Maybe this is just what AJ Allmendinger needed.
He is getting a fresh start with Phoenix Racing after being out of a car since July for violating NASCAR's substance abuse policy. He completed the Road to Recovery program and was reinstated by NASCAR in September.
After showing up at Talladega last weekend to talk to team owners about a potential ride though, he was the odd man out. Kurt Busch was headed to Furniture Row Racing and Regan Smith landed at Phoenix -- at least for a tryout. Quality rides, or even semi-quality rides, are hard to come by this time of year.
Then news broke about Dale Earnhardt Jr. stepping out of his car for at least two weeks due to multiple concussions, and the musical chairs began. Smith got the call from Hendrick Motorsports to replace Dale Jr. and, after passing on Allmendinger initially, Phoenix Racing decided to give him a try once Smith was no longer available.
Allmendinger is not in a position to be selective right now, but given Busch's abysmal season in the No. 51 car (just two top-10s in 29 races and a 25.0 average finish), what can we expect to see from Allmendinger, even if he stays in that car for the next few races? (Right now, he's only scheduled to be behind the wheel for Phoenix at Charlotte.)
If you look at where Busch and the No. 51 team finished earlier this season at the next three tracks on the schedule, Allmendinger has his work cut out for him. Busch was 27th at Charlotte in May, 17th at Kansas in April and 33rd at Martinsville in April.
Can Allmendinger get more out of the car?
Probably not, if you look at recent history. Driving in better equipment for Penske earlier this season, with one exception, he numbers are similar to Busch's at those three tracks. Allmendinger finished 33rd, 32nd and 2nd respectively. Ironically, Allmendinger took over for Busch at Penske to start this season and fell considerably short of expectations.
Expectations will certainly be lower for Allmendinger at Phoenix Racing, however long that stint turns out to be, and maybe that -- coupled with a newfound appreciation for the sport he may have taken for granted previously -- will lead to success.
Everybody loves a good comeback story.
Lee Warren has interviewed and written a number of features about NASCAR drivers over the years, including Trevor Bayne, Bobby Labonte, Sam Hornish Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Morgan Shepherd, David Reutimann, Brad Coleman and others. His NASCAR devotional book, "Racin' Flat Out for Christ" from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, is due out in the fall of 2012. You can follow him on Twitter @leewarren.
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