AJ Allmendinger will be back behind the wheel of a US open wheel race car for the first time in over six years, after being offered the chance to test with Team Penske at the first pre-season open test at Sebring International Raceway later this month.
"So happy and feel so blessed to have a chance to test for Penske Racing at Sebring in an IndyCar," the 31-year-old from California posted on Twitter on Thursday. "The whole organization and Roger especially is such a class act. Can't thank them enough for the chance and for keeping me a part of the family throughout it all."
Allmendinger drove for Penske's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team last year, until a positive drugs test in June saw him suspended from competition and fired by the team as a matter of company policy.
However, team owner Roger Penske said that he did so with regret and was careful to keep the door open to a future return for the driver in one of the series in which Penske competes. The owner even persuaded Allmendinger to attend the 2012 IndyCar season finale at Fontana last September as his personal guest.
Allmendinger subsequently underwent and successfully completed NASCAR's 'Road to Recovery' rehabilitation program and was duly reinstated to race-readiness on September 28, even managing to pick up four Cup races at the end of the season with the appropriately named Phoenix team.
It is expected that Allmendinger will compete for Phoenix Racing again in several races at the start of the 2013 Sprint Cup season depending on finances, but he is unlikely to pick up a full season deal in NASCAR. That led him to look elsewhere for a race seat.
Asked on Twitter if he was likely to try qualifying for this year's Indianapolis 500 in May - a race he has never entered before - Allmendinger replied: "Haha, just a test right now but I hope it can lead to that."
Talking with FOXSports.com
, Allmendinger said that before making any commitments, both he and the team needed to see if he still had what it took to compete in an open wheel series.
"It's been seven years since I've been in one of those cars, and they've changed quite a bit," he said. "I know it won't be easy." He'll get his hands on one of the new DW12 cars at Sebring International Raceway on February 19 on the second day of the open test before the start of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season.