A.J. Allmendinger: IndyCar Is Calling

Victor GenovaContributor IJanuary 9, 2013

Once with the right team, Allmendinger was unstoppable in Champ Car.
Once with the right team, Allmendinger was unstoppable in Champ Car.Darrell Ingham/Getty Images

“When God closes a door, he opens a window.”

It sounds like the kind of support one would receive from a fortune cookie, but it’s a saying that can be applied to a number of drivers in the IndyCar series.

For example, what if Dario Franchitti endured another season in NASCAR? We certainly wouldn't be calling him a four-time IndyCar series champion, nor would he be part of an illustrious group of drivers to have won the Indy 500 three times.

That brings us to A.J. Allmendinger—the source of much 2013 silly season chatter in both the NASCAR and IndyCar worlds.

Why he’s starting 2013 without a full-time ride is no secret. There is no reason for us to rehash that here, so go Google it if you need a prologue. This article is something more akin to career therapy and is meant to help guide Allmendinger to the next "open window," which hopefully is in the realm of open-wheel racing.

Allmendinger has gone on record as saying that he’d like to stay in NASCAR, as he has unfinished business. Most of us can empathize with his frame of mind. We accept a challenge, set goals and work to achieve them. I’m not sure what his NASCAR goals are, but one can assume that at the very least, they included race wins.

But while NASCAR is extremely competitive (producing a number of race winners a year), success is almost exclusively reserved for those in a top team. Winning with a second-tier team is very remote. Need an example? Look at past Sprint Cup champion Kurt Bush, who managed only three top-10 finishes last season.

However, if finishing in the "top 20" of a Sprint Cup race is the goal, than perhaps signing up with a smaller team is the way to go. If winning is what Allmendinger would like get back to, than perhaps he should give IndyCar racing a second thought.

"Been there, done that," you say? Actually, that’s not the case. Allmendinger made the jump to the American open-wheel big leagues back when the sport was at the peak of its divide. CART/Champ Car was two years removed from an exodus that saw many drivers and teams—namely Chip Ganassi Racing, Andretti Autosport (Andretti-Green back then), Rahal Letterman, follow Team Penske to the IRL. In fact, Dale Coyne and KV Racing are the only two teams expected to make the 2013 IndyCar grid that Allmendinger raced against back in his Champ Car days.

And then there’s the competition.

The only silver lining (if I can even call it that) was that a divided sport spawned new teams and a new opportunity for great drivers that might have been overlooked in a unified series. So while Allmendinger was kicking ass and taking names against the likes of Sébastien Bourdais, Justin Wilson, Oriol Servià, Paul Tracy, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power, many of us were left to wonder who would have been king of the castle if Hélio Castroneves, Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan were also on the grid.

And then there’s the formula.

Gone (for the most part) are the days of spec racing. Allmendinger’s Champ Car career revolved around getting the most out of the same Lola-Cosworth package (that all his competitors used) for three seasons. That’s a thing of the past, and IndyCar has finally disposed of the old stone-age Dallara for a new Dallara powered by either a twin-turbo Chevy or a single turbo Honda. The challenge of trying to make a specific engine-chassis combination work at all tracks has finally returned.

And if that doesn’t sell Allmendinger on the prospect of IndyCar, let’s look at it like this: Ryan Hunter-Reay beat Will Power for last season’s (IndyCar) championship. Allmendinger and Hunter-Reay raced against each other in Champ Car in 2004 and 2005, where Allmendinger finished ahead of him in the final points both times. The same can be said for 2006, when Power raced for Walker Racing.

I realize this comparison isn’t completely fair, as Hunter-Reay did win more races in 2004, while Will Power was in his first full season as a rookie. But at the end of the day, they were all in the exact same Lola-Cosworth.

And there is interest from the IndyCar side. A.J. Foyt, IndyCar team owner and legend, expressed interest in giving him a shot.

And, surely, Allmendinger still has some passion for the sport. Let’s not forget that he co-owns an IndyCar team with Grand-Am stalwart, Michael Shank. Yes, their Dallara has yet to turn a lap (through no fault of their own) while they continue their battle for an engine lease, but perhaps the prospect of having Allmendinger in the cockpit (and all of the positive press that will come with it) can persuade Honda or Chevy to give them a chance.

While it’s easy to discount the line, "When God closes a door, he opens a window” as BS, there has already been one example of this in Allmendinger’s career. Back in 2006, Carl Russo, the owner of RuSport, fired him from his team, closing a door. Forsythe racing opened a window by hiring him almost immediately. The result? Allmendinger went on to win the next three consecutive Champ Car races, along with another two.

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