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Saturday, July 7, 2012

A.J. Allmendinger's ride with Penske, NASCAR career in serious doubt after failed drug test

Saturday’s Daytona race was exciting (or scary, depending how you look at it), but the biggest news out of Daytona this week came off the racetrack, not on it.

It was a bombshell announcement that came just a couple hours before the race -- A.J. Almendinger, driver of Roger Penske’s #22 car, had been temporarily suspended by NASCAR after failing a random drug test. It happened so late in the game heading into the race, fill-in driver Sam Hornish Jr. barely flew in in time and made it to the grid to start the race with just minutes to spare. He had spent the morning on the lake in North Carolina completely unaware he would have to race that night (talk about a crazy Saturday).

A.J. had been randomly selected and tested following the Kentucky race. His "A" sample tested positive (for what? We don’t know), NASCAR says. He has the right to request that NASCAR test his "B" sample. Should he refuse to have the "B" sample tested, or if that test is positive, the suspension will become indefinite.

The Penske team had this to say: "NASCAR notified Penske Racing this afternoon that A.J. Allmendinger was administered a drug test earlier this week, and those results tested positive. NASCAR has a strict drug testing program that Penske Racing fully supports. Penske Racing will work with NASCAR through this process and its next steps. Sam Hornish will drive the No. 22 car in (Saturday's) Coke Zero 400.”

I won’t rush to judgment – the “B” sample still has to be tested, and it’s possible this won’t turn into a Jeremy Mayfield type situation (at least, I certainly hope it doesn’t).
My only hope is that if it is he really did fail the test, it’s just a random one-off thing -- like A.J. tried something on a whim at a party, and promises never to do it again.
I would like to think he’s not any sort of drug addict, as he certainly doesn’t act like on in real life or on the track (obviously, you don’t want a drug addict racing at 200 mph).
A.J. is a racer in his blood. His father insisted his initials be A.J. because of A.J. Foyt. He is all about racing, and I would hope he knows not to get into something that could destroy his career.

But I have to ask this question: Is the reality now that A.J. is pretty much out of a ride regardless of what happens with this drug test situation?

He hasn’t exactly been burning up the track with top 10 finishes all year. It’s been a real struggle, and while I like A.J. as a person and root for him to do well on track, the fact is the results just aren’t there.

So even before any failed drug test, there was talk of whether he would lose his ride for next year and someone else would jump in to the 22 car. The team said it stood behind him, but after this, who knows what his future at Penske holds? (or if there even will be a future at Penske)

Sam Hornish Jr. filled in at Daytona, and if the suspension continues next week at New Hampshire he’ll likely fill in again. Hell, he might be filling in all year, and into next year, depending how things go with Allmendinger’s drug test fallout.

I’m rooting for A.J. to come out of this and have a long career in NASCAR. He is young, is a great with the fans, and has the talent to have a long successful career in NASCAR. If the B test confirms his failure, I hope he would follow the template of Randy Lajoie (who failed a drug test, but completed the NASCAR program and was later reinstated) and not the litigious Jeremy Mayfield template, which would just be a waste of his time.

Whatever happens here, one thing’s for sure: Things aren’t looking so hot for A.J. Allmendinger, whose ride with Penske and future NASCAR career in general are seriously in doubt after this failed drug test.

Kudos to Jeff Burton

When I first started watching NASCAR, Jeff Burton ran up front every week, and won a lot of races (for Jack Roush); in recent years with Richard Childress, that hasn’t been the case, in fact it’s very rare.

Often he is up front all night, then disaster strikes (blown engine, accident, you name it and it’s happened to him). He has what you call “buzzard’s luck” in closing out good finishes even when he runs well.

So his 2nd place finish at Daytona means a lot. He almost lived up to his reputation, bobbling on that final restart, but he saved the car and drove through the final wreck to get the runner-up spot. And now, for the first time in a while, I can say he’s a legitimate Chase contender. He is 18th in points, so if he can get a win or 2 before the Chase, and maintain his top-20 spot in the points, he will be battling for a Wild Card post.

It’s not likely of course, given his recent history, but at least now there is hope. He couldn’t say that most years.

Other good runs

Other elder drivers who did a great job avoiding wrecks to finish well Saturday were Michael Waltrip and Bobby Labonte, who both came home in the top 10.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Question...Stewart won...but should we expect a points penalty for his qualifying infraction? If he is given a points deduction, and with the points being so tight the possibility exists he will fall out of the top ten??

July 8, 2012 at 7:24 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your comments on AJ are dead on, I said the same thing to my wife when they announced the suspension. Unless the first test was a false positive or something that can be explained (prescription drug, etc) AJ is likely done at Penske. Don't forget that Roger kicked Kurt Busch, a guy who won races for him, to the curb due to him acting like a spoiled child. What are the odds he'd allow somebody who used drugs, even if it was a one time lapse in judgment, drive one of his race cars? I want to see AJ do well but there are plenty of guys driving for second tier teams that would kill to drive that 22 car, and quite frankly would get better results. Assuming AJ is done, this could be Sam Hornish's ticket back to Cup racing, or another shot for a guy like Brian Vickers, who has done really well this year in a limited schedule for MWR.

July 8, 2012 at 7:57 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it was me I would put vickers in.A J should go to nationwide like sadler and make his way back

July 8, 2012 at 2:15 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have enjoyed watching AJ race his way to a good ride. Very disapointed that he hasn't meet expectations. Even more disappointed he might have thrown all his hard work away. Hopefully some lab has made an error!

July 8, 2012 at 7:50 PM 

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