Is Allmendinger Now The ‘Mojo Man’ For Daytona?
It seems there is always one driver who displays some unanticipated potential and becomes a guy many believe might just be showered with success.
There'a feeling the “mojo” will follow him everywhere he goes, be there for everything he does and with every race he enters.
So who will be dubbed the ‘mojo man” at Daytona in 2012?
How about A.J. Allmendinger, a driver who has experienced his fair share of heartache and disappointment during his career - but now has reason to feel he could be on top?
Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway means racing at its best and Allemdinger is already making a name for himself at the famed 2.5-mile high-banked track.
He’s visited victory lane there once and hopes it’s not his last. There’s still the pole position for the 500, a win in one of two Gatorade 150s and of course, the Daytona 500.
After all, Trevor Bayne proved unexpected Cinderella finishes do happen and Allmendinger may be in line as this year’s 500 winner.
This past weekend, Allmendinger joined Oswaldo Negri, John Pew and Justin Wilson in the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Ford Riley to win America’s most prestigious sports car race – the 50th Anniversary Rolex 24 At Daytona.
The winning No. 60 car had an average speed of 126.300 mph and turned 761 laps or 2709.16 miles. The number of laps completed by the winning Shank team was one lap shy of the Rolex 24 all-time record set back in 1992.
Allmendinger drove the final stint in the brilliant blue and white car which meant he drove it into victory lane. It was Allmendinger’s seventh race with Shank in the Rolex 24.
“I feel very fortunate,” Allmendinger said. “This is one of the reasons why I love this race, because it really kicks off Speedweeks. It’s such a prestigious race.
“It’s one of those races you want on your resume and you want to say that you were part of a victory. It’s amazing. I’m going to cherish this.”
The 50th Anniversary Rolex 24 At Daytona featured the return of 29 past winning Rolex 24 overall winning cars, as well as 47 former champions, over half of which competed in the race.
A few weeks ago, it looked as though Allmendinger was going to be out of a Sprint Cup ride for 2012.
Richard Petty Motorsports announced the loss of a major sponsor and the release Allmendinger as a result.
Many within the sport thought the California native would be walking the garage area looking for a ride. But in a surprise move, only one day later, Penske Racing named him as the driver of the team’s No. 22 Dodge Chargers.
He replaced Kurt Busch, who was released just before Christmas due, among other things, to poor behavior and profanity directed at a media member during the final race weekend of 2011 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
In 2011, Allmendinger finished 15th in the point standings, just outside of the top 12 drivers who battled for the series championship. He earned one top-five, 10 top-10s and 22 top-15 finishes while driving the No. 43 car for RPM.
“I am really excited about the opportunity to join Penske Racing and drive the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Dodge in 2012," Allmendinger said recently. "I have always admired Roger Penske and the way his teams compete and win in every series where they race.
“It is a privilege for me to represent such iconic and respected brands as Shell and Pennzoil, AAA and Dodge. I am honored to join Penske Racing and I will do my very best to continue to build on the standard of excellence established across the organization."
Allmendinger will be paired with rookie crew chief Todd Gordon, who led Penske Racing's No. 22 Nationwide Series team to six wins last season.
Penske once drove cars in NASCAR Grand National competition, the sanction’s premier series, in the early 1960s. In 1972, he began fielding American Motors Matadors with the late Mark Donohue at the controls.
Since those fledgling years, he has fielded Chevrolets, Mercurys, Pontiacs, Fords and now Dodges for a number of winning drivers, including Bobby Allison, Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman, to name only a few. Allmendinger hopes to someday be mentioned with them as a winner for the team.
Without a doubt, Penske Racing is one of the very best organizations in all of auto racing. Competing in a variety of racing ventures, cars owned by Penske have produced 350 major race wins, 412 pole positions and 23 national championships.
Penske has hired many iconic drivers throughout his career as a owner and feels Allmendinger will give his all to be successful in his cars.
"A.J. is a very talented and motivated driver and we believe he will be a terrific fit with our team," Penske said when Allmendinger‘s deal was announced. "He has shown great promise and consistent results on the track over the last few seasons and working with Todd and the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge team will allow him to take the next step and compete for race wins and a spot in the Chase in 2012."
Many stock car racing greats have learned their craft by banging fenders on local short tracks. Allmendinger grew up battling in the open-wheel Indy Car ranks, a style of racing Penske is quite familiar with as a winner of the Indianapolis 500 numerous times.
After winning the Barber Dodge Pro Series title in 2002 and the Toyota Atlantic Championship in 2003, Alllmendinger earned Rookie of the Year honors in the Champ Car World Series in 2004.
He posted five wins and finished third in the 2005 Champ Car World Series before making the switch to NASCAR.
He first competed in the Sprint Cup Series in 2007 and he’s earned 26 top-10 finishes in less than five Cup Series seasons. Allmendinger has also finished inside the top 20 in points in each of the last two seasons.
I predict Allmendinger will be the man to watch at Daytona. When driver mojo is going strong, there’s no reason not to think anything is possible - including a Daytona 500 victory.