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Since his return to NASCAR’s good graces, once-fallen Sprint Cup Series driver A.J. Allmendinger has been working on his future. After all, he lost his ride with Penske Racing back in July after a failed drug test resulted in an indefinite suspension from NASCAR.
Not to make light of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s concussion at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway earlier this month, or his earlier concussions for that matter, but Earnhardt’s injury seems to have been a blessing in disguise for Allmendinger.
You see, Regan Smith was selected by Phoenix Racing owner James Finch when his previous driver, Kurt Busch, jumped ship to get a head start on his 2013 plans with Furniture Row Racing. Smith lost his ride at Furniture Row with Busch’s arrival there.
But then, Earnhardt announced he’d climb out of his coveted No. 88 ride at Hendrick Motorsports for a couple of weeks to recover from his most recent concussion. Car owner Rick Hendrick then worked out a deal with Finch for Smith to drive the No. 88 at Charlotte and Kansas instead of the No. 51.
That left Finch without a driver for his No. 51, and Allmendinger just happened to be available. Allmendinger then got a two-race deal to drive the No. 51, as Smith moved over to the No. 88. Earlier this week, an announcement came stating that Allmendinger would get two additional races in the No. 51 before Smith takes over the seat for the final two races of the year at Phoenix and Homestead-Miami Speedway.
After that, Smith will head over to Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports team to compete full-time in the Nationwide Series. Does that open up a full-time ride for Allmendinger next year with Phoenix Racing? Maybe so.
Of course, Finch hasn’t exactly announced his plans, if he has any, for next year. He’s complained this year about not being able to afford to make the move to the new car for 2013 if sufficient sponsorship isn’t found. But hasn’t Finch made similar claims before? He, reportedly, was close to selling his team a few years ago because he said he just couldn’t afford to race at NASCAR’s top level anymore.
Chances are, Finch and his team will be around next year. It looks like the perfect opportunity for Allmendinger to get back into full-time Sprint Cup competition. Finch is an owner who is probably looking for a driver, and Allmendinger is a driver looking for a ride. Seems like the perfect match to me.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR
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