Kurt Busch's departure from Penske Racing turned out to be a big break for AJ Allmendinger.
Penske announced Wednesday morning it has signed Allmendinger to replace Busch in the team's Shell-backed No. 22 car, and Richard Petty Motorsports said it released Allmendinger at his request.
With his open-wheel background and vibrant personality, the driver they call 'Dinger won the Chase-caliber ride over drivers such as David Ragan, who had hoped to land at Penske after his departure from Roush Fenway Racing.
It's quite a turnaround in Allmendinger-related news. Just a day ago, when sponsor Best Buy announced it was leaving RPM, it seemed Allmendinger's future could be in doubt. As it turned out, there were other moves happening behind the scenes.
"AJ is a very talented and motivated driver and we believe he will be a terrific fit with our team," team owner Roger Penske said. "He has shown great promise and consistent results on the track over the last few seasons and working with Todd (Gordon, crew chief) and the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge team will allow him to take the next step and compete for race wins and a spot in the Chase in 2012."
After five seasons of racing in oft-unstable situations, Allmendinger will finally have a car and team with solid Chase expectations. Busch departed after a video of him cursing at ESPN's Dr. Jerry Punch surfaced, leading to the search for a new driver.
"We had to make some tough decisions over the last few days, but these moves will put RPM in a healthier position and help to make sure AJ's guys all have a place to work in the future," said Tara Ragan, Allmendinger's manager. "It is an honor for AJ to have his talents recognized by icons like Richard Petty and Roger Penske, and he is fully committed to making the most of this opportunity."
RPM, meanwhile, released a statement saying its plan "remains to run a two-car team...and we are continuing down that path."
"We believe there are several very talented drivers who are still available and would embrace the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the legendary No. 43 Ford Fusion," CEO Brian Moffitt said. "We continue to move forward and are optimistic about the future of this race team."
Allmendinger will speak with reporters via teleconference later today, but said in a statement it was an "honor" to join Penske and a "privilege" to represent the team's sponsors.