McReynolds, Despain on Opportunities for Smith and Allmendinger This Weekend Today’s announcement that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will sit out the next two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races after sustaining a concussion in a last-lap accident at Talladega Superspeedway set in motion a shuffling around of drivers Regan Smith and AJ Allmendinger.
Smith, originally slated to drive the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, now will fill in for Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Allmendinger, who hasn’t competed since his suspension at Daytona in July and didn’t have a ride confirmed to-date, takes over the No. 51 Chevrolet for Smith. News of Earnhardt’s absence created unexpected, high-profile “auditions” for the 2013 season for both Smith and Allmendinger when neither had anything concrete lined up for next season or for the entirety of the remaining six races in 2012.
Below, SPEED analysts Larry McReynolds and Dave Despain offer their perspective on the opportunities in front of both drivers heading into this weekend’s race:
“I wish both AJ and Regan the best but I wonder if either of them can really demonstrate in two races anything they didn't already have a chance to prove in their previous employment. In A.J.'s case, this does serve to remind everyone that he's done his penance with NASCAR and is back in the game, but that doesn't change the lack of availability of good rides for next year.”
--Dave Despain, host of Wind Tunnel
“This could be huge for both Regan and AJ. I’ve always hated the fact that one or two races sometimes can make or break a driver. It’s not like a great opportunity necessarily motivates either guy to give a better effort than he would have. But AJ hasn’t been in a race car in three months and has a pretty decent opportunity this weekend with Phoenix Racing. He runs well at Charlotte, and if he happens to just have a solid race and stays out of trouble, it could be huge for him because right now, he’s trying to sell both his talent and his character. AJ has a bigger mountain to climb on the character side than the competition side because while he doesn’t have to prove he did nothing wrong with regard to the failed drug test, he needs to look fairly pure to corporate America. Regan is just trying to sell his talent.
“Will this chance make or break their futures? I don’t know, but if they can go out and make some noise, it would be great for both guys. In 2002, Sterling Marlin got hurt and Jamie McMurray replaced him, ironically winning the October race at Charlotte. That win pretty much wrote Jamie’s ticket in the Cup Series. I think Regan has just as good a chance of winning this weekend as Jamie did 10 years ago. Wins aside, solid runs and finishes this weekend could work miracles for both guys’ careers.”
--Larry McReynolds, SPEED analyst