Press Snoop: AJ heads for NASCAR
25 October 2006
The widely speculated move of AJ ALLMENDINGER of Los Gatos CA from Champ Car to NASCAR was announced Tuesday by Team Red Bull. He will race #84 Toyota in NASCAR Nextel Cup in a multiyear contract, teaming with BRIAN VICKERS in #83 Toyota.
Allmendinger said "I'm really excited about this next challenge in my racing career. To race against some of the best drivers in the world in front of fans that are as enthusiastic about racing as I am is going to be a pretty big thrill. I know this is going to be a lot of work in the upcoming months, but I couldn't be happier to do it with Team Red Bull. Hopefully, we can all go out there and deliver a good show."
Allmendinger has raced a Toyota truck twice for Bill Davis Racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, finishing fifteenth in September at New Hampshire International Speedway, and fifth earlier this month at Talladega Superspeedway. He is entered in this weekend's Truck race at Atlanta and is awaiting word on whether he will be approved to run the Cup race also in a BDR Dodge. If so, he will race in a truck that was originally slated for BILL ELLIOTT, who has "graciously agreed to step aside and let AJ take on driver duties in the Team Red Bull entry for the upcoming 2006 Nextel Cup races at Atlanta and Texas."
Earlier this week NASCAR denied Roush Craftsman Truck driver, DAVID RAGAN, approval to race Cup this weekend. He hasn't been cleared to race on tracks longer than one mile.
Next season Toyota is joining the Nextel Cup series, with three teams: Bill Davis Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing - both existing teams; and Team Red Bull, a start up team which will have to qualify for the first few races based on Qualifying Times rather than being guaranteed a starting position.
RICK VIERS, who was the Crew Chief for AJ's two Truck races, has been hired as Allmendinger's Cup Crew Chief.
Allmendinger, the only American driver in the American Champ Car World Series, currently races with the Forsythe Championship Racing team, teaming with PAUL TRACY of Canada. He is currently second in the Champ Car Driver's Championship, behind Newman Haas Racing's SEBASTIAN BOURDAIS of France, who just clinched the 2006 Championship for the third straight year, something which has only been done once before in Champ Car/CART history. There is one more Champ Car race to run - in Mexico City next month, the same weekend as the penultimate Nextel Cup round at Phoenix International Raceway.
Allmendinger has five CCWS victories since he joined Forsythe Championship Racing in June, after being fired by RuSPORT.
The ebullient young road racer came up through the Champ Car open wheel ranks. He started in 2000 racing go-karts. He drove for Paul Tracy Karting in the inaugural Champ Car Stars of Tomorrow series, earning a test drive in a Team Rahal Champ Car. He parlayed that Barbara Champ Car Karting Scholarship into a ride and Drivers Championship in the Formula Dodge National Championship.
In 2002, Allmendinger won Barber Dodge Pro Series Championship and another Champ Car test. In 2003 he won the Toyota Atlantic Championship as a Rookie with RuSPORT, and then moved up with RuSPORT to Champ Car in 2004, winning Rookie honors that year. AJ, named for A.J. FOYT, was with RuSPORT until June of this year when he was let go on a Friday, got engaged to Canadian chiropractor LYNNE KUSHNIRENKO of Toronto, and was hired by GERRY FORSYTHE the following Monday, winning his first Champ Car race that weekend.
Allmendinger has had personal sponsorship from Red Bull for some time in his open wheel racing.
Details of the TRB contract were not revealed. But, ROBIN MILLER, open wheel pundit, reported Sunday that Allmendinger's current team owner offered three million for a multiyear contract, but couldn't match the NASCAR railroad. Miller reported Tuesday that Forsythe was "disappointed, our team was disappointed and Champ Car fans will be disappointed, but I wished him well." Miller said the financial lure from Red Bull/Toyota was too great for Allmendinger to remain and build on his current Champ Car successes. Allmendinger had been saying he wanted to win the Champ Car Championship.
Forsythe reportedly said "They want three million dollars a year plus prize money and that's just not realistic. I want A.J. and Champ Car wants A.J. but not at that price."
Allmendinger isn't the first and won't be the last open wheel/road racer to make the move to NASCAR. AJ will be joined next year in Cup racing by former CART and F1 driver, JUAN PABLO MONTOYA of Colombia. JPM will race for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates in a Dodge. Although the two came from the same series, they weren't in it at the same time. Montoya won the 1999 CART Championship and moved to Formula One in 2001 to race with Williams. He moved to McLaren in 2005 and was with that team until this summer when he announced he was moving to NASCAR. McLaren then put Montoya on 'gardening leave' and just recently released him to test in stock cars. Montoya has run a couple of ARCA races and makes his Busch debut this weekend in Atlanta.
Others Champ Car drivers who have tried NASCAR on for size, with varying degrees of success, include Mexican drivers ADRIAN FERNANDEZ and MICHEL JOURDAIN; California drivers ROBBY GORDON, SCOTT PRUETT and JIMMY VASSER; and Allmendinger's current teammate, Tracy, who could be running some Busch races next season with Riley-D'Hondt Motorsports.
Another Champ Car racer making his Busch debut this season is MAX PAPIS of Italy, who ran at Watkins Glen starting last and finishing fourteenth, and will run again in Texas.
There will be at least one American driver in Champ Car next season with teenager, GRAHAM RAHAL, moving up to the series. His plans haven't been announced, but garage gossip and paddock prattle has the son of BOBBY RAHAL moving to Newman Haas Racing.