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DATE News (chronologically)
05/31/13
IRL
A.J. Allmendinger looks to repay Roger Penske's faith in him
A.J. Allmendinger feels fortunate to get a second chance driving for Roger Penske, and plans to pay him back by giving his best effort.

"He's done everything for me," Allmendinger said of Penske. "I feel like he truly cares about me and I feel blessed to have him and want me to be a part of his organization and family so much, and there's nothing I could do to even come close to repaying him so I just go out and give everything I got and hopefully that's enough."

That means this weekend, especially, when Allmendinger competes in the first doubleheader in IndyCar series history, 70-lap races run Saturday and Sunday at Belle Isle.

Allmendinger had his dream ride in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series last year, driving for Penske. He lost it after failing a random drug test for what he said was Adderall. Allmendinger then took part in the series' recovery program and had Penske's support throughout the process.

"A.J. is kind of like a son," Penske said. "These drivers are part of the family and quite honestly he made a mistake. He's a great driver, a good kid and I just wanted to give him a chance.

"This thing (driving schedule) kind of manifested itself, the chance to run a couple of races, then come to Indy and he was ready. And, he'll run here this weekend and our hope is we can run him in the Pocono 500 and California 500 so he can run in the three 500s. We're going to keep him busy."

And, Allmendinger wants to stay busy.

He knows his way around a track in open-wheel racing, having won five races during an eight-race span in the 2006 Champ Car series. He finished third in points for Forsythe Racing.

Allmendinger then moved to NASCAR, but went winless during his six years in Sprint Cup.

He already has showed his potential driving for Penske, leading 23 laps last weekend in the Indianapolis 500 before a loose seat belt forced him into the pits midway through the race and finished seventh. Allmendinger also competed in two road course races, finishing 19th at Alabama and 23rd at Long Beach.

"A.J. did a tremendous job," Penske said. "If he didn't have that seat belt come loose, we might have had something."

So, how did it feel to have a loose belt at Indy going 230 mph?

"Indy was great, the whole three weeks," Allmendinger said. "That whole process was really good. We had a fast race car. It's kind of tough when you're leading the race and your belt falls off, just comes undone. You just fall inside the car. You're not strapped in anymore. I tried to fix it down the back straightaway coming down the corner and I found out it wouldn't be fixed by me. At that point you just pit and try to make up for it.

"I still feel we had a legitimate shot to win it if the yellow didn't come out with eight to go (because of Graham Rahal's crash)."

Allmendinger said it has been a challenging transition from NASCAR to IndyCar, and that 2006 and the Champ Car success was a long time ago.

"It's so long ago I couldn't even remember how they differ," Allmendinger said of Champ Car and IndyCar. "What I learned has nothing to do with now.

"It's been a tough transition coming back, a lot tougher than I expected. My teammates, Will (Power) and Helio (Castroneves) have helped me out a lot. The team itself has been very supportive. The first couple of road and street races, Barber and Long Beach, I felt I had good speed, obviously we didn't get the finishes we want, but I felt like at least I was in there, not where I need to be or want to be, but it's been a lot of fun to get back in it."

This is Allmendinger's first trip to Belle Isle, and knows he will have to be on his game early.

"We're going to have an hour and 10 minutes of practice and then it's go-time after that," Allmendinger said. "You have to go out there, you don't want to over-push right away, but you have to kind of find the limits right away because the fun, the tough and the bad thing about the series is everybody is so close so you have to be on the limit every time you're in the race car to be up there on the timesheets." Detroit News
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