Allmendinger exceeds expectations in qualifying

Helio Castroneves digs hard
Scott Morris/

The sour look on A.J. Allmendinger’s face today was what IndyCar team owner Roger Penske wanted to see at Barber Motorsports Park.

It meant IndyCar’s star newcomer wasn’t content with qualifying a surprising 10th among 26 drivers for Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. It meant ‘Dinger will keep digging.

“He’s not satisfied, and that’s exactly what we like about him," Penske said from his perch overlooking Allmendinger’s pit box. “It’s what we need at (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) next week (during rookie orientation) and at Long Beach (the week after).

“By the time he gets to Indy in May this (car) will be the bed he’s sleeping in."

Penske obviously knows what he’s doing with Allmendinger, and it goes beyond the second chance he’s giving the once-banned NASCAR driver for violating stock car racing’s substance abuse policy last June.

Penske believes Allmendinger, a former race winner in the Champ Car World Series with a Twitter audience exceeded in IndyCar only by Tony Kanaan, can join teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves, among others, at the elite level in this series.

Penske cars have won all three races at this track, and they have won 15 races at Indianapolis with 10 different drivers. Penske wants all three of these drivers to have a chance to win everywhere, and he thinks they can. Ultimately, that’s what the Allmendinger project is all about.

Penske could have brought back Ryan Briscoe to the No. 2 car for a sixth season, but he felt Allmendinger provided a better chance in the biggest moments.

Penske thinks Allmendinger can win the 500, and it won’t surprise him if Allmendinger exceeds expectations here Sunday.

“He’s a pro," Penske said.

Allmendinger said many of his NASCAR friends thought he could run in IndyCar’s top five this weekend, but there weren’t many people in IndyCar’s paddock, including Allmendinger, who shared that optimism.

Two-time series champion Scott Dixon called Allmendinger “a very accomplished driver," but Dixon didn’t think Allmendinger would run anywhere near the top 10 this weekend.

James Hinchcliffe, the winner of the season-opening race in St. Petersburg, Fla., expected Allmendinger to qualify about 15th given Team Penske’s dominance at this track, but “anything inside of that is doing a hell of a job," he said.

Asked about a top-10 finish for Allmendinger, Hinchcliffe smiled with a don’t-be-silly look.

“If he can leave here with a top 10 he should be very proud," he said. Indy Star

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