Race Weekend Central

2009 NASCAR Driver Review: AJ Allmendinger

AJ Allmendinger

2009 Ride: No. 44 Richard Petty Motorsports Dodge
2009 Primary Sponsors: Hunt Brothers Pizza (7 races), Charter Communications (5 races)
Valvoline (3 races), Super 8 Motels (3 races), Ford Drive One (3 races), PVA.org (3 races), Stanley Tools (3 races), Best Buy (3 races), Berlin City Auto Group (2 races), Harrah’s (1 race), Auto Value/Bumper-To-Bumper (1 race), Coleman Natural Foods (1 race), Dassault Systems (1 race)
2009 Owners: Richard Petty, George Gillett Jr., Ray Evernham
2009 Crew Chiefs: Sammy Johns (Daytona 500 – Watkins Glen), Mike Shiplett (Michigan (Aug.) – Homestead)
2009 Stats: 36 starts, 0 wins, 1 top five, 6 top 10s, 24th in points

High Point: Coming into the 2009 season, AJ Allmendinger had a commitment from Richard Petty Motorsports to run approximately 6-8 races in the No. 44 Dodge due to financial limitations. To make matters worse, the team was not even locked into the field for the first five events. Given those circumstances, clearly the high point of the season is that the California native got to run all 36 events, and his performance certainly helped his cause.

Allmendinger started out the year with a bang as he qualified for his first ever Daytona 500 (after two DNQs with Team Red Bull) and finished in a career best third-place position. Slowly, but surely, the former open-wheeler’s schedule attracted enough sponsorship to expand full-time after that. When the series left Martinsville in the spring, Allendinger was a surprising 15th in points after qualifying for every event, which attracted more sponsorship and extended the team’s schedule well into the summer months.

The trend continued all the way to Homestead and when all was said and done, the 27-year-old had completed his best season to date and received a contract extension from RPM. Not bad, considering some expected Allmendinger to be in the unemployment line by April.

Low Point: It’s hard to find a low point in a season for perhaps the most over-achieving team on the circuit. However, one could look to the October Fontana race where not only did Allmendinger record his first and only DNF of 2009, but his comments afterwards indicated his dejection about the changes that were happening within his organization.

After getting caught up in a multi-car incident going into turn 1 that wiped out all four RPM Dodges, Allmendinger apologized profusely to his engine department for not being able to do a better job for them – the very engine department that recently found out that they would be losing their jobs at the end of the season when the team planned a switch to Fords. One cannot blame Allmendinger for feeling saddened by the fact that the same people who were instrumental in reviving his career were going to be given pink slips in the upcoming months.

Summary: The 2009 season marked a year of transition for Allmendinger, who went from fighting for his livelihood to solidifying himself and his team’s future. Just three seasons ago, he was a brand new driver to stock car racing, driving for a team in its first year of existence. The growing pains were painfully obvious, as Allmendinger missed 19 races in 2007 and was temporarily replaced in 2008 after missing the first three events.

This year, Allmendinger was faced with a similar challenge to start the season and finally beat the qualifying gremlins. This was the year that this driver proved that he belongs in NASCAR, as he ran more consistently from week to week and in the end and tripled his previous best top-10 count.

Team Ranking: While Kasey Kahne was in a league of his own in 2009, Allmendinger easily beat out his more experienced veteran teammates Elliott Sadler and Reed Sorenson to take the No. 2 spot at RPM. The No. 44 team recorded one more top 10 than Sadler and finished two positions higher in the final points standings. The team easily beat out Sorenson who only had one top-10 finish and could only muster a 29th-place finishing position in the points.

Off-Track News: The off-track news for Allmendinger unfortunately can also count as another low point in the season. On October 29th, he was pulled over and arrested for a DWI after registering a 0.08 on the breathalyzer, which is North Carolina’s legal limit. While Allmendinger did not miss any time behind the wheel of the No. 44 Dodge, he was placed on probation by both NASCAR and his team and fined $10,000 by RPM, which went to charity. To his credit, though, the third-year veteran took full responsibility and hoped his mistake would set an example for others.

“It was a bad judgment call and I apologize for that… To my fans, sponsors, team and NASCAR. If anything good can come of this, then hopefully I can be an example of being more aware of drinking responsibly and if even if you feel fine, take a cab, call a friend… just don’t risk it. I will do my best to make it right and use this to learn myself and hopefully educate others,” said Allmendinger after the incident. (ESPN.com)

2010 Outlook: Allmendinger was rewarded for his efforts in 2009 by being assigned to the legendary No. 43 Ford for next season. If his final three races, where he drove with a Yates power plant under his hood, are any indication of what the future will be like, then Allmendinger is poised for a good season. In those three events, the No. 44 Ford finished 10th, 13th and 10th at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead respectively.

Make no mistake about it, though, the bar will be raised in 2010: simply making and finishing all 36 races will not qualify as a success this time around. I expect Allmendinger and the No. 43 team to answer the call, however, with small steps. More consistent finishes in the top 10 should not be out of the question, and possibly an upset win.

I do not think this team is ready to make the Chase just yet, but don’t be surprised if they are a “bubble team” within reach of the top 12 by the end of the summer.

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

About the author

Tony Lumbis has headed the Marketing Department for Frontstretch since 2008. Responsible for managing our advertising portfolio, he deals with our clients directly, closing deals while helping promote the site’s continued growth both inside and outside the racing community through social media and traditional outlets. Tony is based outside Philadelphia.

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