The Frontstretch: Allmendinger Announcement A Bit Of A Shock; And Now, The Pressure's On by Thomas Bowles -- Monday March 3, 2008

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Allmendinger Announcement A Bit Of A Shock; And Now, The Pressure's On

Bowles-Eye View -- Special Edition · Thomas Bowles · Monday March 3, 2008


NASCAR's Silly Season seems to start earlier every year … but I never remember it gearing up this quickly.

The announcement A.J. Allmendinger will be temporarily replaced in the No. 84 is the second such driver change in three weeks in Sprint Cup - Jacques Villeneuve was ousted from the No. 27 mere hours after missing the Daytona 500. Add in the Bobby Labonte whispers throughout the garage that he's going to RCR for 2009, and it's been one above average month of February when it comes to shakeups behind the cockpit.

Make no mistake, though; Allmendinger's exit from the No. 84 was definitely a bit of a shock. Considering the sophomore was the first car left out at all three races this season, it's not like he was completely off the mark; in fact, the 93 owner points A.J. accumulated leaves Team Red Bull just 119 out of a Top 35 spot, not an unattainable goal by any means. In fact, under the old qualifying rules from a few years back, Allmendinger would have made two of three races; he finished 13th in his Gatorade Duel and qualified 34th at Las Vegas (his team would still have been bitten by the California rainout last week).

Allmendinger finished 43rd in the standings during his first full season of Cup competition last year, scoring a best finish of 15th while qualifying for 17 races in 36 attempts.

But this is the new NASCAR, and the Top 35 rule bit Allmendinger at the worst possible time - for it seems this ouster may have as much to do with the No. 83's success as with the No. 84's failure at Team Red Bull. Right now, Vickers is sitting pretty in 12th in the standings, all but assured of a "locked in" spot when the series heads to Martinsville in a couple of weeks. Last year, it was hard to blame every misstep on Allmendinger's inexperience, as Vickers was also failing to qualify; but with the performance between the two teams beginning to widen, the window of opportunity opened for General Manager Jay Frye to make a change.

Certainly, Mike Skinner is not the long-term answer here, but in the short-term he'll get this team what they need - a good qualifier who'll get the car into the show. Clocking in with the 5th-fastest time at Vegas in Bill Davis' No. 27 Toyota, Skinner showed he could still get the job done at 51 — and with the way new teammate Vickers' team has been running, don't be surprised if he puts this car in position for a Top 10 at one of the short tracks later on this month. Frye was noncommittal as to how long Skinner will stay in the car; but at this point, you'd have to think a few solid runs will buy him a six to eight week stint at the very least. On a side note, Skinner's departure from BDR now gives Johnny Benson an opening to reestablish himself on the Cup scene; the 1996 Cup Rookie Of The Year now gets the No. 27 Toyota exclusively to himself until Skinner's tenure with Red Bull comes to an end.

So, what happens to Allmendinger? Frye was adamant this move was merely temporary, making it clear the team is not giving up on A.J. as it plans to develop him in a lower series - which was probably what this team should have done when they chose to pick him off the CART circuit two years ago. But the more troubling sign for Allmendinger is the team's sudden investment in fellow open wheeler and former rival Scott Speed. Speed is scheduled to run two Truck Series races with the No. 46 team, and solid performances there could turn that into a full-time development deal. Curiously, Red Bull continues to funnel its resources in areas they never did for the driver they just "replaced;" and with Allmendinger being sent back into the same series, there's a chance the two are about to begin a "knockout" competition to take over the No. 84 car full-time for 2009. In the past, Red Bull has said they'd like to keep both on the roster, but they appear hardly ready to expand to a three-car team — common sense tells you they can’t absorb another nightmare expansion like they had in 2007. If they were, Allmendinger would be busy taking his knocks in Cup this weekend at Atlanta.

The bottom line in all this mess is that the Cup Series has lost an immense racing talent, albeit temporarily. There were a reason multi-car Cup operations were trying to wrestle Allmendinger away despite 19 DNQ's over the course of 2007; by the end of the year, he was picking up the pace while showcasing the skill he propelled to stardom over in CART. At 26, there's a tremendous upside to this investment, and with some proper seasoning in either Nationwide or Trucks, Allmendinger will have a second chance at Cup.

At this point, the only question is with who. My money's still with Team Red Bull; but despite the way both parties reassured us Monday, that answer is not 100 percent set in stone.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


©2000 - 2008 Thomas Bowles and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

03/04/2008 06:11 AM

I think the bigger problem is the qualifying system itself.

AJ has shown the proper speed on more than one occasion.

What then if Skinner’s results mirror what AJ has done to now?

AJ has a brave face on (see his blog on his own website).

I think it’s flawed logic to pull him – I hope I’m wrong.

Glenn Heard
03/04/2008 10:20 AM

I think that Almendinger is definitely a victim of the STUPID “top 35” rule of Nascar. I feel that every qualifier (all 43) should qualify on time.
I have nothing against Skinner, personally, but he has “tried the cup route” before and failed.
I am not young myself (64 yrs) but I think we need to level the playing field for all the drivers(young, old, rich or poor.)

Frank Emm
03/04/2008 12:07 PM

Exactly right,one more talented driver victimized by the top 35 rule.A lot of these drivers will return to open wheel and that will be Nascars loss in the long term.Maybe AJ would be a good fit with Petty if Labonte does leave for RCR.At least in the truck series he will get some seat time and therefore some experience.

03/04/2008 12:22 PM

Another young driver whose confidence has suffered a blow that may never recover—and why?? Could it be the unrelenting pressure from “corporate”? What ever happened to the day when a team gave a driver the loyalty to develope into the winner they hired him to be? Long live the American Dollar!!!

03/04/2008 12:28 PM

I love AJ and I hope to see him back on the track ASPA!! Red Bull also needs to take some of the focus off of Scott Speed and put it on AJ. They found Speed a truck ride pretty quick, why can’t they do the same for AJ?

03/04/2008 01:32 PM

Thank you! I’m so glad to see somebody talking about the disparity of treatment between Scott and AJ. Why is RB so focused on giving Scott everything he needs to be successful in this sport while at the same time throwing AJ to the wolves? AJ is/was their Cup driver, shouldn’t he have been the priority?

AJ’s done a terrific job given what he’s had to work with. Red Bull should be ashamed, and doing everything they can to get him as much seat time as possible so they can have him back in their Cup car soon. Would they really rather have him competing against them with a team willing to give him the tools he needs to succeed?

Kevin in SoCal
03/04/2008 01:43 PM

Can you imagine the uproar if NASCAR went to a “fastest 43” qualifying format? And if Dale Jr blows a tire or spins out during his qualifying attempt? It just happened to Johnny Sauter, Sam Hornish, and Kyle Busch over the weeked in Las Vegas in both series. I dont think the fans are ready for a race without Dale Jr or Jeff Gordon. I would like to see it changed to top 25. Also, keep in mind if all the drivers were required to qualify their way into the field, the ones with the money and resources would spend that money on qualifying, and you would still see the smaller teams on the outside because they dont have the speed.

03/04/2008 03:35 PM


At least if we did go to the 43 fastest making the race, then the small teams would have a better chance than they do now of making the race. Right now, they have to have a fantastic run to even have a hope of qualifying.

If we did this and Jeff or Jimmie did not qualify one week, imagine how hard the team would work the next week to make sure that they did qualify. Also, look how much attention would be paid to qualifying by people wanting to watch them attempt to qualify.

03/04/2008 06:57 PM

Drag Racing only runs the fastest, pretty much the opposite of NASCAR. There have been times that guys like Force don’t make the show, yet the fans seem to be fine with this. Why can’t this work in NASCAR? Forget the Top-whatever..just run the fastest, the chances of Jeff, Jimmie, Dale, or whoever else is condidered a “top-driver”..(which actually should be a term used for all drivers in NASCAR), of not qualifying are pretty slim. By doing this you would “level the playing field”, as NASCAR puts it as slapping the wall or having some sort of failure could happen to anyone.


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