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Allmendinger seems a good fit for Phoenix Racing

October 11, 2012, Seth Livingstone, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com

CONCORD, N.C. -- AJ Allmendinger might not be the perfect match for every team.

But Phoenix Racing general manager Steve Barkdoll says the recently reinstated driver is the right man -- and possibly just the right fit -- for Phoenix Racing and team owner James Finch.

"James has always been willing to give a guy a second chance. ... He has something to prove over here."

--STEVE BARKDOLL

"James has always been willing to give a guy a second chance," Barkdoll said Thursday afternoon as his team readied its No. 51 car for its third driver in five days "He likes cars that go fast and we feel that AJ can [make them] do that."

There seems to be a touch of poetic justice in Allmendinger finding a haven with Phoenix, a single-car team, recently jilted by Kurt Busch and unsponsored at this time.

"James basically allows us to do what we do out of his own pocket, without a sponsor," Barkdoll said. "So, when you get somebody like AJ who is kind of down on his luck but can go fast, it's kind of like a natural fit for us."

If nothing else, Phoenix Racing has the appropriate name for Allmendinger, 30, who is attempting to resurrect his Sprint Cup career from the ashes of turbulence.

His chance to drive the 51 --driven until now in 2012 by Kurt Busch -- came somewhat by chance. Regan Smith, scheduled to replace Busch (now driving Furniture Row's No. 78) was tabbed by Hendrick Motorsports to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in this week's Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

But Earnhardt was forced to relinquish his seat because of a concussion he suffered in a final-lap crash at Talladega on Sunday.

Barkdoll says Allmendinger wasn't really his team's second choice. He was more like 1-A.

"Regan seemed to fit what we wanted," Barkdoll said. "We just needed someone to move forward and hopefully attract a sponsor. That's why we picked him.

"However, we did talk with AJ at Talladega and felt really good about his talents. [We] felt like he has something to prove over here. We kind of felt Regan and AJ were pretty close when we made our decision about who'd replace Kurt."

Many in the garage openly questioned when and if Allmendinger would get another chance in a Cup car after being released by Penske Racing in the wake of testing positive for Adderall, a prescription drug often associated with the treatment of attention deficit disorder.

Allmendinger also was arrested for DUI by Mooresville, N.C., police in October 2009, resulting in probation by NASCAR for the remainder of that season.

Allmendinger gained perspective in his time away from the track.

"I think for me it's all about being happy off the race track," he said. "This sport, even when it's going well, can take over your life. And when it's not going well, it can really take over your life. I lost the fun out of it and was struggling. I'd leave the race track and if it wasn't going well, it would dictate how I was at home.

"It's just that when it gets taken away from you, you kind of see what it's really all about. I quickly found out I love this sport, and I missed it. I'm one of the luckiest guys in the world to be able to be a part of it, and to have a second opportunity to be here."

With Phoenix Racing openly searching for a sponsor, might Allmendinger make that task more difficult?

"We haven't done any searching for a sponsor for AJ," Barkdoll said. "But what I [learned about] him last week at Talladega and again, this morning, I really like."

Crew chief Nick Harrison, busy with fabricators in refitting the No. 51 cockpit to accommodate Allmendinger, has no problem with his latest driver coming aboard.

"That's a good thing for me," Harrison said. " Here I am a crew chief knowing the driver is very hungry and has something to prove. I'm happy to see a guy that hungry climbing in the No. 51 window.

Allmendinger, 30, has had success at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He finished second from the pole in the Sprint Showdown, earning a spot in the All-Star Race this past spring.

Allmendinger had a pair of top-10 Cup finishes last year at Charlotte, finishing fifth and seventh while driving for Richard Petty Motorsports.

"I feel AJ will get in the car and be just fine," Harrison said. "He's been successful here [at Charlotte]. I talked to him a little bit this morning. We're both racers and want to do the best we can. I think we can come out of here with a decent run."

Allmendinger agreed after he had a chance to drive the car.

"The car is pretty good. For me, it's more about me trying to get back up with these race cars and how it feels to be behind the wheel of a race car," he said. "I was telling our guys it's pretty comfortable -- a little tight in between [Turns] 3 and 4, but that's always the way it is here in Charlotte. But it had decent speed in it right away. That Hendrick horsepower, I can feel it. It's already pretty strong. ... The biggest thing is to just try to keep getting better every practice session and go out and try to run all 500 miles Saturday night."Barkdoll says Phoenix Racing is "totally committed" to running the last six races of the season. Whether Allmendinger, Smith or another driver finishes the season behind the wheel remains to be seen.

How Allmendinger finished Sunday will affect his future with Phoenix Racing.

"I'm sure if AJ does a nice job we'll see him in the car next week at Kansas," Barkdoll said. "We told Regan and AJ both that if they got in the car, it would probably be [a] race-to-race [situation]."