AJ Allmendinger signed up as a stand-in and ended up stealing the show.

Allmendinger's business manager, Tara Ragan, said Saturday night she expects Allmendinger to complete a deal to drive for Gillett Evernham Motorsports next season. Sources have confirmed an earlier ESPN report that Allmendinger is expected replace Elliott Sadler in the #19 GEM Dodge in 2009.

After his release from Red Bull Racing in late September, Allmendinger competed in the final five 2008 races for Gillett Evernham, posting an average finish of 16.4 over that stretch, compared with an average finish for Sadler of 31.8.

GEM announced in May that Sadler had signed a multi-year contract extension with the organisation, but Marty Smith reported on ESPN.com that Gillett Evernham CEO Tom Reddin had told employees and sponsors about the impending driver change before Christmas. How Sadler's departure will be orchestrated remains unclear.

GEM spokesperson Drew Brown declined comment on behalf of the organisation.

"Yes, we're in the final stages of negotiations with Gillett Evernham," Ragan said. "I think things will be sorted out within the next week. Nothing's done till it's done - knock on wood - but I think we're all eager to make that work, and I think it's safe to say we're in the fine details and the fine-tuning of that.

"I don't foresee any problems coming up, and I don't think they do, either. But is it signed, sealed and delivered? No, not quite, but hopefully it will be in the next few days."

Ragan believes Allmendinger's performance in the final five races - after replacing Patrick Carpentier in the #10 Dodge - caused GEM to re-evaluate its plans for 2009. Nor did it hurt that Allmendinger got along famously with Kasey Kahne, who drives the #9 Dodge for GEM.

"They asked AJ to do a job, and he exceeded their expectations," Ragan said.

by Reid Spencer/Sporting News



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