Will Penske rehire Allmendinger to replace Briscoe? UPDATE #2
Reinstated by NASCAR from a substance abuse suspension Tuesday, A.J. Allmendinger's next career step could be returning to the team that fired him -- but on another circuit.
|Allmendinger had his greatest success in Champ Car in 2005 driving for Forsythe racing|
Penske Racing already has filled the Sprint Cup ride vacated by Allmendinger, but the team could have a 2013 opening in the Izod IndyCar Series. Allmendinger attended Saturday's season finale at Fontana, Calif., as a guest of car owner Roger Penske, who fired the driver last month from his NASCAR team after his backup sample from a random drug test returned positive for an amphetamine.
Penske has just two drivers firmed up for three IndyCars in 2013.
Allmendinger, though, said it's strengthened their relationship and said he wanted to "keep the lines of communication open and see where that takes us.
"Roger has been so amazing in this process; he's been such a friend," Allmendinger told USA TODAY Sports. "We're actually closer than we probably were when I worked for them. So he was so nice to invite me and really just be able to look around, and it was nice to have people say, 'We want you back over here.'
"If Roger Penske offers something, I'm never going to turn him down. More than anything, it's been nice to know he actually cares as much about me to keep me around (and) call to make sure I'm OK."
In attending his first IndyCar race in six years, Allmendinger said he had casual conversations with some team owners. He scored five wins in the ChampCar World Series before moving to NASCAR in 2007 but isn't putting open-wheel racing ahead of stock cars as an option.
"Ranking them is the wrong thing to do," he said. "It's more than anything looking at the right option for me as a race car driver for what I want to do, what's fun for me. The best opportunity for my life as a whole in general. I won't prioritize anything. I will say there's a lot of unfinished business in NASCAR, and I definitely don't want to go out like that, but at the same point, I'm going to leave all options open.
"It was good to get back to a racetrack and actually get my face out there again."
Though his earning potential would be greater in NASCAR than IndyCar, Allmendinger said money wouldn't be a primary factor, and he'd consider racing in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series, too.
"If people want to offer rides, I'm not going to turn them down," said Allmendinger, whose only scheduled race is a Las Vegas go-kart event in November. "But I have to make sure it's the right opportunity." USA Today09/16/12 Roger Penske said Saturday that banned NASCAR driver A.J. Allmendinger is an option for the team's three-car IndyCar operation as soon as he is reinstated.
Penske said he and Allmendinger, who attended Saturday night's championship-deciding IndyCar race at Auto Club Speedway as Penske's guest, are hoping that reinstatement comes soon. Allmendinger failed a drug test earlier this summer.
Penske has a seat to fill after Ryan Hunter-Reay opted to sign a two-year extension with Andretti Autosport on Friday night. Ryan Briscoe is pursuing other IndyCar options, although he remains a possibility for Penske.
But Penske likes what Allmendinger could bring to the team.
"He's certainly an option for people on the NASCAR side and on the Indy side," Penske said. "He did a great job (in) Champ Car.
"He could be an option for us, for sure." Indy Star 09/16/12 Roger Penske would consider re-hiring AJ Allmendinger, the suspended NASCAR driver who was at the IndyCar season finale as his guest. Allmendinger failed a NASCAR drug test in July and was released by Penske Racing when his backup "B" sample also tested positive. He's currently participating in NASCAR's "Road to Recovery" program, and Penske said Saturday he felt the driver has been too reclusive during the process.
"I told AJ I wanted him to come to a race; I think he had been kind of undercover for quite a bit of the time, and I thought it would be good for him to get out and see people here, talk to some of the team owners," Penske said before the IndyCar finale at Auto Club Speedway.
Penske said once Allmendinger's suspension is resolved with NASCAR, he's a viable option for owners in both NASCAR and IndyCar. Allmendinger spent three seasons in Champ Car, and won five races in 2006 before moving to NASCAR. "I think hopefully we'll get some answer from NASCAR as quickly as possible because the Chase has started now, hopefully they'll give him a clean bill of health and he can move on," Penske said.
"This is a speed bump in his career, but he's certainly an option for people on the NASCAR side and the Indy side. He did a great job when you think about what he did in Champ Car." Asked if he'd hire Allmendinger again, Penske said: "He could be an option for us, for sure." Associated Press/ESPN
[Editor's Note: Penske needs a replacement for Ryan Briscoe, so hmm......]