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Allmendinger to replace Busch at Penske

21 December 2011

AJ Allmendinger has won the battle to replace Kurt Busch in the Penske Racing #22 Shell/Pennzoil car, it was announced today.

“I am really excited about the opportunity to join Penske Racing,” said Allmendinger. “I have always admired Roger Penske and the way his teams compete and win in every series where they race."

"AJ is a very talented and motivated driver and we believe he will be a terrific fit with our team,” said team owner Roger Penske. “He has shown great promise and consistent results on the track over the last few seasons."

Allmendinger has been racing in the #43 car for Richard Petty Motorsports since 2009 and had his most successful season in NASCAR so far in 2011, ending the year in 15th position with ten top-ten finishes, but a lack of sponsors for 2012 had left his seat at RPM in the balance after the end of the season.

"It is a privilege for me to represent such iconic and respected brands as Shell and Pennzoil, AAA and Dodge," said Allmendinger of his new team's sponsors. "I am honoured to join Penske Racing and I will do my very best to continue to build on the standard of excellence established across the organization.”

The driver deal also had the backing of the primary car sponsors, who had been growing increasingly unhappy with bad publicity arising from Kurt Busch during 2011.

"Shell and Pennzoil are extremely pleased by Penske Racing's selection of AJ Allmendinger to drive the #22 Shell-Pennzoil Dodge," said the President of Shell Oil Products US, Lisa Davis. "AJ has consistently demonstrated great potential and continuous improvement as a driver, and with Penske's track record, our employees and customers can look forward to seeing him contending for wins and ultimately a championship ... We look forward to a successful 2012 with AJ behind the wheel."

Busch left Penske at the beginning of December "by mutual agreement" after a series of controversial incidents for the driver that culminated with him being caught on video verbally abusing ESPN's pit lane reporter at Homestead-Miami at the season finale in November, following a frustrating technical failure and early retirement from the race after just four laps.

Since Busch exited Penske, several drivers without a confirmed 2012 seat have been keen to take over the #22 car, with the initial favourite seeming to be David Ragan whose time at Roush Fenway Racing similarly came to an end because of lack of sponsorship funds. Brian Vickers, Sam Hornish Jr. and David Reutimann had also been said to be in contention for the ride.

Penske had previously announced that their former Nationwide Series crew chief Todd Gordon had been selected to replace Steve Addington as the crew chief on the #22 car. Addington left Penske to join Stewart-Haas Racing following the end of the season.

"Working with Todd and the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge team will allow [AJ] to take the next step and compete for race wins and a spot in the Chase in 2012," said Penske.

The news of Allmendinger's move to Penske followed Tuesday's announcement that Richard Petty Motorsports had lost their sponsorship from Best Buy for the #43 car. The electrical retailer has instead decided to become the primary sponsor of Matt Kenseth's #17 car for nine races as well as primary sponsor for the #99 of Carl Edwards for a further two races in 2012. In addition, Best Buy will serve as an associate sponsor for each car during the season.

"We are extremely pleased to announce this partnership with Best Buy," said Roush Fenway Racing co-owner Jack Roush about the news. "We feel it is a great fit with our organization and we look forward to a great partnership together."

Roush Fenway needed to sign additional sponsor after losing the full-season backing of whisky brand Crown Royal from Kenseth's car. The organisation still needs to find additional sponsorship for Kenseth for the remaining 27 races of the 2012 Cup season.

Addressing the loss of the Best Buy backing, Richard Petty himself said in a statement that it was "very disappointing that Best Buy is changing directions at this late date, [but] we wish all of our friends there the best in their future endeavours."

Petty had indicated on Tuesday that despite the disappointing news about Best Buy, he still hoped that RPM would continue to be a two-car team in 2012 and would still be fielding the #43 car. However, Wednesday's news that Allmendinger had been released from his contract and was departing for Penske may indicate that this might not prove to be feasible, although the team was quick to say that they were still considering all their options.

“Richard Petty Motorsports has released AJ Allmendinger to pursue other opportunities within the sport,” team Chief Executive Officer Brian Moffitt said in a statement. “AJ is a talented driver whom we all enjoyed working with and we wish him the best.”

“Our plan remains to run a two-car team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2012 and we are continuing down that path,” Moffitt added. “We believe there are several very talented drivers who are still available and would embrace the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the legendary #43 Ford Fusion. We continue to move forward and are optimistic about the future of this race team.”

Rumours last week that RPM were courting Kurt Busch to take the wheel of the #43 were based on the assumption that the team were trying to persuade Best Buy to stay with the team by offering them a former Cup championship winner driving for their brand. With Best Buy's defection, RPM may not have the necessary funds or motivation to continue with a serious approach to Busch.

Having missed out on the opportunity at Penske, David Ragan is now thought to be trying to seal a deal to race with Phoenix Racing, but if RPM does end up being able to put together new sponsorship then there is also a possibility that Ragan could end up replacing Allmendinger in the #43.


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