Allmendinger Leaves Champ Car for NASCAR

The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 24, 2006; 7:41 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A.J. Allmendinger became the latest open-wheel defector Tuesday when the Champ Car driver signed a deal to drive for Team Red Bull in NASCAR.

Allmendinger, who turns 25 in December, signed a multiyear deal to drive the No. 84 Camry to complete TRB's two-car lineup. Brian Vickers announced in June he was joining the team.

Allmendinger will attempt to make his Nextel Cup debut on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He received clearance from NASCAR to race on a superspeedway late Tuesday.

"A.J. has the talent, guts and ambition to be successful in any form of motorsports," TRB general manager Marty Gaunt said. "He has proven to be one of America's top young race car drivers in open-wheel racing, and we are confident he can accomplish the same in stock car racing over time."

A former Toyota Atlantic champion and former Champ Car rookie of the year, Allmendinger kick-started his career earlier this season when he was fired by the RuSport team. He was snapped up within days by Forsythe Championship Racing and scored his first career victory that weekend.

He went on to win three straight, and five overall this season, and is currently second in the Champ Car standings with one race remaining.

"I'm really excited about this next challenge in my racing career," Allmendinger said. "To race against some of the best drivers in the world in front of fans that are as enthusiastic about racing as I am is going to be a pretty big thrill."

Allmendinger began exploring his options in NASCAR late this summer, and ran two Truck Series events for Bill Davis Racing. He finished 13th in New Hampshire in September and was fifth earlier this month at Talladega.

Red Bull officials kept tabs on his efforts, then chose him to join Vickers as the fresh faces of their upstart organization. The team also hired crew chief Rick Viers, who guided Allmendinger during the two truck races.

TRB is one of three teams that will field Toyotas next season in the automaker's debut, but TRB is the only one starting from scratch.

"I know this is going to be a lot of work in the upcoming months, but I couldn't be happier to do it with Team Red Bull," Allmendinger said. "Hopefully, we can all go out and deliver a good show."

His signing is somewhat surprising because many in the industry had predicted the team would tab a veteran driver to partner with the 23-year-old Vickers. Because the team is starting from scratch and won't have any owner points at the start of the 2007 season, both cars theoretically could miss the season-opening Daytona 500.

Allmendinger's move to NASCAR is also a blow to the struggling Champ Car series. He was one of the budding stars of the open-wheel series, and its only American driver. Team owner Jerry Forsythe had offered Allmendinger a multiyear contract extension with a sizable raise and options, but the driver is believed to have received considerably more guaranteed money from Red Bull officials.

"To me, it's good and it's bad," said Paul Tracy, Allmendinger's teammate with Forsythe Championship Racing and a longtime mentor who first worked with him in go-karts.

"I know Jerry is upset over it. He kind of bailed A.J. out when he was jobless and he's hurt about the way everything was handled by A.J.'s new management team."

Tracy, one of several Champ Car drivers who have ventured into NASCAR with only limited success, said he wishes Allmendinger well in his new ride.

"I wish him luck," said the former series champion. "I hope he succeeds. He certainly has the desire and ability to be a success there. And Champ Car is going to survive without him. We've had guys come and go before, and the series has a lot of good, young drivers, like Graham Rahal and (Simon) Pagenaud coming up from Atlantics next year."

TRB had been scheduled to field a Dodge for Bill Elliott in a three-race trial run aimed at practicing pit stops and getting at-track experience. But they asked Elliott, who failed to qualify the car at Charlotte two weeks ago, to step aside and allow Allmendinger to run at Atlanta and Texas. Allmendinger is also entered in Saturday's truck series event at Atlanta.

Allmendinger will join Formula One star Juan Pablo Montoya as open-wheelers in NASCAR next season. Montoya, a former champion in Champ Car and Indianapolis 500 winner, is making his NASCAR debut in Saturday's Busch race in Memphis and will run a full Nextel Cup schedule next season.


AP Auto Racing Writer Mike Harris contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Associated Press