The Inside Line: Allmendinger's future with Penske in limbo

3:33 PM, Jul 9, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - NASCAR driver A.J. Allmendinger had the opportunity of a lifetime come his way last December when he signed with Penske Racing. Now he's facing the biggest crisis in his racing career.

Allmendinger, who replaced Kurt Busch in Penske's No. 22 Dodge for the 2012 Sprint Cup Series season, was "temporarily suspended" by NASCAR for violating its substance abuse policy. He failed a drug test that he took the last weekend in June when the series competed at Kentucky Speedway.

NASCAR announced his suspension just hours before the start of this past Saturday night's 400-mile Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway.

According to NASCAR, Allmendinger was suspended "based upon notification of a positive 'A' test NASCAR received from the Medical Review Officer as stated in Section 19-11B (6,7) of the NASCAR Substance Abuse Policy."

NASCAR also noted, "Pursuant to the rule book, Allmendinger has the opportunity to request within the next 72 hours that his "B" sample be tested." That deadline is Tuesday.

Sam Hornish Jr., who drives full-time for Penske in the Nationwide Series, was called upon to substitute for Allmendinger in the No. 22 car. Hornish quickly traveled from Charlotte to Daytona and arrived at the racetrack moments prior to the start of the race.

NASCAR did not reveal the substance and Allmendinger has yet to publicly comment on his suspension. However, Penske officials announced on Monday that Hornish will replace Allmendinger again this coming weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The team stated in its release, "Penske Racing is continuing to work with NASCAR to follow its process and procedures related to the positive drug test that AJ Allmendinger was notified of this past weekend," the team said in a statement on Monday. "While this process continues, Sam Hornish Jr. will drive the No. 22 car in this week's Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway."

If his "B" sample comes back positive, NASCAR will then place Allmendinger on indefinite suspension, meaning he will have to successfully complete a drug treatment program before he can be reinstated.

Team owner Roger Penske had been in Europe and was traveling to Toronto when he learned of Allmendinger's suspension. The IZOD IndyCar Series competed in Toronto over the weekend. Penske owns three teams in that racing circuit.

"It's unfortunate, obviously, when you come back (from Europe), and we're having such a great season, to have a disappointment like that with A.J.," Penske said during an interview with Speed television on Sunday in Toronto. "There's still some time. He's got another test they have to look at this week and then we'll make a decision. Obviously, we support NASCAR's program of drug-free drivers, mechanics and crew members, and we need to abide by that.

"So to me, it's a big speed bump for us, but at the end of the day, we've had situations before that we had to deal with and we're going to be professional. We're going to support the sport, and we don't want to let our sponsors down. I think at this point we'll wait and see."

Allmendinger, 30, is the second Sprint Cup driver to be suspended since NASCAR revised its drug policy prior to the start of the 2009 season. Jeremy Mayfield failed a drug test in May '09. Mayfield has not competed in a NASCAR event since then and has continuously lost his legal battle with NASCAR in court.

In 2007, Allmendinger made his foray in NASCAR's premier series after competing in the Champ Car Series for the past three years. He drove for the now-defunct Team Red Bull for two seasons and then joined Richard Petty's organization, where he drove from 2009-11.

Allmendinger won the Rolex 24 at Daytona Grand Am Series race the last weekend in January and then finished a Sprint Cup career-best second in the April 1 race at Martinsville Speedway.

At the start of this season, Allmendinger had high expectations of winning races and making the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

"I've worked hard for five years and went through a lot of ups and downs to get to this point," he said during NASCAR's pre-season media tour in January. "This is my time to have a chance at it. My goal is to go out there and try to win races, make the Chase and contend for the championship. Anything less is a disappointment."

It's a disappointment now.

Even though he was sitting 23rd in the point standings prior to his suspension, Allmendinger's chances of making the Chase are indeed over. His ride with Penske and future with NASCAR might be gone as well.

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