Suspended driver A.J. Allmendinger said Wednesday that he will participate in NASCAR’s substance-abuse recovery program, a sign that he wants to get back to racing as soon as possible and avoid a fight over the accuracy of his failed drug test.
NASCAR suspended Allmendinger indefinitely after a test of his backup urine sample conducted Tuesday confirmed an initial positive test in late June. The series has not identified the substance; Allmendinger has said he tested positive for a stimulant he has not identified, but insists he did not knowingly ingest a banned substance.
Penske Racing president Tim Cindric said the team has no reason to doubt Allmendinger’s assertion. It isn’t clear whether that will be enough to save his job.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Cindric said team officials plan to meet next week to discuss Allmendinger’s future.
“Certainly, we have to try to understand how this all plays out and how it affects not only his future, but how it affects a lot of the various programs that we have going,” Cindric said. “And it has a knockdown effect in a lot of different ways that we’re going to take some time to analyze, and not really have a conclusion to that here in the next few days.”
Allmendinger has hired an independent laboratory to help him determine how he might have tested positive. Cindric said team officials “don’t have any reason not to believe” his explanation that he doesn’t know what triggered the positive test.
“I think he shares as he understands,” Cindric said. “I think there’s a process that he has to go through to understand. But on our end, no, I wouldn’t say that we’re frustrated with his process. Because it’s his career that’s at stake, and he has to determine what the best process is for him.”
Allmendinger’s commitment to participate in NASCAR’s anti-drug program means he will be evaluated by a substance-abuse professional who determines a path to reinstatement that may include counseling and rehabilitation.
“While we await further information from testing to determine the cause, we have notified NASCAR that A.J. will participate in the Road to Recovery Program starting immediately,” according to a statement issued by Allmendinger’s business manager, Tara Ragan. “As we have stated earlier, we respect NASCAR’s drug testing policies. They are first and foremost in place to protect drivers.”
Allmendinger is the second Sprint Cup Series driver suspended under the tightened policy implemented in 2009. Jeremy Mayfield was the first driver, and he unsuccessfully sued to have the results overturned. Court documents showed that Mayfield tested positive for methamphetamine.
NASCAR applauded Allmendinger’s decision.
“We’re very pleased that A.J. Allmendinger has chosen to participate,” NASCAR spokesman David Higdon said. “As we have with other competitors, we look forward to the day when the program administrator recommends him for reinstatement.”
Cindric said Penske Racing officials don’t know anything about what substance Allmendinger tested positive for beyond what he and his representatives have said publicly.
“They’re the only ones that have access to that information,” Cindric said. “We’re not notified. At the end of the day, we all have a set of rules, we all agreed to abide by those rules, wherever they are, on track or off track. And the situation with A.J. was in violation of those rules. We don’t all always agree with what the rules are in any sport, but the facts are those are what we signed up to do, and that’s what we’re accountable for.”
Cindric didn’t take issue with NASCAR’s drug policy.
“We certainly support their policies,” Cindric said. “And only A.J. can tell you what the situation is and how it occurred. I couldn’t tell you how it got to this point. Only he can tell you that.”
And while Cindric and team owner Roger Penske both called Allmendinger on Tuesday night after NASCAR announced his suspension, their expressions of personal support don’t necessarily guarantee his professional future.
“We’ll sit down next week as a group,” Cindric said. “Our focus right now is to try and win one of the biggest races of the year, the Brickyard, and that would certainly help this organization in terms of morale and that type of thing. On the flip side, we have Brad (Keselowski) and that group on the 2 car that certainly are in position to challenge for a championship. We can’t lose sight on that because of this situation, and it’s our job to try and isolate our guys as best as possible to keep them focused on the job at hand.”
Cindric would not say whether Allmendinger was being paid by the team during his suspension. And while the team hasn’t formally banned Allmendinger from its race shop, Cindric made it clear that the driver probably was better off staying away for the time being.
“I think it would be a distraction for anybody,” Cindric said. “We haven’t really discussed whether he’s allowed or not allowed. But there’s other things that he probably needs to focus on right now.”
The team said Sam Hornish Jr. will drive the No. 22 car this weekend at Indianapolis and next weekend at Pocono. Hornish has filled in for Allmendinger in the past two Sprint Cup Series races.
“Well, it’s under difficult conditions, but any time that you’re able to have the opportunity to get back in Cup car at the highest level, I think it’s a good opportunity for Sam,” Cindric said. “I think that he’ll do everything he can to make the most of it.”