Futures uncertain for Allmendinger, Finch
May 20, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- AJ Allmendinger isn’t sure of when his start in NASCAR might be, because he’s unsure of how much longer car owner James Finch will continue to race.
Allmendinger has made four starts this season for the Phoenix Racing team, sharing the ride with NASCAR Nationwide Series regulars Regan Smith and Austin Dillon, and recording a best finish of 11th in the second race of the season at Phoenix. He’s been out of the No. 51 car since the April 27 event at Richmond, because he’s been preparing for his first appearance in the Indianapolis 500, which will come Sunday in a vehicle fielded by Roger Penske.
Finch told a Florida newspaper earlier this month that he was considering shutting down after the July 28 NASCAR event at Indianapolis, citing a lack of sponsorship. Although he’s expressed such sentiments before -- including near the end of last season -- Allmendinger feels this one has merit.
“I do. I think it’s more serious than it’s been,” he said Monday at a media appearance in downtown Charlotte. “I think a lot got taken out of him last year, and a lot of money got taken out, too. I mean, if a sponsor comes on board or somebody buys into the team, then I’m sure he could stick around, because he loves racing. You can see it there. He still loves being there. But you can only do it for so long, right? So I think so.”
Finch’s car currently stands 16th in Sprint Cup owners’ points, after lingering in the top 10 for much of the early season. Although the team has fewer than 20 employees, it had top-10 runs with Smith at Daytona and Talladega, and won a race at Talladega with Brad Keselowski in 2009. Finch also has 13 victories on the Nationwide Series, the most recent last summer with Kurt Busch at Daytona.
“It’s not the best team in the world, but it’s not the worst, either,” Allmendinger said. “It’s Hendrick equipment. Fontana, that was a brand new car they built late last year to get ready for the new cars. Full-blown Hendrick motor, so the stuff’s fast. … But it’s the little things, like the pit crew. They’re Hendrick developmental guys, guys that are doing ARCA cars and Nationwide cars learning how to get better. … Stuff like that would hurt us. But it’s good stuff.”
Allmendinger was originally slated to run the June 2 race at Dover for Finch, but will instead compete for Penske in an open-wheel event in Detroit. Allmendinger drove Penske’s No. 22 Sprint Cup car for the first 17 races last year before failing a NASCAR-mandated drug screening and subsequently being released from the team. After completing the Road to Recovery program he joined up with Finch, who put Allmendinger in his car for four races last fall.
Allmendinger wouldn’t rule out doing more races later this year with Finch, although he didn’t know when those might be. He said the car owner has been lobbying other NASCAR teams to hire him, trying to ensure Allmendinger has a ride in case the time comes when Finch truly does step away from the sport.
“James and I have talked, and James has been out there talking to other team owners trying to find me something full time, because he says I deserve something full time,” Allmendinger said. “Whenever he leaves, he wants me to have something full time. That’s meant a lot to me. I think there’s still a possibility of doing races with him up until whenever that time is that he leaves, and if not -- I’ll figure something else out. We’ll see how that goes.”
As for where his future lies, Allmendinger isn’t certain. He said he’s not fretting over it too much, either. His split last year with Penske -- for what he now calls “just something stupid” -- clearly didn’t leave hard feelings, as evidenced by his return to the fold on a part-time basis this season. He’s run open-wheel races for Penske already this year at Birmingham and Long Beach, and has upcoming starts planned at Indy and Detroit. Where does he end up beyond that?
“Whatever place that I fit in best,” he said. “Whatever team, whatever place gives me the best opportunity to go out there and win, enjoy racing, have fun at the race track. Whatever just gives me the best happiness and the best life. That’s not necessarily more money, more this. It’s just happiness in general. What do I enjoy most going to? And there are so many things that go into that.
“But one thing I will say for sure is that if Roger Penske is going to offer me something full-time -- NASCAR, IndyCar, sports car, whatever -- I’m not going to turn it down. Because it’s pretty special to be a Penske driver. And obviously what Roger’s done for me in my career, and everything we started, went through, and are back at now, it’s just a great place to work. … It’s still to me pretty cool when the phone rings and his name pops up on it. So if that’s an option, that would be my first option.”
As for his future with Finch, “I don’t know,” Allmendinger added. “I don’t know if I’ll be doing some races with James still, or if he’ll still be around. None of us know that. I’m just kind of taking it all in and enjoying it right now.”
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