It hard to escape the impact of the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States.

Ask a question about AJ Allmendinger in NASCAR racing circles, and you just might hear some inspiring and hopeful words about the Barack Obama presidency, which began Tuesday with the oath of office administered in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol.

On Monday, Mark McArdle, vice president and managing director of competition for Richard Petty Motorsports, expanded on a question about possible additional sponsorship for Allmendinger and quickly moved to broader considerations.

Allmendinger will run the first five 2009 races for the rebranded Richard Petty Motorsports, which was born through a merger of Petty Holdings and Gillett Evernham Motorsports. Clearly optimistic about the prospects of his own organisation, McArdle also held out hope for the country as a whole.

"I thought we created a lot of excitement with AJ in the #10 car in the last five races of the 2008 season," McArdle said of Allmendinger, who posted an average finish of 16.4 in a five-event fill-in role for Gillett Evernham last year.

"But for the downturn in the economy, I don't think we'd be having this discussion. I think we'd be very comfortably placed with a fourth car, well sponsored. I think, as much as anything, it comes down to what the state of the economy will be, and I'm looking forward to the inauguration of President Obama, and I hope it returns us to a level of consumer confidence in this country that will help the economy to grow again.

"You know, it's a remarkable time in our history. It's a difficult time, but at the same time, a momentous one. I think it's prophetic that today (Monday) being Dr. King's Day and the inauguration day are falling consecutively. I think that this country has been blessed throughout its history that, in our moments and times of need as a country, we've always had greatness arise in the presidency, and I'm hopeful that will be the case."

McArdle's words echoed the sentiments of driver Jeff Gordon, who like most Americans, wants to believe the new administration can begin to implement positive solutions to address the current economic problems.

"I think all of us right now have this sense of hope - that this is a symbol of hope - and I think it's great for our country," Gordon said Wednesday during the Sprint Cup media tour's visit to Hendrick Motorsports.

"I think it's going to represent us well around the world. That alone is not what turns economies around. It'll be a lot of hard work, a lot of pressure, but I'm certainly optimistic and hopeful and excited."

by Reid Spencer / Sporting News

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