AJ Allmendinger’s last open-wheel ride came in Champ Car in 2006. After leaving Rusport around the mid-point of the year, the American finally showed what he was, in the right circumstances, truly capable of. With Forsythe Racing, AJ won three consecutive races, before deciding to make the jump to NASCAR. Most in the broader IndyCar community believed that he would never turn another lap in an IndyCar. Then, of course, life intervened.
Whatever one thinks of the Aderall episode (honest mistake or a bigger problem), the raw talent should still be there. And while it’s true that rumors about AJ’s decision-making skills (or lack thereof) have persisted for some time, it’s also true that this was his first offense, for which he DID complete a treatment program. He was cleared to compete in NASCAR again, and he ran in two Sprint Cup events at the end of 2012.
The next chapter of his career (and life) seems like it could come straight out of Hollywood, except it’s hard to imagine any character being as loyal and, frankly, forgiving of someone as Roger Penske has been of AJ Allmendinger. Yes, it is “only a test” for now, but it is clear how much Penske and Tim Cindric respect AJ’s talent. Unless something unforeseen happens at the Feb. 19 test, the part-time (including Indy) ride should be his.
Of course, unlike Hollywood, this tale is far from complete. Has his brush with career mortality given him a new perspective on life and the responsibilities that come with it? Will he truly be happy back in IndyCar, his “natural home” in the eyes of many, or is this but a brief stepping-stone back to a full-time Sprint Cup ride? Even if it is the latter, should that matter? After all, who are we to begrudge a talented American seeking professional and personal redemption? The “redemption story” is a uniquely American fascination, so to the extent that the broader public picks up on this, it’s not hard to imagine people pulling for him.
These are all questions that will resolve themselves over time. For now, in the moment, YHE would like to simply say one thing to AJ: Welcome home. We all hope to see you where you belong, and where your talent says you belong, - at the front of the field.