Editor’s Note: For even more on AJ Allmendinger‘s first season in stock cars, check out columnist Tony Lumbis’s season-ending take on the California native by clicking here for a season-ending report card on all Nextel Cup rookies.
2007 Ride: No. 84 Team Red Bull Toyota
2007 Owner: Dietrich Mateschitz/Danny Bahar
2007 Crew Chief: Rick Viers
Stats: 17 races, zero wins, zero top fives, zero top 10s, 43rd in points.
Best Finish: 15th – Charlotte (October)
High Point: Allmendinger didn’t enjoy many of the highs he hoped for as a rookie on the Nextel Cup circuit, but there were a few golden nuggets in ’07 for the former Champ Car driver. Allmendinger scored Rookie of the Race honors on two occasions, once at Charlotte in October (15th) and again two races later at Atlanta (16th). And while qualifying wasn’t the strong suit of the No. 84, he did score a fifth-place start at Texas in November; that was the highlight of a stretch where he qualified for nine of the final 13 events of ’07.
Meanwhile, several critics worried Allmendinger would be a wrecking machine while making the transition from road racing to ovals; but unlike other rookies who bring the car home in a heap of mangled sheetmetal, this one kept his Camry in one piece. In the 17 races the 25-year-old made, he failed to finish just twice – and only one of those DNFs was because of a crash.
Low Point: Failing to qualify 19 times was the glaring low point of Allmendinger’s rookie campaign. During the season, he often ran fast laps in qualifying; but his new team’s lack of owner points put him behind the 8-ball early, digging him a deep hole he never got out of. After missing the Daytona 500, he DNQ’d the next three races before finally making the field at Bristol. Finishing 40th, the No. 84 ran the following week at Martinsville and finished just two spots better – then, Allmendinger went another five weeks without ever taking the green flag. That ended any hope of his team gaining a Top-35 qualifying exemption, making every Friday a dicey affair to simply make the field. And while the rookie managed to log laps in the races he did start, the performances left a lot to be desired; he finished on the lead lap in just three events all year.
Summary: Judging Allmendinger’s first year in the Cup Series against the success many rookies in recent years have enjoyed, things don’t look so bright and rosy. But if you look at what he was up against – a new team, no owner points to fall back on and a new manufacturer, this kid did an admirable job. He didn’t rack up wins – heck, he didn’t even score a top 10 – but what Allmendinger did manage to do was log a lot of laps in the races he did run. That track time will serve him well as his Cup career moves along just two years after never having driven a NASCAR vehicle.
2008 Outlook: After finishing 43rd in the owner standings this season, Allmendinger faces the same uphill qualifying battle in ’08; well, at least for the first five races of this year. But despite not qualifying for the final two races of ’07, the No. 84 team did end the year on a high note; both his season’s best finish and qualifying effort came within the final four races he started. The team’s sophomore season should be an improvement, with Toyota having a full year of Cup racing under their belts; the addition of Joe Gibbs Racing to that group should clearly pay dividends for Team Red Bull. With crew chief Rick Viers and most of the No. 84 team intact for ’08, don’t expect them to suddenly set the world on fire; but with continued patience, Allmendinger should be contending for a top-35 spot in the standings.
2006 Frontstretch Grade: N/A
2007 Grade: D+
Editor’s Note: The 2007 season is over, and even the Final Chase exam has come to a close – which means it’s time to give each driver their annual year-end evaluation. For the second straight year, your favorite Frontstretch staff members are giving driver reviews for every full-time wheelman on the circuit, giving you insight into the seasons of anyone from Allmendinger to JJ Yeley.