NASCAR

Team owner wants driver when ready

A.J. Allmendinger
AJ Allmendinger has parted ways with Penske Racing.
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Lee Spencer

Lee Spencer is the Senior NASCAR Writer for FOXSports.com. She has provided award-winning coverage of auto racing over the last 15 years. Spencer has lent her expertise to both television and radio and is a regular contributor to SiriusXM Radio and the Performance Racing Network. Follow her on Twitter.

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What’s next for AJ Allmendinger?

Allmendinger, 30, received the news from team owner Roger Penske on Tuesday night that his services would no longer be needed in the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Dodge.

The dismissal came one week after Allmendinger was suspended indefinitely for violating NASCAR’s substance-abuse policy. The driver tested positive for amphetamines from a sample taken at Kentucky Speedway on June 29.

During a short telephone interview with FOXSports.com on Wednesday, Allmendinger expressed regret as well as gratitude for the outpouring of support from fans, which he acknowledged “helped me get through all of this.” He said he has met with the administrator for NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program and was given a "road map" to follow throughout the process.

Team owner Michael Shank, who campaigns in the NASCAR Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series and won the Rolex 24 with Allmendinger behind the wheel at Daytona International Speedway on Jan. 29, said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he would field a car for the driver once he satisfies the sanctioning body’s requirements for reinstatement.

“He has to go through the Road to Recovery — which we all accept and we all agree with,” Shank said. “That process, I’m told, can take anywhere from a month to three months. We’ll be testing in Daytona in October and November with the Daytona prototype and some new stuff we have from Ford Racing coming. If that’s the case, as soon as NASCAR says it’s been satisfied, we’ll get him back in.

“I don’t want him to sit around too much. I want him to stay fresh. He’s got the whole karting thing, so he will get to kart, I think. But I don’t know, maybe three months, from what I’m hearing.”

Shank said he was immediately drawn to 'Dinger. The relationship between the driver and the Columbus, Ohio-based owner grew from the Rolex Series to the extension of an IndyCar team that was expected to debut in the Indy 500 before a lack of engine support sidelined the team.

“He’s just that guy. He’s the guy that when he walks into a room, you want to be around,” Shank said. “He could have left me six years ago when our cars were breaking and we were letting him down. And he never once even thought about it. To be totally frank with everybody, AJ has raced for me the last couple of years for dang near nothing — damn near zero dollars were paid to AJ or his group and he still drove for me.

“I still think the guy’s character should never be questioned. And I’m going to support him. Hopefully, he can drive my DP (Daytona Prototype class) as soon as possible. In a fantasy world, I’d love to have him drive my Indy car — that he’s a part of. I just want to tell all the fans, ‘Stick with AJ. Do not give up on AJ. He’s a good guy. He’s fun to be around and he always takes time for the fans. I’ve never seen him turn a fan away.' ”

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Shank defended Allmendinger’s decision to maintain a low profile at this point because of the serious nature of the situation. However, Shank believes it will be just a matter of time before the driver “confronts” the issue similar to previous challenges.

“I wouldn’t run from it and he’s not the kind of guy to run from it from what I’ve seen,” Shank said. “I wouldn’t see why he wouldn’t. His group had to be very, very careful how they approached every single item in this situation based on the ’09 (Jeremy) Mayfield debacle. I think they wanted to make sure that they didn’t harm him or Penske Racing in any way. They’ve been very careful — maybe too careful? I don’t know that. But I don’t think so. I think they’ve handled it pretty damn well.

“I think at some point, he’ll come out when he’s ready. You got to remember, this is all this guy does for a living. This is on pins and needles and this is as raw as you can get right now. And he wants to get out and back on a track as far as I can tell right now.”

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