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Allmendinger's Life Comes Full Circle with NASCAR, INDYCAR Success at IMS

Friday, July 8, 2022 Zach Horrall

AJ Allmendinger Kisses the Bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Although NASCAR and the NTT INDYCAR SERIES are not competing on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval later this month, instead racing entirely on the IMS road course for Brickyard Weekend, AJ Allmendinger’s life comes full circle at the Racing Capital of the World.

Although NASCAR and the NTT INDYCAR SERIES are not competing on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval later this month, instead racing entirely on the IMS road course for Brickyard Weekend, AJ Allmendinger’s life comes full circle at the Racing Capital of the World.

The tripleheader featuring the NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series and NTT INDYCAR SERIES is a thrilling weekend for motorsports fans, who are in store for a little bit of everything July 30-31.

But for Allmendinger, this event is a culmination of his racing career. His professional career started in the INDYCAR SERIES from 2004-06, and he won five Champ CarWorld Series races. He won the first NASCAR Cup Series race on the IMS road course last year, the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard.

“This is something that motorsports as a whole I feel like has needed,” Allmendinger said of the bringing together of NASCAR and INDYCAR at IMS. “Motorsports is a small community. We’ve got to push all of us along to make motorsports as a whole a lot better and stronger and for sponsors to be a part of it. I don’t think there’s any negative to it. I think it’s all positive.

“For me, it’s fun to be (at IMS). I still have a lot of friends in the INDYCAR paddock to talk to and see. I love INDYCAR racing still. I watch it every weekend, and I think it’s so competitive. It’s fun to see it in person.”

Allmendinger now competes full-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and part-time in the NASCAR Cup Series for Kaulig Racing. Ever the road course master, Allmendinger has two Xfinity Series wins this season: at Circuit of The Americas and Portland International Raceway.

As Brickyard Weekend approaches, Allmendinger will get to merge his NASCAR friends, such as Kaulig Racing teammates Justin Haley, Daniel Hemric and Landon Cassill, with his INDYCAR friends that he still stays in touch with, which include Graham Rahal, Conor Daly, James Hinchcliffe and Michael Shank.

What’s more, Allmendinger has a special connection to Roger Penske, and racing at a facility owned by the legendary NASCAR and INDYCAR team owner is special for the Los Gatos, California native.

Allmendinger drove a partial season for Team Penske in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2012 until he was suspended for failing a drug test in the summer of that year. He was reinstated that fall by NASCAR, and Penske offered the driver a second chance in the form of six NTT INDYCAR SERIES races in 2013.

“The Dinger,” as many call him, proved to be stellar at the Indianapolis 500, qualifying fifth in the No. 2 IZOD Team Penske Chevrolet. He ran in the lead group throughout the race, leading 23 laps. Given what the previous year had dealt Allmendinger, it was a special moment of redemption. It was so special that he lost focus when he took the lead for the first time.

“I remember just shaking in a way down the back straightaway, just thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m leading the Indianapolis 500 -- this is badass,’” he said. “I almost lost my train of thought and had to bring myself back in and calm myself down. But that’s how cool it was to me that I was leading the Indy 500.”

Allmendinger looked poised to steal the win that year until his seatbelts came undone during the race in a rare and unexpected incident. He had to pit to refasten his belts, erasing any chance he had of drinking the ceremonial bottle of milk. He finished seventh.

Per usual at Indianapolis, the race itself wasn’t the only memorable moment. The emotional pre-race ceremonies are also a moment that stands with Allmendinger to this day, but not because of the usual pomp and circumstance.

“To be a part of Team Penske for the whole month, but more importantly that day, walking down Gasoline Alley next to Roger Penske before the race, that moment will always stand out to me,” he said. “It was like walking with God, it really was. I was walking next to Roger Penske and not only was I his driver, but he was going to call my race. That will always stay with me.

Allmendinger isn’t bitter that the 2013 race got away; he considers that seventh-place finish one of the best moments of his career. He believes everything happens for a reason, and he wasn’t supposed to win that day.

Maybe the reason for being in Indianapolis that May was to meet his future wife, Tara Allmendinger met her that month and convinced her to come to the race, which she had never seen before. The impression lasted, and the two got married in 2019.

Those 23 laps and the near win wouldn’t be the last such scenario at IMS for Allmendinger.

Since leaving the NASCAR Cup Series full-time after the 2018 season, Allmendinger has transitioned to the NASCAR Xfinity Series with Kaulig Racing. He ran five races for the organization in 2019 and won at the Charlotte Motor Speedway roval.

After that win, the team upped the ante, putting Allmendinger in the No. 16 car for 11 races in 2020, including in the first-ever NASCAR Xfinity Series race on the IMS road course. As a natural on the challenging, winding racetracks, Allmendinger was one of the favorites to win the race.

Locked in a thrilling late-race battle with Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric, Allmendinger was leading with three laps to go. The trio memorably went three-wide down the front stretch and into Turn 1 with two laps remaining.

Once again, Allmendinger nearly missed out on a win at the historic Speedway. But fast forward to 2021, and his lifelong dream came true – he earned the right to kiss the bricks at IMS.

In a wild and chaotic first NASCAR Cup Series road course race at IMS, Allmendinger found himself in contention late in the going. A pair of late-race restarts bunched up the field on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course, and Allmendinger was in third place with just two laps to go.

Allmendinger was watching Briscoe and Denny Hamlin duke it out for the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard when suddenly the chance to win the race was his.

Briscoe had gone off course and was penalized by NASCAR. Before serving his penalty, he made contact with Hamlin and sent the driver of the No. 11 spinning into the grass. Briscoe pulled off course to serve his penalty coming to the white flag, and Allmendinger became the leader.

“This is unbelievable,” Allmendinger said. “Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the way that just played out. We just won at Indy. What is up!”

It was a fitting way to cap one of the biggest racing events at IMS in 2021.

Coincidentally, Allmendinger and Shank, who owned Helio Castroneves’ record-tying car that won in 2021, are close friends. Shank helped Allmendinger rejuvenate his career when he was at a low point by giving him a ride in his IMSA WeatherTechSportsCar Championship program. Allmendinger also won the Rolex 24 At Daytona for Shank in 2012.

“Hey, Shank, I just wanted to be like you, baby,” Allmendinger told NBC Sports and the crowd.