Are A.J. Allmendinger and JTG Daugherty a Good Fit?

Jerry Bonkowski@@jerrybonkowskiFeatured ColumnistAugust 30, 2013

LEXINGTON, OH - AUGUST 17:  AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #22 Discount Tire Ford, during qualifying for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Children's Hospital 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 17, 2013 in Lexington, Ohio.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Robert Laberge/Getty Images

A.J. Allmendinger needed a full-time ride in the Sprint Cup Series. JTG Daugherty Racing needed a new full-time driver.

After working together in several races this season, both sides decided they were a good fit together and announced Thursday that A.J. Allmendinger will indeed be the team's new full-time driver next season.

But is it truly a good fit for both sides, particularly Allmendinger?

With Kurt Busch announcing earlier in the week that he would be driving for Stewart-Haas Racing next season, Allmendinger seemingly had his choice of jobs next season.

There was a possible return to Penske Racing. He would have fit in well at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and Richard Childress Racing, as well.

Heck, he should have been a lock to replace Busch at Furniture Row.

But instead, Allmendinger chose to go with a team that has amassed just one top-five and three other top-10 finishes in 94 starts with Bobby Labonte since the start of the 2011 season.

By comparison, Allmendinger has competed in 12 races this season, three of those being with JTG Daugherty. His best finish has been 10th (Watkins Glen for JTGD), but he also had three other top-15 and two other top-20 finishes in nine races with Phoenix Racing.

It's no coincidence that both JTGD and Phoenix Racing are one-car teams. And that's where the rub is.

Allmendinger's career was sidetracked last season when a NASCAR-mandated drug test came back with a positive finding, leading to suspension and having to complete a drug abuse awareness program.

But even worse, he lost his ride with Penske Racing as a result.

Ever since being reinstated, Allmendinger has done everything possible to put last year's unfortunate episode behind him and to return to full-time racing.

But is JTGD the solution? Or is it just a weigh station stop en route to an even better ride, much like Kurt Busch used both Phoenix Racing and Furniture Row Racing as steps toward landing with SHR for 2014?

At this point in his career, even with winning two Nationwide Series races for Penske Racing this season, I'm still not sure being a solo driver for a single team operation is going to wind up being the best thing for Allmendinger.

He's the kind of driver who needs backup support from teammates, if for nothing else than to build and share data. But at JTGD, Allmendinger won't have that opportunity, unless the organization expands to a second car, which at this point appears unlikely.

While Labonte has been offered an opportunity to stay with the organization, what role that would be has not been defined. And there's quite a bit of irony that JTGD announced the hiring of Allmendinger one day after Labonte suffered three broken ribs in a bicycle crash, all but ending his racing season early.

Allmendinger is a good driver. He showed great progress going from 24th in his first full-time season in 2009 to finishes of 19th and 15th the next two seasons. Before his suspension in 2012, he was a potential threat to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time in his career.

It appeared likely that Allmendinger would have had a full-time ride in the NNS next season with Penske Racing. But instead, he chose to return to the Sprint Cup level with JTGD, which has a long way to go still to establish itself as a top-15 enterprise, let alone a legitimate championship contender.

Allmendinger at JTGD will likely be a step up from Labonte, the aging former Cup champion who has essentially toiled in near oblivion the last four or more seasons and whose racing future now appears in doubt, at best.

Labonte had good, but not great equipment at JTGD. But it also seemed as if the former champ just didn't have a great deal of motivation anymore, almost appearing as if he were just in it for a paycheck—and where he finished in each race was inconsequential.

Since coming to NASCAR from a successful stint in Indy cars, Allmendinger had been a rising star in the Cup series, especially when he went to Penske Racing before the drug test debacle.

But going to a team with no teammate, limited resources and a history of being marginally competitive, if that, does call into question the logic of Allmendinger's move.

On the flip side, he needed a job and could be just what JTGD needs to finally start climbing toward relevancy and competitiveness.

That, or Allmendinger may wind up taking a page from Busch's comeback playbook, in which case he'd do as well as he can at JTGD in 2014 and then move up to a premier ride with a contending team the following season.

Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski


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