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2010 NASCAR Driver Review: AJ Allmendinger

AJ Allmendinger

2010 Ride: No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
2010 Primary Sponsors: Best Buy/Insignia/Geek Squad, Valvoline, Charter Communications, NASCAR Hall of Fame, Coleman Natural Foods, Berlin City Auto Group, Paralyzed Veterans of America/Mission Able, Wix Filters
2010 Owners: George Gillett, Richard Petty
2010 Crew Chief: Mike Shiplett
2010 Stats: 36 starts, 0 wins, 2 top fives, 8 top 10s, 1 pole, 3 DNFs, 19th in points

High Point: Although his best finish of the season came at The Glen, where he both started and finished fourth, Allmendinger’s best race took place at Dover in September. In his previous two starts at The Monster Mile, Allmendinger had become a legitimate darkhorse to score his first victory at the difficult track. The first came after a late rally in the September 2009 race, which vaulted him to a seventh-place finish.

The second, in May of this year, saw Allmendinger start eighth in a glorious Richard Petty throwback scheme and run top-5 run all day until a “finger-tight” lugnut led to an unscheduled stop and a pit-road speeding penalty which left him 14th. In September, he returned to qualify outside-pole to Jimmie Johnson and went on to lead 143 of the first 171 laps, far and away a career-best total in laps led. In a frustrating twist, another tire problem near the midway point dropped the No. 43 out of contention, though he again rallied back to finish 10th.

Low Point: The 14th-place finish Allmendinger scored at Dover in May started a streak of six straight top-15 finishes for the team, including top-10s at Pocono and New Hampshire in June. However, the run ended in disaster at Daytona in July, where a spin off turn 4 on lap 67 sent his No. 43 backing into the inside wall.

Already furious that a similar spin ended his thrilling rush through the pack in the Daytona 500 in February, a furious Allmendinger turned his back on Richard Petty in the garage in an incident the TNT broadcast completely failed to cover. Both driver and controversy simmered down that week, and the Californian re-signed with RPM on August 4.

Summary: Amid the highs and lows, Allmendinger enjoyed his best season to date in his second season driving for The King, certainly good news given the publicized accounts of RPM’s financial woes during the season’s final weeks. In the aforementioned Daytona 500 rally, Allmendinger’s No. 43 rocketed through the field with ease, leading as early as lap 45 before a late spin off turn 2 destroyed the car’s handling. He finished sixth at Atlanta in March, then took his first career pole at Phoenix the next month before finishing 15th.

He finished inside the Top 20 in nine of the next 10 races, with the sole exception of a catastrophic brake failure at Darlington that K.O.’d both he and Johnson on lap 177. In the latter part of the season, Allmendinger stepped up his qualifying performances, scoring nine top-10 starts in the final 16 races, including outside-poles in the fall races at Dover and Phoenix.

In between, he and the No. 43 made a habit of bouncing back from early-race misfortunes, including a 10th-place finish at Sonoma after an early tangle with Kyle Busch and a fifth-place finish in the Homestead finale after he scraped the wall while running with the leaders.

Team Ranking: Allmendinger finished ahead of his three RPM teammates in owner points, first beating Paul Menard’s No. 98 when Menard’s strong early-season run waned after the first five races, then besting the No. 9 by two positions in the final standings following the late-season replacement of Aric Almirola for the exiting Kasey Kahne.

Off-Track News: As with his teammates, no story was bigger for Allmendinger than the financial struggles of RPM. Just over two months after he re-signed to drive The King’s No. 43 in 2011 alongside new teammate Marcos Ambrose in the No. 9, Kahne’s departure from RPM after the October race in Charlotte put the future of the team in doubt.

2010 Outlook: However, in the five races following Kahne’s departure, Allmendinger again pulled through with top-20 finishes in four of the last five races, including the fifth-place finish at Homestead. With such momentum going into the offseason and RPM restructuring into a two-car operation, Allmendinger is now poised to assume a leadership role at the team with even-more realistic hopes of bringing his boss’s number back to victory lane.

Although the team’s misfortunes can mostly be chalked-up to bad luck, the one area where the No. 43 organization must improve is with its pit stops, where Allmendinger’s standout runs in both Dover races fell apart.

2007 Frontstretch Grade: D+
2008 Grade: C+
2009 Grade: B
2010 Grade: B

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