James Finch knows a little about A.J. Allmendinger and that familiarity will bring “The Dinger” back to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series a little sooner than many believed.
Finch’s Phoenix Racing announced today that Allmendinger will pilot the No. 51 Guy Roofing Chevrolet this weekend at Phoenix International Speedway. For the 31-year old Los Gatos, California native it will be his fifth Sprint Cup Series start with the team, but first in the new Gen-6 car.
"This will be good,” Allmendinger said. “It's been a few months since I've been in a stock car. I haven't been in one of the Gen 6 cars yet, so I think it will take a little time to get acclimated to it. Phoenix International Raceway is a great place for me to get back behind the wheel. I've always enjoyed the race track. It will definitely feel different, but I'll be ready to go.”
Allmendinger knows the track labeled the "Desert Jewel." He has eight previous Cup Series starts at the one-mile oval and has driven to four top-15s and two top-10s. He has started on the front row three times, including one pole, which he captured in 2010.
Phoenix Racing has made 16 Cup Series starts at Phoenix. Their best finish came in 2005, with Johnny Sauter taking the checkered flag in ninth place.
"It definitely helps to go to a track that I enjoy already,” he said. “It's a tough race track, especially with the repave. It starts off so slick when we make our first few laps, then it gains grip. It picks up a ton of grip pretty quickly, then it goes back to being slick for the race. It's definitely a challenging race track.”
The No. 51 was driven by Regan Smith in last week’s Daytona 500 and finished seventh after starting 40th. Allmendinger was behind the wheel of Spartanburg, South Carolina based Phoenix Racing car for four races late in 2012 following his suspension for failing a drug test.
“I know the guys will have a good race car ready for the weekend. I was really impressed with their run last week at Daytona. It showed that they're putting together solid equipment and have a good feel for the new car. I think for the first 30 to 45 minutes I'll have to ease into it and get used to the new car, but after that, I'll be up to speed and ready to go.”
Allmendinger, who began his career in open wheel racing, was recently at Sebring International Raceway where he was testing cars for Penske Racing, the same team that discharged him after NASCAR suspended him.