Former ChampCar race-winner AJ Allmendinger could make a return to the US open-wheel racing scene for the first time in six years, after being offered an opportunity to test for the Penske team later this month.
Allmendinger drove for Penske’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team last year before failing a random drugs test that led to him being temporarily suspended from competition and sacked by the team according to its company policy.
The American subsequently underwent NASCAR’s ‘Road to Recovery’ rehabilitation program – passing it with flying colours – and made a return to racing before the end of the year with four Sprint Cup outings for the aptly-named Phoenix Racing team.
Penske owner Roger Penske was hit hard by the decision to dump Allmendinger, but it appeared that the bridges had been rebuilt when his former driver was a personal guest of ‘The Captain’ at last year’s IndyCar finale at Fontana.
While Penske doesn’t have a full-time NASCAR seat to offer Allmendinger, it is believed that his performance in the IndyCar test could lead to a part-time open-wheel campaign for the championship-winning outfit.
Allmendinger admitted that there are a number of factors that would dictate whether a return to open-wheel racing was feasible.
Certainly a vacancy exists at Team Penske, which has retained the services of Will Power and Helio Castroneves for another season, while dispensing with the underperforming Ryan Briscoe.
According to sources, Allmendinger could – subject to him continuing with Phoenix Racing on a part-time basis in the Sprint Cup Series – make his IndyCar debut at the second round of the season at Barber Motorsports Park, followed by another outing at Long Beach. If all goes well, they could also enter him for the Indianapolis 500.
“It’s been seven years since I’ve been in one of those cars, and they’ve changed quite a bit,” Allmendinger said. “I know it won’t be easy [but] the whole organization and Roger, especially, is such a class act. [I] can’t thank them enough for the chance and for keeping me a part of the family throughout it all.”
A winner of the Formula Atlantic championship in 2003, AJ made his ChampCar debut in 2004 with the RuSport team. A switch to the Forsythe Racing team in 2006 netted him five wins and third overall in the Drivers’ Championship standings.
Since then, Allmendinger has been a mainstay of the NASCAR scene, and narrowly missed out on a breakthrough maiden win at Martinsville last year – that was until the fateful blood results came through…
Allmendinger has also been an occasional star in the US endurance racing scene, co-piloting the winning car at the 2011 Daytona 24 Hours, before backing that up with a third-placed finish at this year’s event.