INDYCAR: American drivers

AJ Allmendinger’s victory in the Daytona 24h last Sunday has brought the spotlight on a driver who could have been the next big thing in American open wheel racing. Allmendinger won 5 Champcar races in 2006 but decided to move to NASCAR. His best finish in the Sprint Cup was 15th in 2011 and whilst that is a solid performance, it shows that ex-Indycar drivers moving to NASCAR prefer to be small fish in a big pond rather than big fish in a smaller pond. The best example is Sam Hornish Jr who moved over after winning three Indycar championships and one Indianapolis 500, yet he only achieved one victory (in NASCAR’s second tier) during 4 seasons of racing.

Indycar urgently needs more American talent. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti are decent drivers but have only 5 victories amongst them. Graham Rahal has the potential to become a title contender but has a big challenge in 2012 to show he can be a consistent front runner and finisher. JR Hildebrand has shown some potential and it will be interesting to see what newcomer Josef Newgarden can do. However, the series would benefit incredibly from a more established American name in a leading team. In particular, Penske Racing has three “foreign” drivers with Hornish and Allmendinger under their umbrella in NASCAR. Could one of them make a return to open wheel racing? Very difficult, but not impossible.

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