Barring any unforeseen setbacks, AJ Allmendinger will make his open-wheel racing return later this year.
His first laps in an open-wheel machine since October 2006, turned in Feb. 19 at Sebring International Raceway, set the stage for a partial slate of races for Team Penske. He’s likely to test for the team at IndyCar’s official open test at Barber Motorsports Park, March 11-13.
For Allmendinger, readjusting to the speed and handling of an IndyCar marked the moments he knew he was back in something other than a NASCAR stock car. He’s spent the last six years in Sprint Cup.
“Everything feels real fast,” Allmendinger said. “A Cup car has more horsepower, but because of its weight that sensation of speed is a lot different. When you get an IndyCar on a road course, it feels like it has 1,500 horsepower.”
The Los Gatos, Calif. native failed a random drug test last year with his “B” sample also testing positive, and he was suspended from NASCAR mere moments before its July race at Daytona International Speedway.
Allmendinger completed NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program and made several starts for James Finch’s Phoenix Racing team late last year. He’s also slated for at least four races for the team this year.
Still, Roger Penske kept in close contact with him throughout 2012 despite releasing him from his driving contract. Allmendinger attended the IndyCar season finale at Auto Club Speedway as Penske’s guest last year.
In recent years, only three-time and defending Indianapolis 500 champion Dario Franchitti has returned to IndyCar after making the switch to NASCAR. Allmendinger would follow in those illustrious footsteps.