NASCAR team owner Roger Penske will meet with suspended driver A.J. Allmendinger this week to discuss his future with the team.
Speaking to reporters at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway before Sunday’s Brickyard 400, Penske acknowledged that there were no guarantees Allmendinger would get his ride in the No. 22 car back once he has completed a NASCAR-mandated recovery program – Allmendinger’s only path to return from his indefinite suspension for a violation of NASCAR’s substance abuse policy.
”There’s so many different questions on, `Does he keep the ride? Does he not?”’ Penske said. ”We don’t know when he’s going to be back. There are sponsor obligations. He has a year contract with us. So there’s lots of things happening. And quite honestly, our phone is ringing off the hook with people who are interested in the ride in the 22.”
Allmendinger was suspended July 7 after he tested positive in late June.
NASCAR extended his suspension indefinitely this week after his backup urine sample confirmed his initial positive test. NASCAR has not said what substance Allmendinger was suspended for, but his business manager has said it was an amphetamine. Allmendinger has said he didn’t knowingly ingest a banned substance and has hired an independent laboratory to help determine what caused the positive test.
”I have a very open mind, but I want to sit down face to face with him, which is the only fair way to do it to determine what is the best thing for the team and for him,” Penske said. ”We have a lot invested to him to this date, and he’s invested a lot in the sport. I want to see him land on his feet. … There are so many factors. Our policies, you have people within your company if something like this would happen, what action would you take?”
Penske said his employees are subject to random drug testing and he has released employees who have tested positive in the past.
But Penske said Allmendinger is considered an independent contractor, not a full-time employee, and isn’t necessarily subject to the same policies.
”I think we have to take a look at that,” Penske said. ”I mean, there’s our situation from a company perspective on the rules and policies that we have internally. And then there’s the external situation, when you’re dealing with the commercial side of our business, (which) is different. That has to be weighed in also.”
Penske said he told Allmendinger that other people with higher profiles have bounced back from similar career-threatening issues.
”I certainly didn’t want to see this happen,” Penske said. ”Bigger people than you have made mistakes and come back and been able to benefit from the experience and be a bigger and better person. I hope that he’ll rebound and have a successful career because he’s a terrific kid. And it almost feels like it’s one of your kids. That’s what makes it so tough.”
Penske acknowledged that Allmendinger would serve as an example.
”It sends a real broad message across this garage area, which I think is one of the great things about NASCAR: There’s very few irregularities of this type that we’ve seen over the last couple of years,” Penske said. ”You look at other sports, stick and ball sports, there’s other things, and I think that’s a credit to the way NASCAR runs it. And to me, unfortunately, he becomes an example. And we’ve got to move on and I think that he understands that, and I’m going to (do) everything I can to (put) one thought in his mind: Let’s move on here.”
Sam Hornish Jr. is filling in for Allmendinger at least through next weekend’s race at Pocono, and potentially beyond that.