DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — AJ Allmendinger was silent Sunday, a day after NASCAR suspended him for failing a random drug test.
Penske Racing, which gave Allmendinger the biggest break of his career this season, is withholding judgment until NASCAR’s system has been completed.
Where that leaves the 30-year-old driver remains to be seen.
“You know it’s a disappointment at this particular time, but we’re going to wait and see what the second test results are before we make any comment or decisions. I don’t think it’s fair to him,” team owner Roger Penske said Sunday before the IndyCar race in Toronto.
“I think if you look at sports, things like this happen. It’s unfortunate, but I don’t want to really make a statement pro or con right now. I’m counting on the test being proper for him within 72 hours, and at that point they’ll make a decision.”
There is no second test coming for Allmendinger, who was randomly summoned June 29 in Kentucky to provide a urine sample to NASCAR. Per NASCAR guidelines, the specimen was split in two for an “A” and a “B” samples. NASCAR announced 90 minutes before Saturday night’s race at Daytona that Allmendinger’s “A” sample had failed the test.
NASCAR didn’t reveal what Allmendinger tested positive for, and Allmendinger hasn’t commented publicly since the announcement.
He has 72 hours from Saturday to ask for his “B” sample to be tested, and Allmendinger would be subjected to an indefinite NASCAR suspension if that sample also comes back positive.
The suspension caught the Penske organization flat-footed, and the team had to scramble to get Sam Hornish Jr. off a television set in Charlotte, N.C., and back to Daytona in time to start the race in the No. 22 Dodge. A tire problem just past the halfway point caused Hornish to spin, and he finished 33rd in Allmendinger’s car.
Penske had been vacationing in Europe and was on his way to Toronto when the suspension was announced, and there has been criticism from fans that NASCAR didn’t give enough time to alert Allmendinger or the team that his test had come back positive. According to Allmendinger’s Twitter feed, he was making appearances on behalf of sponsor Shell/Pennzoil less than two hours before the suspension was announced at 6 p.m.
But NASCAR clarified the timelines Sunday, and said its medical review officer first alerted Allmendinger of his positive test approximately six hours earlier. NASCAR was informed by the MRO about 2:30 p.m., and met with Allmendinger and a senior Penske official shortly after.
The suspension was announced 30 minutes after the driver meeting.
The team owner indicated Sunday that Hornish is available to drive Allmendinger’s car, but that the organization had yet to think beyond Daytona.
“We haven’t made any (decisions). He was obviously our first choice for yesterday,” Penske said. “I was out of the country and came in last night and obviously got word on the way over what had happened. The big thing was to get Sam in the car so we could get in the race, which obviously was tight.
“Evidently, (Allmendinger) was tested in Kentucky, and the results of that test came back on Friday. Unfortunately, we didn’t know anything about it until 4 o’clock Saturday, which was the last minute. It’s too difficult to make a decision on where we go next.”
Just two weeks ago, Penske officials were adamant that Allmendinger was in line for a contract extension to stay with the organization.
Allmendinger was hired in late December to replace Kurt Busch, who split with the team after a tumultuous season on and off the track. The hiring was a huge break for Allmendinger, who dominated his final season of Champ Car but has floundered since moving to NASCAR in 2007.
Red Bull Racing failed to properly develop him in his move to stock cars, and Allmendinger was released in late 2008. He landed with Richard Petty Motorsports, where he showed steady improvement and moved up in the standings in each of his three seasons with the team.
Penske snapped him up when Busch’s seat suddenly opened, and Allmendinger a month later celebrated his newfound luck with a big win in the prestigious Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona sports car race. His 17 races with Penske hasn’t been what he wanted, but the team has taken responsibility for much of the bad luck and mechanical issues that have plagued Allmendinger.
And as drivers begin jockeying for 2013 seats, Penske officials remained confident that Allmendinger would be back in the car next season. Sponsor Shell has been pleased with Allmendinger’s representation, and Penske officials likened his struggles to those of Brad Keselowski, who had a rough 2010 first season with the team but exploded last year with three wins and a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Now his future is clouded, and the timing couldn’t be worse as teams traditionally negotiate their driver lineups during the summer. Allmendinger is the fourth driver to be suspended — only the second at the Sprint Cup Series level — since NASCAR’s implemented the drug policy in 2009.
The previous three suspended drivers have not returned to competition. But, NASCAR has had crew members complete its rehabilitation program and return from a drug suspension since 2009.
Penske was not critical Sunday about NASCAR’s program.
“NASCAR’s got a good policy, I think it’s the right thing,” he said.