Allmendinger reinstated after completing program
18 September 2012
AJ Allmendinger's indefinite suspension from racing competition is over, with NASCAR officially confirming his reinstatement following the driver's successful completion of the series' Substance Abuse Policy Road to Recovery program.
Allmendinger tested positive for a stimulant - believed to be an ADHD prescription drug called Adderall - in a random drugs test that took place at Kentucky Speedway at the end of June, and was initially provisionally suspended on July 7.
Following a second test to confirm the original findings, Allmendinger was suspended indefinitely on July 24 and agreed to undertake NASCAR's mandatory treatment and rehabilitation program, which he reportedly completed at the end of August. He has since been waiting for the sanctioning body for formally certify his return to competition status, which came on Tuesday evening.
"I want to thank everyone for their support through this entire process," said Allmendinger. "I appreciate that NASCAR created the the Road to Recovery program, and am grateful for the opportunity to return to competition."
He becomes the first Cup driver suspended for a failed drugs test to earn reinstatement in the series.
Allmendinger told ESPN at the start of last month that the bespoke road to recovery program was treating his case as more stress management than drugs rehabilitation, and said this week that the process had proved beneficial to him in his approach to his work and career.
"The Road to Recovery program was really helpful to me in getting my priorities reset away from the race track," he insisted. "Honestly, that helped find my love of racing again and why I began racing in the first place. I'm looking forward to taking this experience and be better for it moving forward."
Talking to The Associated Press, he added: "I feel like I was educated on a lot of things and a lot of things about myself. I just needed to get my priorities straight and my life straightened out ... So much of what I was doing at the race track was dictating the person I was."
Even though he's now eligible to return to driving duties in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition or any of NASCAR's other race series, Allmendinger looks unlikely to make a rapid return behind the wheel.
As a matter of company policy, Penske Racing fired Allmendinger after the positive drugs test result was confirmed, with Sam Hornish Jr. getting the seat of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil Cup car in the short-term and the team signing Joey Logano to take over the car full-time in 2013.
However team owner Roger Penske has made it clear that that he would be open to working with Allmendinger again in the future, and even made a point of inviting Allmendinger to Fontana for last weekend's IZOD IndyCar Series finale where the team had been hoping to win the championship with driver Will Power, only to be foiled on the last lap by Ryan Hunter-Reay.
"I told AJ I wanted him to come to a race," said Penske on Saturday. "I thought it would be good for him to get out and see people here, talk to some of the team owners.
"He's certainly an option for people on the NASCAR side and the Indy side, he did a great job when you think about what he did in Champ Car," Penske added. "He could be an option for us, for sure."
"He's been amazing and such a great friend through this," said Allmendinger of his relationship with Roger Penske. "He's the guy I always wanted to please and my biggest regret is letting him down."
Fontana marked the first time that Allmendinger had broken cover and been back at a motor race since the furore over the drugs test erupted.
"I'm just happy to be back at a racetrack," said Allmendinger at the weekend. "At this point, I'm keeping all my options open for the future, and I'm open to racing anything," he added, which he reiterated when speaking to reporters on Tuesday after the announcement of his reinstatement.
"The first thing is what options are out there for me? I don't know the answer to that," he told The Associated Press on Tuesday, saying that he wasn't necessarily favouring either NASCAR or IndyCar at this point even though he still felt that he had "unfinished business" in stock car. "I definitely don't want to go out like that," he added.
As well as Penske, Allmendinger also has a possible way forward with Michael Shank, either in the MSR Indy team that the two of them are partners in, or in Shank's GRAND-AM team which won the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona in January with Allmendinger among the driver line-up.
Allmendinger's suspension from NASCAR competition covered GRAND-AM, and while it did not technically cover the IndyCar series the organisers of the open wheel championship had made it clear that they would not be happy to certify a driver to race if they were subject to disciplinary action or suspension in another competition.
That made Allmendinger's successful completion of the Road to Recovery program and formal reinstatement a necessity for the driver if he was to have any future in US motorsport. Now that this has happened - and remarkably quickly at that - the future is a lot brighter for the 30-year-old Californian.
The question now is whether his quick return will make it more likely that sponsors will be willing to partner up with him again in future and make his return to top-level professional competition feasible in the near future.
"I just know that it will be something I want to do," he said, summing about how he would make his choices. "What's fun for me. The best opportunity to go out there and do well. The best for my life as a whole in general."