Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Mailbox: Why Is Nobody Talking About AJ Allmendinger?

He’s so strong in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, so why aren’t Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Childress Racing and Petty [GMS Motorsports] considering AJ Allmendinger for a NASCAR Cup Series ride? – Carlos V., Glendale Ariz.

Those teams aren’t considering him for a full-time return because, for better or worse, AJ Allmendinger is a known quantity. 

The Xfinity Series renaissance of Allmendinger has been one of the best feel-good stories in recent NASCAR memory. Here’s a guy who came to the Cup Series with Red Bull Racing as part of the open-wheel invasion of 2007, made a steady, if not flashy career at stock car racing’s highest level, and then returned from a drug suspension with his reputation intact and matured into one of NASCAR’s great underdog road racers before losing out on Silly Season musical chairs in 2018. 

Kaulig Racing’s choice to bring him in as a road course ringer for its then up-and-coming Xfinity program has paid off several times over. To date, Allmendinger is the only driver to win a non-restrictor-plate race for Kaulig. In fact, he’s won 11 of them, including the organization’s first Cup win in the inaugural Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course race in the series.

Allmendinger is one of the strongest drivers in the Xfinity field and the face of Kaulig, and his expanded Cup schedule in 2022 saw him almost win again at Circuit of the Americas. He’s sure to be a factor when the series returns to the Indy road course this weekend. 

But he isn’t often floated as a potential candidate for the No. 18. Or the No. 10. Or the Nos. 42, 8, 41, or any open Cup ride.

Allmendinger has decades of statistics that teams can look at to evaluate his potential as a driver. He’s strong on road courses, a sleeper at Martinsville Speedway and an aggressive mid-pack performer everywhere else. He’s certainly good enough to have jumped right in to an elder statesman role for the Xfinity Series, where up-and-coming hotshots can use him as a yardstick to show off their talents to the world. 

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The Underdog House: AJ Allmendinger Finds Footing in Wild New Hampshire Race

The problem is, more often than not, dependable mid-pack driver isn’t what teams are looking for. In the midst of a generational shift in the Cup field, as drivers like Kevin Harvick, the Busch brothers and Martin Truex Jr. are at best a few years away from joining Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson in retirement, teams are looking to build their organizations around a figure for the future, hence why Tyler Reddick was in such high demand that 23XI Racing signed him 18 months in advance.

Noah Gragson, Austin Hill, Ty Gibbs — teams are willing to take the gamble that guys like these could be the next Kyle Larson. They already know exactly who Allmendinger is. 

This is a mistake. More teams should do what RFK Racing (in its current and former guises) has done with the No. 6 car, hiring proven veteran drivers to give the team the stability that experience provides.

Then again, the results don’t back it up. Yes, Ryan Newman made the playoffs in 2019 while his replacement at Richard Childress Racing missed out, but RCR’s No. 8 team has since made the playoffs twice with Reddick, while even putting Brad Keselowski in the No. 6 hasn’t brought that car back into race-winning contention this year. 

While I argue that putting an inexperienced hand in the No. 6 three years ago would have made things even worse, teams just aren’t generally willing to spend money to stay where they are. Just look at their press releases: everyone from RCR to 23XI to Spire Motorsports pitches themselves as a team on the rise, and an experienced, steady hand doesn’t fit that message. 

Rookies, or at the very least young drivers whose narratives are dominated by so-called potential, just have too much of an upside. I don’t doubt we’ll see Allmendinger enjoying himself with competitive Xfinity campaigns and the occasional strong start in Cup for a few more years, but my advice is to enjoy the Allmendinger we have, while we have him. He sure seems to be having a great time.

Is NASCAR sure about converting Auto Club Speedway to a half mile after how great the 2-mile configuration was in 2022? – John D., Covina, Calif.

Yep. Say goodbye to the 2-mile layout, because in all likelihood we’ll have to start calling Auto Club the Bristol Motor Speedway of the West in a few short years.

That nickname has some oomph, doesn’t it? 

This is a subject near and dear to my heart because Auto Club is my home track too, although due to years of the pandemic I couldn’t attend a race until the 2022 edition, which was, as I’m sure you remember, an absolute barnburner. 

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The 2022 Wise Power 400 was our first indication that the Next Gen cars could race well on aero-heavy intermediates, and we were treated to an absolute thriller, as NASCAR’s newest cars took on the series’ oldest asphalt surface.

Therein lies the problem. Auto Club has never been repaved; it’s the same asphalt now as it was in 1997. Yes, it’s aged like a fine wine, but now it’s time to open the bottle. 

These photos from Auto Club photographer Steven Nava amount to NASCAR pulling out the corkscrew. Next February will bring the final race on the original layout. 

That’s a good thing. 

Very soon, Auto Club will need a new track surface, and as is the case everywhere from Kansas Speedway to Kentucky Speedway (and Texas Motor Speedway. Multiple times in Texas), there’s nothing better than a nice smooth surface to put fans to sleep, drop ratings and attendance figures to the gutter and shuffle a track off the schedule

It’s better to go out with a bang than a whimper, and in Auto Club’s case the stars have aligned. We’ll get one last Next Gen race on the worn-out old asphalt, buying another year for NASCAR to improve the short-track aero package, and not force fans to sit through the decade of snoozefests that an Auto Club repave would inevitably deliver. 

Plus, the reconfiguration will give NASCAR a short track with Cup-worthy infrastructure outside of the western Virginia/eastern Tennessee market that enjoys all six current short track dates.

Heck, if they did repave it and the racing suffered, NASCAR Twitter would explode with, “why didn’t they convert it to a short track like they said they would!” takes. 

Sometimes you have to know when to quit, and I’d rather be left with fond memories of the old 2-mile giant than drag it along as a shadow of its former self. This is really the best move for us Southern Californians to get to enjoy premier-level stock car racing in our own backyard for years to come.

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kb

AJ is fun to watch. And Mr. Tickles is super cool too!

The Spotters Stand

I think AJ is simply too old to get a shot in a good cup ride. In the 80’s or 90’s he’d be a hot commodity right now, but times have changed.

People also need to focus on the fact that he’s legitimately having one of the best seasons in NASCAR history going by average finish. 16 top 10’s and 7.3 avg is ridiculous.

Bill B

I wonder how his career would have went without his issues when he drove for Penske?

There! Three comments. People are talking about Almendinger.

Happy now? :)

DoninAjax

Let’s make it 4.

He can bump with the worst of them to get by.

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