News & Media

Smith in 88 at Charlotte, Allmendinger to 51

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

Earnhardt's concussion has residual effects for pair of drivers looking to make good

CONCORD, N.C. -- AJ Allmendinger is taking advantage of NASCAR's twists and turns to get another chance on a Sprint Cup oval.

Allmendinger, reinstated by NASCAR last month after failing a random drug test in July, will get a chance to resurrect his career with appropriately named Phoenix Racing on Sunday, replacing Regan Smith as the driver of the No. 51 car.

"James had talked about putting him in last week. ... I feel AJ will get in the car and be just fine."



"Regan doesn't need any tutoring or anything like that. He's going to do a great job. I'm excited for his opportunity."


* Allmendinger seems a good fit for Phoenix Racing

Allmendinger's chance comes becomes Smith -- whose name still appeared above the No. 51 garage stall at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Thursday -- will replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 car for the Bank of America 500.

Earnhardt will sit out at least the next two races, suffering from concussion symptoms which recurred after a 25-car pileup on the last lap at Talladega on Sunday.

Phoenix Racing crew chief Nick Harrison has no qualms with his team giving Allmendinger his second chance in the team's first week without Kurt Busch.

"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."

In the meantime, Earnhardt's medical situation provides Smith a chance to step into the Chase-quality ride at Hendrick Motorsports.

"Regan doesn't need any tutoring or anything like that," said Earnhardt, who indicated he would not be at the track Sunday for fear of becoming a distraction. "He's going to do a great job. I'm excited for his opportunity.

"He's a great guy and been a good friend of mine for a long time. Under the circumstances, I think this is really a neat opportunity for him. Steve [crew chief Letarte] and the guys will enjoy working with him."

Smith, 29, had his best finish of the season on Sunday, maneuvering threw the final-lap mayhem to end up fifth.

* Recent turn of events land Smith in Chase-quality car

Earnhardt's concussion effectively ends his quest for the Sprint Cup title. He exits the car 11th of 12 drivers in the Chase, 51 points behind leader Brad Keselowski.

Rick Hendrick, owner of Earnhardt's car, said he called Phoenix Racing team owner James Finch about 10 p.m. Wednesday, requesting permission to use Smith as his driver on Sunday. It was a logical move for Hendrick Motorsports, which has designs on employing Smith next season.

"We've been talking about running him in the Nationwide car for a championship," Hendrick said. "He's a good friend of Dale's. Dale likes him, we're familiar with him. We knew he was going to be in James' car, so it just seemed to fit."

Phoenix Racing has a technical alliance with Hendrick Motorsports. Letarte says Smith's relationship with another Chevrolet team and with Earnhardt helped ease the decision.

"Regan has a great attitude and seems to be a remarkable talent," Letarte said. "He's part of the Chevrolet family, which obviously helps when it comes to driving our car. The fact that Dale believes in him so much also made the decision much easier."

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

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.

Harrison said Finch had previously considered putting Allmendinger in the No. 51 car before offering the ride to Smith.

"James had talked about putting him in last week and we got hold of him this morning," said Harrison, who called in extra fabricators on Thursday to make necessary changes to accommodate Allmendinger to the seat and cockpit.

"I feel AJ will get in the car and be just fine. 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 had a pair of top-10 Cup finishes last year at Charlotte, finishing fifth and seventh while driving for Richard Petty Motorsports.