LEEDS, Ala. — A.J. Allmendinger has earned another ride from Team Penske without competing in his first IZOD IndyCar Series race.
Team Penske confirmed Saturday morning that Allmendinger will be added to the lineup for the April 21 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Team owner Roger Penske indicated two weeks ago at the Honda Grand Prix at St. Petersburg that it was possible for the former Champ Car Series driver and part-time NASCAR Sprint Cup competitor would have a ride at Long Beach but at that time was not ready to commit.
The commitment came Saturday morning at Barber Motorsports Park before the Firestone Fast Six qualifications for Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
Allmendinger joins IZOD IndyCar regulars Will Power and Helio Castroneves in the three-car Team Penske effort on the streets of Long Beach — a race he last competed as a member of Champ Car in 2006 with a 16th-place finish.
“We decided we needed to get (AJ Allmendinger) more seat time,” Team Penske President Tim Cindric said. “As the emotions get into it and Roger (Penske)’s commitment to the organization, we don’t want to go into Indianapolis any less prepared than we can be. AJ has continued to gel with the team and it’s worth the investment for us to have him run at a place where he’s already run. (Barber) is a whole different place for him, and the effort you need to find that couple of tenths (of a second) is maybe different than a place like Long Beach where he’s already comfortable and it’s just a matter of learning the car. He’s learning the car here and he’s learning the track.”
Allmendinger is making his IZOD IndyCar Series debut in Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.
“It’s the same layout at least,” Allmendinger said. “It’s not an oval (before Indianapolis), but it’s more time in the car with pit stops. It’s exciting; I’ve always missed that race since I left. Being a California native it was always a fun race to go to. Just to have another race under my belt at a place I’ve fairly familiar with I’m looking forward to it.”
Penske has shown tremendous loyalty to the driver who was fired from the Penske Racing NASCAR team last year after he failed a NASCAR drug test when Adderall was found in his system. Despite the NASCAR dismissal, Penske decided to give the young driver from California a chance at his IndyCar operation.
“Everything I’ve said about (Roger Penske) probably is the biggest understatement,” Allmendinger said. “I just feel fortunate to have a guy like that care about me so much. I’m not going to ask him why, because I don’t want him to question his own mind, but I feel very lucky.”
Allmendinger is sponsored by IZOD for Sunday’s race and the Indianapolis 500 in May. Cindric indicated the Long Beach sponsorship will be “a Penske-affiliate of some kind.”
There is also the possibility of adding more races to Allmendinger’s schedule throughout the season.
“You put the plans in place and they you have to make the decision whether to pull the plug or not,” Cindric said. “We won’t run him at Brazil, so it will be Long Beach and then Indianapolis, and we’ll see after that.
“We just want him to get laps; he’s not racing for points. Anything you can do here will help in the future.”