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But Allmendinger has a respect for the talent level in IndyCar, for the drivers he competed against long ago. His participation in Sunday’s race will draw some NASCAR fans to the viewing audience, and Allmendinger expects them to be impressed.

“I guess NASCAR fans don’t know a lot of the names in the field, but that’s because of marketing. Trust me, there are no scrubs in this series, these guys are so quick,” Allmendinger said. “So now I’m here trying to manage expectations. But right now, I would love just to get through the first round of qualifying.

“I know people are going to be watching me, and I think it’s going to be cool to bring some of those NASCAR fans over to notice the series and get them to say, `Hey, that’s some great racing.’ I want IndyCar to be strong and it has a place in this country. It just needs to be noticed.”

Now Allmendinger gets to be the guy to bring it attention, and he’s not sure he is entirely ready. Unlike NASCAR’s top Sprint Cup Series, which practices several hours every race weekend, the IndyCar Series has very little actual track time at Barber. He’s rusty in open-wheel cars, new to IndyCar and still trying to get a feel for the change.

“I’m definitely nervous about it. I’d be lying if I said I’m where I need to be right now,” he said. “Looking at it perfectly honestly, I don’t know if there’s enough time to get to where we need to be comfortable. I’m looking for that feeling where it used to be so natural, but it has been seven years.”

Allmendinger has gotten a considerable amount of help from Penske teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves, drivers who were nothing more than acquaintances before Penske signed him on for this IndyCar project. He raced against Power in Champ Car, and has known Castroneves for years.

But the relationship didn’t become closer when he was hired to join the NASCAR side of Penske’s organization. It wasn’t until the last few months that he’s become closer with the two, especially Power.

Penske laughs at the relationship between Power, his quirky Australian, and Allmendinger, the high-energy Californian.

“Will is a first-class guy, real team player,” Penske said. “They have high respect for each other. AJ always used to tell me how he could come up here and he could whip Will. I said, `OK, now you’ve got your chance.’ He told me the other day on the phone, he said, `This guy is something. Helio, too.’ They want to see him be successful. The whole company is behind him.”

Allmendinger said his relationship with Power and Castroneves is the closest he’s been to teammates since he was teamed with Justin Wilson at RuSport in Champ Car. He believes they’ve been kind to him because “I’m no threat to them. I am not going in there to steal one of their jobs.”

Power indicated Allmendinger’s infectious personality has made it impossible not to welcome him into the group.

“He’s so likable, I was really happy to have him in the team,” Power said. “And he’s kind of on the back foot, he hasn’t been in the cars in so long. Once he starts getting close, he won’t even need help.”

It’s not clear how long this run will last for Allmendinger. He’s got nothing on his schedule with Penske beyond Barber and the Indy 500, although there’s been discussion of trying to get him into the April 21 race at Long Beach.

In NASCAR, he takes whatever he can get from Phoenix Racing as James Finch’s underfunded team has so far been the only organization to take a chance on him. In three starts for Finch, he’s averaged a 13.3 average finish after qualifying no higher than 23rd in any of the races.

“I know in my heart this is my last opportunity and I am going to do everything I can do be at my best in the car and the best person I can be out of the car,” Allmendinger said. “If it works, and I make something out of this chance, great. If it doesn’t work, maybe I am just not good enough.

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