DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — While AJ Allmendinger will start at Penske Racing without a NASCAR win, he will bring something only one other Penske driver ever accomplished – a victory in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.
In a one-month span Allmendinger left Richard Petty Motorsports to replace Kurt Busch in the No. 22 Dodge for Penske’s stock car program and he moonlighted with Michael Shank Racing to win the prestigious sports car race at the Daytona International Speedway.
“I feel very fortunate,” he said. “This is why I love racing so much.”
Allmendinger drove with Oswaldo Negri Jr., John Pew and IndyCar driver Justin Wilson to put a Ford-powered prototype in Victory Lane for just the fourth time in the 50-year history of the 24-hour race. The other three came in the inaugural race in 1962 and again in 1997 and 1999.
While others on the team had more experience in Grand-Am Road Racing, Allmendinger’s been on such a roll lately Shank decided to keep him in the car during the final 2 hours, 45 minutes.
“That was the most fun three hours of racing I’ve ever had,” Allmendinger said. “I went flat-out. That was fun. It was a good time. I knew every lap I had to drive my butt off. I never try to give myself a lot of credit, but that was some of the best three hours of driving in my life.”
While the sleek Ford Riley was built for precision and speed, Allmendinger drove it like a short-track car in the final stint. He had a spirited battle with fellow Ford Riley driver Allan McNish during the 22nd hour. The two bumped twice coming off the second turn of the superspeedway portion of the 3.56-mile road course, and McNish retaliated by slamming hard into the side of Allmendinger’s car.
Allmendinger kept control of his prototype and he eventually sped away to beat McNish, Ryan Dalziel, Enzo Potolicchio, Alex Popow and Lucas Luhr by one-third of a mile.
Allmendinger led the final 23 laps. The only other Penske driver to win the biggest sports car race in America was Al Unser in 1985.
“It’s like my son said, ‘rubbin’ is racing.’ At the end of the day, it’s hard,” McNish said. “Everybody wanted to win the race. It shows how important the race was for AJ, and how important it was for us.”