AJ Allmendinger just missed out on a top ten start for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday, but still impressed with a strong performance in a highly competitive qualifying session.

It was Allmendinger's first taste of the IZOD IndyCar Series qualifying format for street and road courses: although Allmendinger raced in the Champ Car World Series seven years ago and has been a regular competitor in the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship since then, this will be his maiden race start in the IndyCar championship.

"Making it into the top six was a pretty lofty goal, especially with it being my first time," he admitted, adding that it had also been his first taste of the red-walled soft tyres as well.

"It's still good to be inside the top 12," he said. "I'm a little bit sore and still holding my breath a little bit in the fast corner, but it's good so far."

Getting through Round 1 of the three-part qualifying session had been no easy feat in itself: he had to out-perform the likes of Simon Pagenaud, Alex Tagliani, Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan, Graham Rahal and Sebastien Bourdais to make it to the next round.

"We made our first goal of getting out of the first round of qualifying," he revealed. "I wasn't as strong in the second run as I was in the first, I just didn't feel as good on the second set of tyres.

"I know the IZOD Team Penske car will be good in the race," he added. "it's just a matter of me going with the flow and how I react to everything."

Prior to qualifying, Penske confirmed that Allmendinger would add the April 21 race at Long Beach to his IndyCar itinerary, as an additional preparation before embarking on his first Indianapolis 500 bid in May.

"It's exciting, I've always missed that race since I left [Champ Car]," he said. "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."

Long Beach is another street course and will only go so far in preparing Allmendinger for Indianapolis, for which the 31-year-old must successfully complete the mandatory Rookie Orientation Program this coming week.

"It's not an oval, but it's more time in the car with pit stops," explained Allmendinger of the Long Beach opportunity.

Allmendinger has been handed the Indy 500 shot by Roger Penske after the team owner was forced to fire Allmendinger from his seat in Penske's NASCAR Sprint Cup squad following a positive drugs test midway through the 2012 season. Allmendinger completed the necessary rehabilitation program and has since returned to NASCAR competition with a different team, after Penske replaced him by signing Joey Logano.

But Allmendinger said that Penske's continued support and public show of faith in him as a driver had made all the difference to his ability to make a comeback after such a shattering experience last summer.

"Everything I've said about [Roger] probably is the biggest understatement," he explained. "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."