One of the few remaining Silly Season dominoes finally fell today, with the announcement that A.J. Allmendinger would not be returning to Team Red Bull for the 2009 season. Allmendinger will supposedly pilot the #84 for this weekend’s Cup race at Kansas, but it may very well be his last. Red Bull development driver Scott Speed will most likely make the move to the 84, and he and Mike Skinner may swap the ride for the remaining eight Cup races.
Looking to next season, Allmendinger has been linked to open rides at Ganassi and Petty Enterprises. If you’ll remember, A.J. ran a few races last season in Ganassi’s #41 Busch Series car and I’ve been hearing for a while that he may be the leading candidate to replace Reed Sorenson in the #41 Cup car. Apparently some other folks have heard the same thing, as both Yahoo! Sports and Autoweek reported this week that Allmendinger may take over the Target sponsored Dodge next season. But a name I heard over the weekend that could be in the mix along with Allmendinger for the open seat at CGR is Scott Riggs. Riggs is available, as he will not be returning to Haas CNC Racing for next season because of the Tony Stewart partnership and the hiring of Ryan Newman.
I have to admit, when Red Bull announced a few years ago that A.J. would be one of the drivers to lead them into their first season of Sprint Cup competition, I was not convinced. He had some success in open wheel racing, but as we’ve discovered this year, open wheel success doesn’t necessarily translate to NASCAR.
After a very difficult first season, the team was optimistic for 2008. The optimism didn’t last long though, as the #84 team struggled early on, missing the first three races. After a short stint with Mike Skinner behind the wheel, Allmendinger returned to the team, and managed an average finish of 30.6 between races 9 and 18.
Following Daytona in July, crew chief Ricky Viers was replaced with former CGR crew chief Jimmy Elledge. The improvement was immediate. Between Elledge’s first race at Chicago and the most recent race at Dover, the team has an average finish of 22.6, including a career best for Allmendinger of 10th at the Brickyard. Unfortunately for Allmendinger, the eight position improvement in his average finish wasn’t enough to keep him in the #84 for 2009.
Now, former open wheeler Scott Speed is poised to take over the second Red Bull car and Allmendinger is left wondering what could have been. Team Red Bull returns to square one with a rookie driver and a race team that is just barely inside the top 35 in owners points. It’s a shame that Jay Frye and the TRB management weren’t more patient with A.J., as I believe he is very talented, and in the right situation could flourish in the Cup Series.