Allmendinger's big off-season capped by Rolex 24 victory
AJ Allmendinger won five races during the 2006 season in Champ Car, then walked away hoping to launch a new career in NASCAR. He was at the top of his game when he left open-wheel and figured he'd make a smooth and successful transition to stock cars.
Instead, he suffered through a miserable five years.
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Now, in what seems like a blink of an eye, it has all turned around for Allmendinger.
No driver has had a better off-season than Allmendinger, who landed the ride of a lifetime right before Christmas when Penske Racing picked him to fill the seat left suddenly open when the team split with former NASCAR champion Kurt Busch.
Then he opened the 2012 racing season with an impressive victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Allmendinger was the anchor for Michael Shank Racing and used a gritty final stint — he was behind the wheel almost three hours at the end — to give longtime friend Shank his first victory in nine tries in the prestigious endurance event.
It was Allmendinger's first major racing victory since he walked away from Champ Car at the end of the 2006 season.
"It's always cool to be me," Allmendinger quipped when asked about the last five weeks.
Then he quickly turned serious. "No, I'm just kidding. The last five years, it's actually (stunk) to be me."
It was indeed a struggle as Allmendinger went from the top of one series to the bottom of another.
On paper, a deal with upstart Red Bull Racing seemed too good to pass up. The deep-pocketed team was making its entrance into NASCAR, and it wanted Allmendinger to drive one of its two cars.
It was a disaster from the very beginning.
Red Bull wasn't ready to race in the elite Sprint Cup Series.
Both Allmendinger and teammate Brian Vickers struggled to even qualify for races that season, and missing out on the events slowed Allmendinger's development. It didn't take long for him to wonder whether he'd made a huge mistake in moving to NASCAR.
"There were plenty of times in my bus on Friday, (after) missing a race, it was either, 'Should I go back to IndyCar or slit my wrists?' " Allmendinger said. "It sounds kind of over the top, but I knew I wanted to be in the Sprint Cup Series. That's where the best of the best was. ... It was just a tough couple of years. The last few years have been tough."
Rachel Alexandra back at farm
A spokeswoman for Stonestreet Farm said Rachel Alexandra, the 2009 Horse of the Year, and her newborn colt have returned to their home. The two had been taken Friday to Rood and Riddle Equine Clinic in Lexington as a precautionary measure for pain management related to the birth.
Spokeswoman Caroline Shaw said in an email that the two were returned to the farm Monday.
The 6-year-old Rachel Alexandra is owned by Barbara Banke, who is also majority owner of Curlin, the 2007 and 2008 Horse of the Year and sire of the foal born Jan 22.
Gemologist slated to work this weekend
Undefeated Gemologist, one of the several standout 3-year-olds in trainer Todd Pletcher's brigade, is scheduled to have his first work of the year this Sunday, according to WinStar Farm President Elliott Walden. Gemologist garnered a good deal of positive chatter last season when he rattled off three wins in as many career starts, two of which came at Churchill Downs.
As was the case with WinStar's 2010 Kentucky Derby winner, Super Saver, Gemologist closed out his juvenile campaign with an impressive win in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill, defeating Ever So Lucky by 13/4 lengths.
Already 17 hands tall and more than 1,300 pounds, the son of Tiznow is tentatively set to have a two-prep schedule leading up to the Kentucky Derby with starts in the Tampa Bay Derby, Rebel Stakes and Gotham all possible candidates for his seasonal debut.
"He's done well," Walden said. "We had him at the farm for a while, kind of following what we did with Super Saver, and he's been with Todd for about a month now. We're probably going to run in the middle of March; I'm not sure where yet."
New owner won't change Astros' name
New Houston Astros owner Jim Crane said he won't change the team's name. Crane said last week he was considering a switch. But he emailed a video message to season-ticket holders on Monday saying, "one thing that we are not going to change is the name."
He said he made the decision after receiving "strong feedback and consensus among season-ticket holders and many fans." He then added that "the Houston Astros are here to stay."
The team was established in 1962 as the Colt .45s and has been called the Astros since 1965 when the name was changed to coincide with the move to the Astrodome.
■ Veteran pitcher Trever Miller agreed to a minor-league deal with the Chicago Cubs. The 38-year-old Miller, Kentucky's Mr. Baseball in 1991 at Louisville Trinity, is 18-17 with 11 saves and a 4.18 ERA in 694 major-league appearances. The lefty pitched for the Cardinals, Blue Jays and Red Sox last season.
■ The Milwaukee Brewers signed outfielder Corey Patterson to a minor-league contract. Patterson played 44 games for the St. Louis Cardinals last season, batting .157 with three RBI.
Softball team picked third in SEC East
Kentucky's softball team, which was ranked 13th and 18th nationally in two pre-season polls, was chosen by league coaches to finish third in the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division, the league announced Monday. UK was picked to finish behind No. 2/4 Florida and No. 9/14 Tennessee in the East. The Gators were picked to win the league, receiving six first-place votes, with the Lady Vols getting five.
A third-place finish would be the highest ever finish for Kentucky under fifth-year head coach Rachel Lawson. The Wildcats have finished fourth in the East the past three years.
No. 2/3 Alabama was picked to win the Western Division, followed by No. 20/22 Louisiana State.
Kentucky opens its season on Feb. 9 in Los Angeles. The Cats will play UCLA in the Stacy Winsbury Memorial Tournament.
JoePa's family to sell DVDs of memorial
Joe Paterno's family said Monday they'll be selling copies of the coach's memorial service and donating the proceeds to charity.
A statement from son Scott Paterno said numerous media outlets have expressed an interest in selling copies of the emotional public memorial service that drew about 12,000 people to a campus arena last week.
■ The University of Iowa is refusing to release records showing how its administration responded to a woman's sexual-assault claim against running back Marcus Coker.
The school released nine pages of records on Monday that don't shed any light on the situation involving Coker, who was suspended for last month's Insight Bowl for unspecified misconduct and later left the football program. The school claimed all other documents in the case cannot be released because of a student-privacy law.
The last word
Peyton Manning had a go-to move when he and little brother Eli used to fight growing up. Said Eli:
"... He'd pin me down and take his knuckles and knock on my chest and make me name the 12 schools in the SEC. I didn't know them all at the time when I was 6 and 7. I quickly learned them. It was a great learning technique."