Note From The Writer: At some point while I was writing this, it was announced that Richard Petty Motorsports has signed a contract with A.J. Allmendinger through the 2010 season. While no sponsorships were mentioned, I would assume (and we know what assuming does) that Allmendinger should be able to safely finish the season, which outdates some of the information in this article. I have left it in its original form, before I became aware of this information. My congratulations to Allmendinger on his long-term deal.
This weekend's Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix was supposed to be A.J. Allmendinger's last race of the season.
The No. 44 entry in the Richard Petty Motorsports stable only had enough sponsorship for eight points-paying events when the season began. However, Allmendinger's success this season ensures that he will be racing much more this year, and maybe even more.
After a successful career in the Champ Car World Series, including five wins and a third place points finish in 2006, Allmendinger was brought into the Sprint Cup Series by the fledgling Team Red Bull.
To label the 2007 campaign for Team Red Bull and Allmedinger a perfect storm for failure would be an understatement: a rookie driver completely unfamiliar with closed-wheel racing, the building of essentially four stables of cars for Cup (2007 was the introductory year for the Car of Tomorrow, so both COT's and the traditional cars were in use), and a new manufacturer to the scene in Toyota all promised hardship.
Allmendinger would not make the field for a Cup race until his fifth attempt, at Bristol in the series debut of the Car of Tomorrow, and even in that qualifying run he brushed the outside wall. He would fail to qualify for 19 of the season's 36 events. In the 17 races Allmendinger did run, he finished on the lead lap only three times and failed to finish twice.
Allmendinger faced immense pressure to succeed in 2007. The team needed desparately to be in the top 35 of owners' points to ensure more starts in its second season, and it was very clear that, if Allmendinger couldn't do the job, former Formula 1 driver Scott Speed would be ready to claim the seat.
Speed nearly won the ARCA Championship in a Red Bull entry, and claimed a victory in the Camping World Truck Series event at Dover in late May.
Allmendinger again failed to make the field for his first three Cup events, and was promptly replaced by Mike Skinner for six events. With the team now in the top 35 thanks to Skinner's efforts, Allmendinger was able to gain race experience and steadily improved throughout the season, recording his first top two 10 finishes at Indianapolis and Kansas as four other top 15 finishes.
However, this was not enough to protect him from the chopping block, as Allmendinger was released by Team Red Bull in September, setting the path for Speed's entrance into Cup. With the release coming late in the season, Allmendinger's 2009 season, even his career, was in jeopardy. Many of the "silly-season" maneuvers for the 2009 season were thought to have already occured.
Allmendinger used the rest of 2008 as an open tryout, making one start for Michael Waltrip Racing before finishing the season in Gillett Evernham Motorsports' No. 10, one of several replacements for fellow former open-wheeler Patrick Carpentier. In these five races, Allmendinger finished no worse than 26th, ending the season with an 11th at Homestead.
With those runs, Allmendinger was brought into the stable permanently for 2009 when Gillett Evernham merged with Petty Enterprises to form Richard Petty Motorsports.
However, in an offseason marked by mergers in the wake of the recent economic woes, Allmendinger once again found himself outside the top 35 to start the season. Could he overcome his past history and get the No. 44 team in the field of an event without the aid of owners points?
Allmendinger has answered that question strongly in the affirmative. He raced his way into his first Daytona 500 start, and recorded his first career top five finish, crossing the finish line third in a rain-shortened Great American Race. Allmendinger recorded finishes of 17th and 16th at Atlanta and Bristol to place the team 16th in points.
Now, Allmendinger is reaping the rewards of his fight to respectability on the Cup circuit. Without the pressure of qualifying amongst "go-or-go-homers," Allmendinger finished ninth at Martinsville.
He is ensured enough sponsorship to run until the Richmond race in September, and it is certainly reasonable to believe he will continue to garner the attention of sponsors if he continues to finish in the top 10.
With a chance at redemption, a boss with 200 wins, and teammates such as Kasey Kahne and Elliott Sadler who have been to victory lane a few times themselves, how much longer will it be before Allmendinger returns a Richard Petty owned car to victory for the first time since 1999?
My money is on sooner rather than later.