JTG Daugherty Signs Allmendinger

AJ Allmendinger

Allmendinger has piloted the No. 47 in three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events and delivered the team's best finish (10th-place) of the season at Watkins Glen International. (Photo: Getty Images)

HAMPTON, Ga. - AJ Allmendinger celebrated an opportunity Saturday he didn’t think was possible a year ago.

The 31-year-old is back with a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup ride. JTG Daugherty announced that Allmendinger will replace Bobby Labonte next season.

The move comes a little more than a year after Allmendinger failed a NASCAR drug test and eventually lost his ride at Penske Racing. He’s driven a variety of cars and series since.

“It’s been a long journey over the last 12 months,’’ Allmendinger said at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “In a strange way, I would never change it. As weird as that sounds with the kind of hell I had to go through initially, the place that I’m at as a person now, I feel so much better about it.

“I know that there’s still a lot of hard work ahead of me to try to get where I want to be in this sport and get where we want as a race team in the sport. It’s just a great feeling to be back. I didn’t feel I would be back here.’’

He’s with a single-car team that has struggled without an alliance with another team.

That could change next season. Although the team has a contract with Toyota, the team is considering switching to another manufacturer next year and partnering with  an organization.

Another unanswered question is Labonte’s status after breaking three ribs this week in a cycling accident near his Trinity, N.C., home. He’s scheduled to drive the rest of the season except Atlanta, Kansas and Homestead - Allmendinger will drive those races. Co-owner Tad Geschickter said Labonte has a doctor’s appointment Monday and no decision has been made on when Labonte will return. Geschickter added that Labonte is “pretty banged up.’’

Allmendinger said he consulted car owner Roger Penske as he considered his options. Penske has had Allmendinger drive his Nationwide and Izod INDYCAR at times this season even after releasing him from the Cup ride after the failed drug test. Allmendinger said it was an easy decision to join JTG Daugherty. He noted Penske’s high regards for co-owners Brad Daugherty and Geschickter.

Allmendinger has driven three races for JTG Daugherty this season, helping the team diagnose causes for its struggles. He’s also run nine races with Phoenix Racing. His best finish this season is 10th at Watkins Glen with JTG Daugherty. Allmendinger also won Nationwide races at Road America and Mid-Ohio for Penske.

Geshickter is pleased with getting Allmendinger in his cars for all of next season.

“It’s not easy finding a good replacement for a (future) Hall of Famer like Bobby Labonte,’’ Geschickter said. “I just feel very fortunate that we get this deal done with AJ. He’s the right guy.’’

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