By Ken de la Bastide
It’s been several years since A.J. Allmendinger has competed in an open-wheel series on a national stage, but that will change this weekend.
Allmendinger, who recorded five wins in the former CART series, will be making his first IZOD IndyCar Series start at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama on Sunday.
He made the switch from open wheel to NASCAR several years ago and it would be safe to assume he wouldn’t have returned to IndyCar, except for his suspension by NASCAR for use of a banned stimulant.
Whether or not the suspension was justified is irrelevant, Allmendinger will have to work his way back to a full-time ride in Sprint Cup.
With an eye toward the Indianapolis 500 in May, Allmendinger signed with Team Penske to run a limited schedule of races with IndyCar. Right now it appears the road course event in Alabama will be his only start before Indy, but I would venture a guess that there will be more starts before the month of May.
It would be safe to assume that Allmendinger will be in contention for a top finish at Barber since in the three previous races Penske teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves have won all three and started on the pole position every time.
Entering the second race of the season there are plenty of story lines for the weekend. Power failed to finish in the top ten at St. Petersburg and defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay finished 18th with mechanical issues.
Both drivers will be looking to bounce back from the poor performance in the opener. Another driver looking to bounce back is four-time series champion Dario Franchitti, who crashed and finished 25th.
One driver to watch could be Simona de Silverstro who finished a respectable sixth at St. Petersburg and was poised to record a podium finish until the tires on her KV Racing Technology lost their grip over the final 20 laps.
With a new team this year and Tony Kanaan as a teammate, de Silvestro could be the second woman driver to win an IndyCar event, joining Danica Patrick.
The Honda Indy Grand Prix will be televised on the NBC Sports Network at 2:40 p.m., one of many sporting events on Sunday hoping to lure sports fans.
In other racing news
Just three years ago Denny Hamlin challenged for the Sprint Cup championship, but any hopes of making the Chase all but vanished after he broke his back in a crash in California.
Hamlin will be out of the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota for an estimated five races. It will be interesting to see if replacement driver Mark Martin can record a win for the Gibbs stable.
The series races at Martinsville this weekend, where Hamlin was always a threat to win on the paper clip-shaped track.
• Ken de la Bastide may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 765-454-8580.