Penske hires Allmendinger for 2 IndyCar races


Fri Mar 8, 3:10 PM UTC

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (AP) — AJ Allmendinger has a new part-time job with a familiar team.

On Friday, Roger Penske hired the former open-wheel racer to drive two IndyCar races this season including the Indianapolis 500 on May 26. Allmendinger also will compete April 7 in Birmingham, Ala.

It's a big move for Allmendinger's career.

NASCAR suspended the driver in July after he failed a random drug test and was released by Penske when a backup "B'' sample also tested positive for a banned substance. After completing the "Road to Recovery" program, Allmendinger was reinstated in September and finished the season by competing in four Cup races with Phoenix Racing.

He did not have a ride at the Daytona 500. He finished 11th in his season debut last weekend at Phoenix for the same Phoenix Racing team.

There had been speculation that this move was coming after Penske put Allmendinger — who won five races and finished third in the Champ Car standings in 2006 — back in an open-wheel car during a February test in Sebring.

Allmendinger will drive the No. 2 car, which will be sponsored by IZOD.

"It is exciting to welcome AJ back to Penske Racing," Roger Penske said in a statement announcing the deal. "He obviously went through a tough time last year but he has done everything he needed to in order to get back to racing at the top level of the sport. We have always believed in AJ and his ability and he deserves this opportunity."

A news conference was scheduled at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for later Friday morning.

For Allmendinger, this is more than just a second chance -- or an audition for a longer-term job.

It's also a return to his open-wheel heritage. From 2004 to 2006, the California native produced 14 podium finishes in the now-defunct Champ Car Series. In 2006, he won five times and finished third in the points.

"I'm really looking forward to getting back to my roots and racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series," he said. "I have to thank Roger, Tim and everyone at Team Penske for this opportunity. I think it's every driver's dream to race for Team Penske at the Indy 500 and that experience is going to be incredible. I also have to thank IZOD for their support and for giving me a chance to show what I can do. I definitely intend to make the most of it."

Penske has been the dominant team at Indianapolis since the early 1970s. His drivers have combined for a record 15 wins, including a record-tying four by racing icon Rick Mears.