Of the many new team combinations that will be followed with interest this Sprint Cup season, one of the most interesting dynamics exists at Penske Racing.
Brad Keselowski suddenly is the “veteran” team statesman, and the new kid on the block is AJ Allmendinger, fresh from Richard Petty Motorsports and ready to take advantage of a huge opportunity.
The Dinger was one of the biggest gainers in the off-season shuffle of drivers, crew chiefs and other team personnel, and his goal at Penske this season will be to win races and duplicate the overall Penske effort last year, which put Keselowski and then-teammate Kurt Busch in the Chase.
“This is a challenge that I welcome and look forward to,” Allmendinger said. “The two Penske teams were strong enough to both win races and make the Chase last year, and we’re looking for that same level of success this season. It’ll be important to start off the season on a positive note.
“Testing proved to each of us that, even though we haven’t had much time together, we all have the same goal and are really excited to get going. Testing also showed, though, that the drafting and NASCAR making changes to try and put forth the best racing possible, makes the Daytona 500 just about anybody’s game. I think we’ve got one of the best shots out there, and definitely a team capable of winning at any of the 36 races.”
Penske scored five wins last season, Keselowski winning three times despite a major foot injury and Busch winning twice. Keselowski finished fifth in points, and Busch was 11th.
Allmendinger was 15th in points for RPM.
Allmendinger will be shooting for his first career victory this season. He finished 24th in points in 2009 and 19th in 2010.
“I think it is a very realistic goal to win races and make the Chase this season,” he said. “I think Penske Racing proved last season that working with Dodge as only a two-car effort isn’t necessarily a bad situation. They proved that a smaller group with a strong common goal and clear way of doing things can be just as strong, maybe stronger.
“This is my second time around working with Dodge, and I’ve seen how dedicated they are to our sport. We’re really looking forward to taking them to victory lane this season.”
Allmendinger perhaps will be under more scrutiny than other driver this year.
“We have spent most of our time in NASCAR just trying to survive,” he said. “Getting this opportunity to drive the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge for Penske Racing is truly like a double blessing. I am finally getting the stability I have needed to do my best, but I am also realizing a dream in driving for Mr. Penske.
“Coming from my open-wheel background, Roger Penske and his organization and race teams are just the best of the best. I am committed to representing Penske Racing, Shell-Pennzoil, Dodge and all the other great partners the best I can on and off the track.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.