A.J. Allmendinger was hired by Penske Racing on December 21 to drive it's sponsored but driverless No. 22 entry. When Kurt Busch was fired by Penske in early December, nobody knew who would take over this ride. David Ragan, David Reutimann, and Brian Vickers were the likely candidates for the position, but this move surprised me. Allmendinger's contract is for 1 year, which was what everyone expected for whomever the new driver would be. With Shell-Pennzoil and Discount Tire backing the team, sponsorship is not an issue for 2012. This brings around many interesting questions. Can Richard Petty Motorsports find sponsorship for it's now empty entry??? How will the "Dinger" perform with this new team??? As I did when Kurt Busch was fired a few weeks ago (see here), I'll break down what this means to the main people and companies in this silly season move.
This is absolutely a plus for Roger Penske and Shell-Pennzoil. Not only did they fill the vacant No. 22 ride, but they filled it with a talented driver in A.J. Allmendinger. Not only that, but a full sponsor is in place with Shell-Pennzoil, which takes loads of pressure off of everyone there. While the span between Busch's firing and Allmendinger's hiring was short, it's still a major relief for Penske. Time was ticking down until the Daytona 500, and with that time, a chance to fill an empty seat. Looking forward to 2012, I'm sure a Chase berth is expected for this new driver. This Penske/Allmendinger combination has tons of potential, as a proven team will race with a young, talented driver. It's a match made in heaven. Penske can mentor A.J. and hopefully keep him for a long time.
This driver has earned this ride. He raced at Red Bull for his early Cup career, back in '07-'08, when RB was inexperienced and breaking into the sport. A.J. struggled, failing to qualify for many races, and racing as a start-n-park most of the time. In 2009, he moved to a more decent team in Richard Petty Motorsports, where he budded, emerging as a contender in the Cup Series and even finishing 15th in points last season. After a stint there, he goes on to an even better team in Penske. If this trend continues, he'll become a consistent Chase-contending driver. Consistency??? Better equipment??? Who knows??? But either way, the fact is that he's been constantly getting better throughout his career.
Richard Petty Motorsports:
I really dislike the strategy RPM is playing here. They got rid of a potential Chaser that had his entire career ahead of him, and them Kurt Busch declined their offer. RPM also refused to fight for sponsor Best Buy, letting them go over to Roush Racing without any controversy. Now Petty's problem is getting a driver and sponsor for the No. 43 entry. The good news is that they still have a fully sponsored Marcos Ambrose.But that's pretty much the only bright spot in a dark world for Petty.
Once again, the 2011-12 "silly season" has proven to be more eventful than previous years'. Will this move pay off next season??? Only time will tell.