AJ Allmendinger, who has competed in four stock car races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in 10 weeks will attempt to earn his first berth in the Indianapolis 500.
Team Penske announced during a March 8 news conference at the Speedway that the five-time Champ Car race winner would drive the No. 2 Chevrolet-powered car with primary sponsorship from IZOD in at least two races, including the 97th Running of the 500 Mile Race on May 26 and the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 7, during the 19-race IZOD IndyCar Series season. Ron Ruzewski, the team’s technical director, will be his race engineer.
Penske Racing president Tim Cindric said it's the team's goal of arranging additional races with Allmendinger.
Allmendinger will be classified an Indianapolis 500 rookie and will participate in the three-phase Rookie Orientation Program April 11 on the 2.5-mile oval. Drivers must successfully complete at least two of the phases that day to be eligible to participate in Opening Day practice May 12. Pole Day is May 18. Team Penske has reserved a test day March 27 at Texas Motor Speedway.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back to my roots and racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series,” said Allmendinger, who will participate in an Open Test on March 12-13 at Barber Motorsports Park. “I think it’s every driver’s dream to race for Team Penske at the Indy 500 and that experience is going to be incredible. I also have to thank IZOD for their support and for giving me a chance to show what I can do. I definitely intend to make the most of it.”
Allmendinger, whose last Indy car competition was Oct. 21, 2006, at Surfers Paradise, Australia, nary missed a shift during a mid-March test day with Team Penske at Sebring International Raceway. He wasn’t far off the lap times of new teammates Helio Castroneves and Will Power, and near the end of the afternoon session was simulating pit stops with the over-the-wall crew.
Allmendinger, 31, of Los Gatos, Calif., was suspended by NASCAR last summer for failing a random drug test. His "B" sample also came back positive for a banned substance and he was released by Penske Racing from his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series contract. Allmendinger, a veteran of six stock car seasons, completed the Road to Recovery program and was reinstated in September. He is in good standings with INDYCAR.
“It is exciting to welcome AJ back to Penske Racing,” team owner Roger Penske said. “He obviously went through a tough time last year but he has done everything he needed to in order to get back to racing at the top level of the sport. We have always believed in AJ and his ability and he deserves this opportunity.
“We think he will be a strong competitor this season in the IZOD IndyCar Series for Team Penske and we look forward to racing with him in the IZOD car at Barber and at the Indianapolis 500.”
Allmendinger competed in four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at the Brickyard, with a best finish of 10th in 2006 (starting 26th). He most recently competed in the Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, advancing 12 positions to finish 11th in a Phoenix Racing Chevrolet.
"For me, it's amazing to go through the last year of what happened, get back to this point," Allmendinger said. "For me to be able to run Indy is amazing, but the fact to have Roger Penske, everybody at the Penske organization, to ask me to come back, still be a part of the family. Roger told me the first day when I signed with him last year, 'Once you're in the family, you're always in the family.'
"To have him ask me to come back and ask me to drive one of his IndyCars here at the Speedway, and in general, that means more than anything I could have imagined. At that point, Roger didn't need to help me if he didn't want to. To have him do that, have Mike and IZOD come aboard and take a shot with me at this, it's fantastic.
"Honestly, through that process, there's a lot of things that I had to go through as a person. I wasn't worried about a phone call from anybody, getting a chance. I had to make sure if I got the chance, if and when, I was ready to go. There's no secrets. Nobody's perfect in life. Unfortunately, mine was played out on TV over one dumb mistake. But with that mistake, you can do two things: you can keep making those mistakes or learn from them and be a lot better.
I said it when I started, I'll say it every day, I'm a lot better for it. I'm a lot better mentally and physically for whatever opportunity. I can actually look at Tim Cindric, Mike Kelly, Roger Penske in the eye and say, 'I'm ready to go and I'm going to work hard. I'm going to do all the right things.' Whether that's good enough in the end? I hope so. If not, I can look myself in the mirror and be happy with it."
Allmendinger’s motorsports career started in karting, progressed through Formula Ford in New Zealand and began to take off when he won the Barber Dodge Pro championship in 2002. The next year he earned the Champ Car Atlantic Championship with RuSPORT.
Allmendinger graduated to Champ Car with RuSPORT in ’04, placing sixth in the standings with a best finish of third and earning Rookie of the Year honors. He earned the pole at Edmonton and was runner-up in four races in the 2005 season, during which he finished fifth in the championship. In ’06, he won five races – including three in a row after being dismissed by RuSPORT and joining Forsythe Championship Racing – and wound up third behind champion Sebastien Bourdais and Justin Wilson in the standings.
Power, who competed against Allmendinger in the '06 Champ Car season, said at the Sebring test that he's already was fitting in with the team.
"He's easy to get along with. When I raced him, he was very fast," Power said. "That year, had he started with Forsythe, he probably would have won the championship.”