With the signing of AJ Allmendinger to a multi-year contract, the driver of the infamous No. 43 Petty blue race car officially becomes the lead alpha dog at Richard Petty Motorsports.
In fact, Allmendinger may be the only dog left at RPM, with Kasey Kahne and Elliott Sadler both announcing plans to leave after the close of the 2010 season. Even Paul Menard is rumored to be taking his family sponsorship elsewhere, most likely to Richard Childress Racing.
Given those circumstances, with drivers and sponsors alike apparently jumping the RPM ship, Allmendinger was skeptical about re-upping with the ‘King’. In fact, it was not so long ago that the two had a very heated exchange with one another after a particularly disappointing day on the track.
“We have potential here,” Allmendinger. “But I needed the right answers. In the end, we got the answers we wanted, that this is a stable place and a place where we can build the future.”
“It excites me to know I can the ‘the guy’ here,” Allmendinger said. “That was another huge selling point.”
RPM principal Foster Gillett was a major playing in selling Allmendinger on the concept of staying with the company and being the lead dog in the RPM pack.
“AJ has a passion for the sport,” Gillett said. “That’s obvious. He is in our shop daily and knows every single person on our team. Our guys root for him.”
“One of the great moments for an athlete is the chance to choose what team he wants to be with,” Gillett continued. “We wanted AJ to choose the right reasons to be here. AJ is a big part of what we do and a bigger part of the future.”
Allmendinger acknowledged that he did talk to several other teams before deciding that he would re-up with Richard Petty Motorsports. He cited not only the ability to be that ‘alpha dog’ but also the potential he sees in his team as reasons for staying.
And quite frankly, the ‘Dinger, at age 28 years, just did not want to have to start over with a new group at this stage in his career.
“For me, it was tough to go out there and know everything that we’ve built up and maybe go to a different team and just completely start over,” Allmendinger said. “You look at all the great teams and they’re not one or two-year teams, they’ve been around five, six, seven years and I look at that and it just made it easy to know that we had potential here. That’s all I wanted to see.”
One of the other major factors in Allmendinger’s decision to stay with RPM was the support that Ford has provided, particularly with the new engine. The ‘Dinger shared that the proof of that was seeing Greg Biffle in victory lane at Pocono Raceway last weekend with the new Ford engine under the hood.
“Ford gives us all the tools that we could ask for to go out there and have a chance to win races every weekend,” Allmendinger said. “Obviously the new motor is getting better and it was great to see Ford finally back in Victory Lane last week with the new engine.”
Allmendinger joined Richard Petty Motorsports late in the 2008 season after a tumultuous period in his career, especially his time at Red Bull Racing. In his four year NASCAR Cup career, he has one top-five, eleven top-tens, and one pole.
With the ability to now build upon this record, Allmendinger may not only be the alpha dog at RPM, but he may be the savior of the team as well. And he may just be the one that attracts other drivers, perhaps even Marcos Ambrose who is now homeless after leaving JTG Daugherty Racing, and new potential sponsors to replace the most likely outgoing Budweiser.
When asked about these possibilities, the ‘King’ just smiled mysteriously and said that future announcements would be forthcoming.
“We have a lot more good news coming as an organization in a few weeks,” Gillett said. “I think AJ saw how committed we are. And we have some partners that will continue to support us. Some things already are done. Things are very good here.”
For Allmendinger, who just marked the milestone of his 100th career start in the Brickyard 400 at Indy, his RPM contract extension also seems to have settled him.
“It’s the first time in my career I can say I’m in a place where I can build something special,” Allmendinger said. “A lot of great things are happening at Richard Petty Motorsports.”
“We’re not where we want to be, but I see the potential to get better and contend for victories and ultimately win a championship. It’s a good energy here. Hopefully this is the start of great things.”
“I am ready to be a leader of this race team,” Allmendinger said. “It is something that I thrive on and excites me every day to know that I can be the guy. I have the confidence in myself to know I can lead this team and represent it to the best of its abilities.”
Alpha dog Allmendinger will race this weekend in the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen on the road course at Watkins Glen. The ‘Dinger was eighth in first practice and ninth in second Cup practice at the Glen.