Allmendinger joining Toyota team in NASCAR

Wednesday, October 25th 2006, 9:06 am
By: News On 6

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (AP) _ A.J. Allmendinger became the latest open-wheel defector Tuesday when the Champ Car driver signed a deal to drive for Team Red Bull in NASCAR.

Allmendinger, who turns 25 in December, signed a multiyear deal to drive the No. 84 Camry, and completes a lineup that already includes 23-year-old Brian Vickers, who announced in June he was joining the team.

``A.J. has the talent, guts and ambition to be successful in any form of motorsports,'' TRB general manager Marty Gaunt said. ``He has proven to be one of America's top young race car drivers in open-wheel racing, and we are confident he can accomplish the same in stock car racing over time.''

A former Toyota Atlantic champion and former Champ Car rookie of the year, Allmendinger kick-started his career earlier this season when he was fired by the RuSport team. He was snapped up within days by Forsythe Championship Racing and scored his first career victory that weekend.

He went on to win three straight, and five overall this season, and is currently second in the Champ Car standings.

``I'm really excited about this next challenge in my racing career,'' Allmendinger said. ``To race against some of the best drivers in the world in front of fans that are as enthusiastic about racing as I am is going to be a pretty big thrill.''

Allmendinger began exploring his options in NASCAR late this summer, and ran two Truck Series events for Bill Davis Racing. He finished 13th in New Hampshire in September and was fifth earlier this month at Talladega.

Red Bull officials kept tabs on his efforts, then chose him to join Vickers as the fresh faces of their upstart organization. The team also hired crew chief Rick Viers, who guided Allmendinger during the two Truck races.

TRB is one of three teams that will field Toyota's next season in the automaker's debut, but TRB is the only one starting from scratch.

``I know this is going to be a lot of work in the upcoming months, but I couldn't be happier to do it with Team Red Bull,'' Allmendinger said. ``Hopefully, we can all go out and deliver a good show.''

TRB hopes to give Allmendinger his Nextel Cup debut Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but was awaiting NASCAR approval because Allmendinger has never competed on a superspeedway before.

The team had been scheduled to field a Dodge for Bill Elliott in a three-race trial run aimed at practicing pit stops and getting at-track experience. But they asked Elliott, who failed to qualify the car at Charlotte two weeks ago, to step aside and allow Allmendinger to run at Atlanta and Texas.

Several other Champ Car drivers have ventured into NASCAR, including Paul Tracy, Allmendinger's teammate at Forsythe, who has driven in several Busch events.

Formula One driver Juan Pablo Montoya, a former champion in Champ Car, is making his NASCAR debut in Saturday's Busch race in Memphis and will run a full Nextel Cup schedule next season.