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Friday, April 10, 2009

Sponsored through fall, Allmendinger can focus on run for Chase

It took long enough, but finally A.J. Allmendinger can breathe a little easier. The efforts of the Richard Petty Motorsports team to get sponsorship for A.J.’s #44 team landed the interest of Hunt Brothers Pizza, who will help the team stay on the track through September.

And if Allmendinger continues driving as well as he has all season, finding sponsorship for the Chase races shouldn’t be hard … especially if he’s in that Chase competing for a title.

It's very possible when you consider what he’s done so far this year. After seven races, A.J. is 20th in points, only 104 points out of 12th spot and the Chase. A week earlier he was only a few spots out, knocking on the door.

He’s the second best driver on the RPM team, ahead of teammates Reed Sorenson and Elliott Sadler. If the Petty team was smart, they would wrap A.J. up in a multiyear deal while they still have the option, as I predict several teams will be courting Allmendinger hard if they don’t.

The open-wheel star has had his share of struggles in NASCAR, even being pulled from his ride at Red Bull for several races during a particularly rough period, but he has matured very rapidly.

At the end of 2008, A.J. resurrected the dying #10 after the car struggled all year with driver Patrick Carpentier. He had some great runs that no one thought that car was capable of having. This year, he has picked up where he left off.

Now that the sponsorship issue is not hanging over his head, A.J. can concentrate fully on the racing. It’s a longshot, but if he continues to perform solidly and get top 15 finishes most weeks, Allmendinger could be competing for the title this fall.

It would be an amazing success story, and it’s far from a lock, but the fact that it’s even a possibility is a testament to the huge turnaround this car has made since the arrival of Allmendinger.

Root for Nationwide drivers this weekend
The good news this weekend is that only a handful of full-time Cup drivers are competing in the Nationwide race at Nashville Saturday – Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, David Ragan, Michael Waltrip and Joey Logano. The rest of the field will be Nationwide regulars, and I hope one of them can finally pull of a win in their own series.

My money is on young Justin Allgaier, the Penske driver who is on the fast track to Cup. He’s very fast and has been very strong so far this year in the series, running up front and threatening to win. If they can escape the invaders (mainly Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards), I give the edge to Allgaier to capture the win. If he can’t, I hope Brad Keselowski or another Nationwide driver wins.

Also of note: Roush Racing will give up-and-coming driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. his first drive in the Nationwide Series. File his name away, as you’ll probably be hearing it a lot in the future.


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