Bruce Martin - Special to Motorsport.com
INDIANAPOLIS – Team owner Roger Penske confirmed he will talk with suspended driver A.J. Allmendinger this week regarding his fate after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver failed a second drug test last Tuesday.
Penske, who was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Crown Royal Presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard, said he supports Allmendinger’s efforts to enter a rehabilitation program but fell far short of guaranteeing he would have a ride in the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge when his suspension is lifted.
“We’re dealing with that situation and it’s obviously difficult for A.J. and difficult with the team,” Penske said. “I’m sure he will bounce back and we will deal with our next steps here next week. I’ve talked to A.J. almost every day this past week and I plan to get with him and see what his plans are and what our plans are. He has a lot of talent; he’s a good guy, but a mistake was made that you can’t go back and change. He will have to decide what path he wants to take and that will be apparent over the next week.
“The results are the results and we encourage NASCAR’s policies. We have the same policies within our company. He (Allmendinger) and I will determine his path moving forward. We’re trying to keep his spirits up but he realizes it’s a serious situation. I’ve said to him that there have been people a lot bigger than him that have had bigger issues that have bounced back.”
Penske said there are many different questions whether Allmendinger “keeps the ride of not.” Among those is team sponsor, Shell, which Penske admitted had to endure the Kurt Busch fiasco last year and Allmendinger was tabbed as a positive replacement to the ill-tempered Busch.
But failing a drug test has certainly brought much more negative
“Quite honestly our phone is ringing off the hook with drivers interested in running the No. 22,” Penske said. “I have a very open mind but I want to sit down and have a face-to-face with him to determine what best thing for the team is and what the best thing is for him. We have a lot invested in him and I want to see him land on his feet but I have to look at it from an overall standpoint, from a team, a sponsor and our policies.”
Penske admitted that if a member of the Penske Corporation had a similar issue he would be terminated but has yet to do that with Allmendinger because the driver is considered an “independent contractor.”
“We have released people who have had issues,” Penske said. “We randomly drug test people. We have done 300 tests in the last 12 months. Because he is an independent contractor he is not subject to company policy. There is our situation from a company situation and then the external situation from a commercial basis.
“What happened or didn’t happen, let’s put that aside. He has to face the facts. These are the facts so let’s move into a rehabilitation program. He becomes the example but it sends a real broad message through this garage area. I think that is a credit to the way NASCAR runs this. I think he understands that but I will do everything I can do help him move on here.”
Penske called Sam Hornish, Jr. a perfect replacement for Allmendinger in the No. 22 car while Allmendinger is suspended because he has improved in stock car racing and is sponsor friendly. Penske, however, had an arrangement to enter Hornish in a third car before Allmendinger’s suspension.
Hornish finished 16th in the Brickyard 400 with the other Penske driver, Keselowski, finishing ninth.
Penske has a history of standing by his drivers in adverse times. He did that with Helio Castroneves when he was on trial for Federal Income Tax Evasion in 2009.
“Helio wasn’t proven guilty but in this situation there has been a trial and the judge has said the driver has had a situation that doesn’t meet the rules so we have to evaluate that,” Penske said. “I told A.J. from the very beginning that, ‘You’re a young guy with a lot of talent and people bigger than you have made mistakes and come back and become a better person.’ I hope he rebounds and has a successful career because he is a terrific kid.
“But if he is in the car for next year is a discussion we wouldn’t have at this point. We had a one-year contract with him. We have to talk about how long he is going to be out and NASCAR’s decision on how many races he will miss. They haven’t told us that yet.”
On a lighter note, Penske scored his 16th victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a team owner on Saturday but it was his first in a NASCAR race as Brad Keselowski won the Nationwide Series Indiana 250. But it was the only one of his Indy victories where he wasn’t able to go to Victory Lane. Penske was returning from a business meeting and the Olympic Games in London.
“It was a big deal to do that with a NASCAR car but I wasn’t here and didn’t get the real feel of it,” Penske said. “We’re dealing with this situation with A.J. and we’ll let you know what the outcome is.”