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Soon to be out of a NASCAR job, could AJ Allmendinger return to IndyCar or IMSA in 2019?

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When JTG Daugherty Racing announced earlier this week that AJ Allmendinger will not be returning for a sixth full-time NASCAR Cup season with the team in 2019, many ‘Dinger fans wondered where the Los Gatos, California native would race next season.

Pretty much every NASCAR Cup ride is already filled for 2019.

Yet at 36 (he turns 37 on Dec. 16), Allmendinger is far too young to retire from racing. But if he can’t find a new ride in NASCAR, then what?

What if Allmendinger were to return to IndyCar racing or IMSA sports car racing?

It was in open-wheel racing that Allmendinger made his initial mark in four-wheel competition. In the CART/Champ Car World Series, Allmendinger made 40 starts, earning 14 podium finishes, including five wins in his final season (2006), when he finished third in the championship.

A.J. Allmendinger, left, finished second to Justin Wilson, while future NBC IndyCar analyst Paul Tracy finished third in the CART race at Mexico in November 2005. © 2005 Phillip Abbott/USA LAT Photographic

All five of those wins came on either permanent road courses (Portland, Road America) or temporary street courses (Cleveland, Toronto and Denver).

Then in 2013, he made a partial comeback to the IndyCar ranks for Roger Penske, competing in six races, including earning a seventh-place finish in the Indianapolis 500.

Sure, Indy cars are completely different today from what Allmendinger drove between 2004 and 2006 in CART/Champ Car, as well as in 2013 in IndyCar.

But with the proper amount of preparation and testing, Allmendinger coming back to IndyCar is not as far-fetched as it may seem.

After his five Champ Car wins in 2006, many Allmendinger fans likely wondered what might have been if he had remained in the open-wheel ranks. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could have eventually gone on to become an Indy car champion.

When Champ Car and the Indy Racing League merged to form IndyCar in 2008, Allmendinger would have been a great fit. However, he had already cast his lot with NASCAR, running a part-time Cup schedule in 2007 and 2008 before going full-time in 2009.

Since then, Allmendinger has just one win, 11 top-five and 55 top-10 finishes in 363 starts in the Cup series.

He also has two wins and three top-fives in 11 Xfinity Series starts, and two top-fives in 13 Camping World Truck Series efforts.

In addition to what he achieved in CART/Champ Car and IndyCar, Allmendinger has been an excellent sports car driver.

In nine starts in the former Rolex Grand-Am Sports Car Series, he had one win (2012 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona) and three podiums. Then, in four subsequent starts in IMSA’s Weathertech SportsCar Championship series, he has one podium in four starts.

Allmendinger said in an interview Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that he has no intention of stopping racing.

“I’m not leaving,” he said. “You make it sound like I’m dying up here. I just don’t have a job right now.”

Allmendinger and Michael Shank in 2017 during a practice session for the Indianapolis 500.

While Allmendinger could still potentially hook up with another Cup team, or an Xfinity or Truck Series team next season, it’s clear that one of his closest friends, sports car and IndyCar team owner Michael Shank, wants to see AJ racing.

For Michael Shank Racing, that is.

When news broke that Allmendinger would not be returning to JTG Daugherty next season, Shank took to Twitter.

“Besides being one of my best friends, (Allmendinger) is one of the best racing drivers in any type of car, period,” Shank wrote. “Not to mention he literally is one of the founding corner stones of Michael Shank Racing.”

But it was the next sentence in the same tweet that said a lot: if there was no room in the NASCAR inn for Allmendinger next season, he absolutely, positively has a home with Shank.

“You can bet your ass you will be seeing him on one of my cars in the future!” Shank added.

Allmendinger would make an excellent fit for MSR on the sports car side. He’s a road course racer at heart and by training.

Plus, he would be a strong addition to a series that not only has several outstanding drivers already, but in the last two seasons added former IndyCar drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves, who have become quite at home and successful in IMSA.

Why, it wouldn’t be surprising if Allmendinger even gets a one-off ride with Shank in his IndyCar operation with co-owner Jim Meyer (Meyer Shank Racing) for the 2019 Indy 500 with Englishman Jack Harvey as his teammate.

Sure, this is all speculation – if not wishful thinking – but one thing appears pretty clear: For a guy who doesn’t have a job yet for 2019, Allmendinger already appears to have plenty of potential options.

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New schedule has Josef Newgarden seeing double (points) again in 2020

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Two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske believes the latest revised schedule for 2020 will change his approach to the season.

The new schedule has the defending IndyCar champion looking at ways to double the possibilities for a second consecutive championship.

“When I look at the whole schedule they released now, I look at it as double-points as a whole in all of them,” Newgarden told NBCSports.com Monday. “Iowa is double points on a short oval. There are double points at the Indy GP because there are two races and a road course. Then double points at Laguna, which is a different road course than IMS. And there is double points in the Indianapolis 500.”

IndyCar announced to team owners two weeks ago that the season finale (once scheduled for Laguna Seca and now at St. Petersburg) will no longer be a double-points event. But Monday’s schedule revision essentially adds three double points-style races to the Indy 500’s double-points format, Newgarden said.

“Those are four events where you have to be quite strong,” Newgarden said. “They are all very different from each other. Each one is critical to get right. Iowa has a chance to be the most difficult. From a physical standpoint, it’s already a physical track for one race. To double it up on one weekend will be quite the toll for the drivers.

“It will be a very big test physically to see who will get that weekend right. You can bag a lot of points because of it.”

Just 12 days after the first schedule revision, IndyCar officials announced another revised schedule Monday because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The new schedule features doubleheader weekends at Iowa Speedway in July and Laguna Seca in September. There is an additional race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course Oct. 3.

That race will be known as the IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix. It will be the second time in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history that an IndyCar race is held in the fall. The only other time was the Harvest Auto Racing Classic, a series of three races won by Johnny Aitken on Sept. 9, 1916.

The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix scheduled for May 30-31 will be dropped from the 2020 schedule. Michigan has a “Stay at Home” order that won’t be lifted in time to start construction of the Belle Isle street course.

Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles said the Detroit event will return in 2021.

The IMS road course essentially will have a doubleheader spaced out by nearly three months. The first race will be the GMR IndyCar Grand Prix on July 4, and the second will be Oct. 3 in the Harvest Grand Prix.

The extra doubleheaders combined with the loss of Detroit gives IndyCar a 15-race schedule for 2020. It started out as a 17-race campaign, but April’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the Acura Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the AutoNation IndyCar Classic at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) have been canceled. The season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is being revived as the season finale on a TBA weekend in October.

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Newgarden also is excited about the chance to run at Indianapolis for three major races in one season. Of course, that all depends on how soon IndyCar can return to action because of the global pandemic.

“I’m continually excited about the thought of getting back to the race track,” Newgarden said. “We would love to be there now, but we can’t. With the current situation, everyone is trying to do the best they can to pitch in and do their part so we can get back to the track as quickly as possible.

“I’m excited to get back to racing at some point in the future. To see that is planned to start at Texas is still great. IndyCar has done a great job staying active and fluid with the ever-changing dynamics and current situation.

“We have three opportunities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There are a lot of chances to get it right at the Mecca of our sport.

“I have a lot of trust and faith in IndyCar and Roger, and they are doing their best to stay on top of the situation.”

The one downer to the revised schedule is the loss of the Detroit doubleheader, a very important weekend to Team Penske because Roger Penske also owns the Detroit race. It’s a chance to showcase the series in front of as “Motor City” crowd, which is also the home to the Penske Corp.

“It’s a shame that we miss any event this year,” Newgarden said. “As a racer, you look forward to each one of them. If any of them drop off, it’s a tough pill. Detroit is more so because it is such an important race for us at Team Penske. It’s in our backyard for Penske Corp. Also, our relationship with Chevrolet, how much they put I that event and try to get it right for everybody involved. It’s tough to not have a go at that this year.

“I think of the volunteers. The Detroit weekend is so well run and executed with such a positive momentum behind it for the last eight years that I’ve gone there. I’ve always enjoyed that weekend off the back of the Indy 500.

“It’s a shame we will miss that this year, but I look forward to getting back there in 2021 and getting it started again.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500