Originally posted on FOX Sports  |  Last updated 12/21/11
You know, it is about time that AJ Allmendinger caught a break. He has had many up-and-downs in this sport. I don't know if a lot of folks might have already given up because of all the hurdles that were put in their way. But that group never included AJ. He's kept his head up, kept a positive perspective and now he is driving for a legendary car owner. It wasn't that many years ago when things weren't going well simply because AJ didn't have the knowledge or experience in NASCAR. It even got to a point where they put Mike Skinner in the car to help get the cars dialed in a lot better. That seemed to really help because once AJ got back behind the wheel he started having better runs. Just when things had turned a corner at Red Bull Racing, here comes Scott Speed. The focus was put on Scott and then finally AJ was gone from Red Bull Racing. He never gave up though. He stayed the course and then landed the ride at Richard Petty Motorsports. 2011 has been far and away his best year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. I think it clearly proves the potential we all felt AJ has if he is given a consistent program to work with. Now, by signing to drive the No. 22 car owned by Roger Penske, AJ has gone to a whole other level. Back in the day, when a season was over, I made it a point to sit down, go over each race, analyze the data, watch the tapes if they were available and evaluate how things had gone week to week. It didn't matter if I had won a single race that year or multiple races that year, I just wanted to evaluate to see where I might have had a chance to win if things had fallen differently. That's how I view AJ's 2011 performance. He had some great runs. His races at Dover and Phoenix come to mind. There were three of four times this year where that young man has proven that given the right situation with the right car, crew and yes, always that little bit of luck that drivers always need, he could be a winner. You all know how much I love irony, so how many people in their driving career can ever say they left one RP - Richard Petty - to go drive for another RP - Roger Penske? The RP's are two of the most iconic names in all of motorsports. I am really happy and excited for AJ. He is now going to an organization where he will lack for nothing. He's going to have great crew chief that proved he knew how to win races the Nationwide series. I think he and his new teammate, Brad Kesolowski will be a great combination. They are similar in age and both very aggressive drivers and they are both very intelligent drivers. I just see them being really good teammates. Obviously the other plus for AJ is that he is coming to a winning race car in the No. 22. I honestly think that's all that AJ was lacking. Those Dodges that Roger Penske have are bad fast. They have plenty of smoke under the hood. If you remember it was in July that the organization got their cars figured out and their seasons caught fire. Both won races and both made the Chase this year. I think it is important from him to come out of the box strong. Luckily for him, the first two races of 2012 are Daytona and Phoenix. He runs very well at both. So I expect big things to happen early on in 2012. The other thing that can't be overlooked is the synergy between Roger and AJ's open wheel involvement. Roger is iconic in the open wheel series and that's also where AJ comes from. Additionally, AJ has teamed up with Mike Shank and Brian Bailey as owners of an Indycar team whose goal is to run the entire 2012 season. So when you stop and think about it, it all just makes sense. AJ is a buttoned-down young man. He fits into the Penske mold. He is squeaky clean. I really think Roger made a great choice here. Actually, AJ wasn't on the market until Best Buy moved their sponsorship over to Roush-Fenway Racing and AJ was able to secure his release from Richard Petty Motorsports. So there is another one of those domino's that have fallen. What about the other drivers out there now that the No. 43 seat is open? David Ragan had been the rumored odds-on favorite to get the No. 22 ride. So now you have to assume that he, Kurt Busch, David Reutimann and Brian Vickers are all making their case of why they should drive for the King. Testing is just around the corner being January 11th in Daytona. I'll be there covering all the action for SPEED. I am really interested to see if the things I am worried about come into play during testing. These proposed changes, like the aero package seems pretty drastic. Of course you have fuel injection in these cars for the very first time. That too is pretty drastic. I am worried about a cooling change to the engine that seems pretty drastic. So we will just have to go through these testing sessions and after that see if any of these proposed changes are reevaluated. But before we get to that and before we have to start saying 2012, we have Christmas just ahead. I have two hopes. I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday. I also hope that everyone gets as big a Christmas present as AJ Allmendinger just received from Roger Penske. Merry Christmas everyone from Stevie, myself and the girls.
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