90 minutes before the start of the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR announced that driver of the #22 car A.J. Allmendinger has been suspended for the race for failing a random drug test after the Kentucky race last week stunning everyone at the track.
Despite a very exciting finish to the Coke Zero 400 that had Tony Stewart holding off Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle taking his third victory of the year in front of a massive final lap pileup, all anyone wanted to talk about after the race has been A.J. Allmendinger.
A.J. and Penske Racing has 72 hours to request another test to possibly reverse or shorten the suspension if it is negative. If they do not request another test or the test is positive, the suspension will become indefinite.
As soon as NASCAR announced Allmendinger’s suspension, Penske Racing and the #22 team scrambled to get a replacement driver to fill the seat. They had to call Penske Nationwide driver Sam Hornish Jr. who flew back to Charlotte after his race on Friday Night, to get on a plane immediately and get back to Daytona. Hornish arrived in Daytona 8 minutes before the command to start engines. Sam finished the race in 33rd place several laps down after blowing a tire early.
After driving for Red Bull Racing and Richard Petty Racing, getting behind the wheel for Penske Racing this year was Allmendinger’s big break in NASCAR. Giving him the team and equipment to pair with his driving ability, this was the perfect situation for A.J. to win races and compete for a championship. But the 2012 season has not been going the way both A.J. and Penske hoped for, going winless through Kentucky sitting in 23rd in Sprint Cup Points far away from chase contention.
The thought of anyone driving a car 200 MPH on any type of drug is a extremely scary thought. Driving a stock car requires your full attention and concentration and that could be a little difficult on any type of drug especially in a three wide pack with 42 other cars. Thats putting not only your own life but all of the other drivers, crew members and fans in danger as well.
NASCAR’s biggest drug use story was in May of 2009 when driver and car owner Jeremy Mayfield tested positive for methamphetamine and again in June of that same year after his suspension was lifted effectively ending his racing career. His legal fight with NASCAR ended years after the positive test and has not raced in NASCAR since. His race team has folded and bought off as well. A.J. now runs the risk of forever having his name stand next to Mayfield’s as faces of drug use in NASCAR.
Now A.J. is innocent until proven guilty but in the eyes of most people around the sport he is guilty until proven innocent. Even if the second test that A.J. takes comes back negative and the suspension is removed from him, he will have an extremely difficult time returning to the mainly clean image and track record he had. A.J. was reportedly ”shocked” by the positive test results. This has not been A.J.’s first run in with problems. In 2009 while driving for Richard Petty Motorsports, Allmendinger pleaded no contest in North Carolina to a misdemeanor charge of driving while impaired and was given a 60-day suspended sentence, 18 months of unsupervised probation and 24 hours of community service.
Even before the positive drug test his job security was in a little bit of jeopardy. His performance on the track was below expectations for Roger Penske and with possible free agent drivers like series points leader Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, and Nationwide Penske driver and replacement for A.J. durring the suspension Sam Hornish Jr., they may move on to another driver with a better track history and cleaner slate then A.J. and will attract more sponsors that he will.
If the suspension continues, Hornish could take over for the rest of the year and use A.J.’s misfortune as his ticket back to NASCAR’s premere series if he can preform well enough. He is currently racing for the championship in the Nationwide series but wants to return to the top series. This could be his big break.
A.J.’s entire career and future will be impacted by this positive test and the events that follow it and will determine if he can keep a ride, find a new one or become another ex driver forced out of the sport due to drug related issues.