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NASCAR Season Preview: A.J. Allmendinger

Photo credit: Ned Leone

#22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge, Penske Racing

Born: December 16, 1981

Home: Los Gatos, California

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: Allmendinger set career bests in 2011 in his second year driving the #43 for Richard Petty Motorsports, scoring 10 top 10s, an average finish of 16.1, and a 15th place finish in points. His best finish, a fifth place, came in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: Despite his improvements in consistency and competitiveness, Allmendinger still has yet to take his maiden Sprint Cup victory. Had he done so last season, he would have had a shot at being a Chase driver.

SEASON OUTLOOK: When Roger Penske finally canned Kurt Busch for a series of outbursts over the course of the 2011 season, Allmendinger had a brief moment of panic over his job security, as it appeared that Richard Petty Motorsports was going to replace him in the famous #43. But the driver market turned the other way very quickly (and very quietly), and it was Allmendinger who would inevitably replace Busch at Penske. As such, he leaves a team that was always on the cusp of a breakthrough for a team that’s always been there; remember, this was the famous Blue Deuce through 2010, until new sponsor Shell (somewhat ironically, in hindsight) requested that Busch drive for them and not Brad Keselowski.

Allmendinger gained a lot of confidence and momentum in 2011, his best season yet. But now that the Dinger is driving for Penske, he’ll have to find a way to ditch the 0-for-152 monkey on his back and win his first career stock car race. There are no excuses anymore – this is a Chase-caliber team, even without crew chief Steve Addington, who left to take over defending champion Tony Stewart’s pit box; Allmendinger will work with Todd Gordon, who has grown accustomed to winning with Keselowski in the Nationwide Series. It may take some time for this team to gel, but if they slide to the edge of the top 20, it’ll be nothing short of a disappointment. Look for Allmendinger to finally take his first win in 2012.

– Chris Leone

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