have an overall effect on Penske racing. Not only will the bodies of the cars look different, Penske will be supplied with Roush Yates engines.
Roush Yates CEO Doug Yates was quoted over at aol.sportingnews.com as saying:
"It's truly an honor to provide Penske Racing with Roush Yates Ford engines. I have always admired Roger Penske as a team owner and a respected businessman in our sport and beyond. I am looking forward to many wins, championships, and other successes in supporting the Penske organization."
Penske had fielded Fords from 1991 to 2002, so while the shift may not seem all that new, it could be considered part of a complete fresh start for whatever driver Penske puts in the 22 next season.
Sam Hornish Jr.
Putting Hornish Jr. in the No. 22 car is just one option that Penske has. It may not be the best option going into next season though.
Hornish Jr's. best finish so far this year has been 16th, which was at Indianapolis. It's a big difference from how well he is doing in the Nationwide series.
While Allmendinger wasn’t doing anything spectacular, if Hornish Jr. wants to stand out at Penske, a couple of top five or top 10 finishes would help.
There was also some talk of Penske fielding a third car in the Sprint Cup Series to help Hornish Jr. develop into a better driver and ease him into the series.
Hornish Jr. could end up staying in the Nationwide series another year while doing limited Sprint Cup races instead of a full-time schedule in the No. 22 next season.
"That's our plan to continue using him," Penske said over at USAToday.com. "We talked to the sponsor, and we think that gives us the most continuity and a chance to see how Sam develops. As we get further down the road, if we want to make a change, we can do that. I don't have a list of where we might be. We have a couple of sponsor commitments for a third car in a couple of races where Sam would be that driver."
If Hornish wants a full ride in the Sprint Cup series next year, he needs to step up his game as the season progresses.
JGR has already stated (via ESPN) that they would like to keep Logano on the team, but they would need to field a fourth car and sponsorship would play a role.
If Logano does re-sign with JGR, he may have to run a split schedule between the Nationwide series and the Sprint Cup series because of sponsorship.
Logano is similar to Hornish Jr. They both race extremely well in the Nationwide series, but somewhat struggle in the Sprint Cup series.
Logano did manage to win one race this year, but would a split schedule be the answer in 2013 for him?
Even though Logano struggles in the Sprint Cup series, taking a step back to part time would be pointless. A shift to Penske racing, with different engines, and a team where he wouldn't be overshadowed by Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, could be just what Logano needs.
Logano was quoted over at USAToday.com as saying:
"Like I've been saying, I look at all my options. It's a great team and a great car. Definitely an option you look at and try to weigh it out."
Penske racing should consider Logano as a full time driver of the 22 for 2013.
The least likely driver, besides Kurt Busch, to end up driving the 22 would have to be Ryan Newman. While Newman's contract is up next year at Steward-Haas racing, Newman seems focused on remaining on the team.
Newman was quoted over at aol.SportingNews.com as saying:
"My goal is to stay at Stewart-Haas and keep doing what we’re doing and we’re working on that. I made it a point not to (burn bridges). There were certain people I didn’t get along with, but that’s going to happen wherever you go.”
The biggest issue for Newman over at SHR, though, is with sponsorship. Losing the Army sponsorship that has been a big part of Newman's team is going to hurt the 39 car next season. Quicken Loans, another sponsor, has yet to sign for the 2013 season.
While Newman might want to stay at SHR, a lack of sponsorship could always force him to look somewhere else for the 2013 season.
Of course Penske Racing would have to want to take Newman back, but if they were looking for a top driver for the 22, Newman could be the one.
There are several other drivers who could also end up trying to land the 22 Penske ride. Trevor Bayne or David Ragan, for example, both won races last year and could be looking for new rides when the 2013 season starts up.
The problem, though, is that they both lack consistency in the Sprint Cup Series. What did either driver do outside of their single wins last season?
After what Penske has been through with Allmendinger, you can bet that they will try to get a driver who they feel can deliver better results and get the 22 into victory lane.
Almendinger won't be back, at least at Penske Racing. While they do have several options to think about right now, we won't truly know who will end up in the 22 until next season.
The NASCAR offseason will be extremely important for Penske Racing as they weigh all of their options.
With Allmendinger gone, Penske being one of the top racing teams in NASCAR, and even the switch back to Ford, whoever ends up riding in the 22 will have been given a tremendous opportunity next season.
Who do you think will end up in the 22? Comment below and share your thoughts.