Team owner Roger Penske says he is awaiting the results of driver AJ Allmendinger’s "B" urine test before permanently filling the seat of the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge for the remainder of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
Allmendinger was given a random drug test at Kentucky Speedway on June 29, then received a call July 7 from NASCAR’s medical review officer saying he had tested positive and was temporarily suspended from competition. Penske racer Sam Hornish Jr. drove the team’s entry at Daytona and was back in the car this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
“Obviously, this situation is disappointing because of the circumstances,” Penske said Sunday. “I’ve said it before: I’m more concerned about the individual than the situation, because that’ll take care of itself. There’ll be facts and figures, and there’ll be an outcome. I think more importantly is, if the results go his way, meaning that he can get back in the car, he’ll be in the car at Indianapolis. If it’s not, then we’ll assess Sam’s availability."
That gives Penske two weeks to figure out the team’s next move. The Sprint Cup series is off next week before reconvening at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 29 for the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.
Penske acknowledged the team has options.
"(Sam is) running here (at New Hampshire)," the owner said. "We’ve had a lot of people who’ve contacted us who would like to get in the car. There’s a chance maybe for us to look at different drivers for the next several weeks, but that’s really not our plan.
"Our plan is to have AJ in, and then hopefully Sam will show that he wants to drive the car, and we’ll give him that opportunity."
Penske said he was returning from a trip overseas when he received a text notifying him of Allmendinger’s situation.
“So there was some discussion about timing,” Penske said. "I was on the plane, so I didn’t really get it till I landed. At that point it was a moot point, but he had texted me and wanted to talk to me.
“I’ve talked to him and told him there’s people who have issues that are things that you don’t want to have around yourself, but have worked through them and come out and they’re fine. He’s a tough competitor. We wouldn’t have had him in the car if we didn’t think that of him. I think at the end of the day, it’s a matter of getting the second answer, and we’ll move on from there.”
As of Sunday morning, the testing date of the "B" sample had not been scheduled.
“I’m staying out of it because it’s the individual,” Penske said. “AJ’s an independent contractor for us. NASCAR has a testing policy, which we believe is the right thing to do."
Penske said his company has performed 300 independent tests in the past year. Drivers are tested when they are hired, but after the initial test, Penske leaves the process up to NASCAR because the drivers are independent contractors.
"I went back and looked at our records," he said. "We did over 300 tests, within our shop, our truck drivers, people who have applied for jobs with us over the past 12 months, so it’s not something we take lightly. Based on that, we’ve got to see what the circumstances bring to the surface.”
Asked whether the company would expand to three cars in 2013, when Penske Racing moves to Ford, Penske replied, “What we really have to do is find who (is) going to be in the (No.) 22 car next year before we decide on a third car. Overall, I would hope this will kind of smooth out here over the next several weeks. We’ve got a couple of weeks between now and the race at Indianapolis.
“To me, if AJ can’t be in it, and . . . if we feel it’s the right thing to put (Hornish) in it, it would be great to see Sam at the Speedway in that car, because he was a winner there in 2006. I would say that he is a definite strong option. I wouldn’t say he’s a definite option. . . . If AJ’s out for so many races, would he be a candidate to go back in? I don’t know that. Those are all questions that you’d have to ask."
Allmendinger, 30, signed on to drive for Penske Racing in December. He was 23rd in the points standings after a rash of mechanical failures in the first 17 races. However, he scored consecutive finishes of ninth in his past two races. His best finish of the season was second at Martinsville Speedway.
A Los Gatos, Calif. native, Allmendinger began racing quarter-midgets when he was 8, moved up to go-karts at 11, competed in Formula Fords, Barber Dodge Pro Series, Champ Car Atlantics and Champ Car before joining Red Bull Racing’s debut in stock cars in 2007. He ran three Trucks races in 2006 to prepare for the transition to stock cars. In January, Allmendinger won the Rolex 24 race at Daytona International Speedway but has yet to win in NASCAR.
Penske has remained in contact with Allmendinger throughout the process.
“I’ve talked to him,” Penske said. “AJ is a positive young man . . . My communication with him is saying, ‘Look, we’re here, we’re anxious to get the results, we’re behind you, let’s stay that way, and we’ll deal with whatever the outcome is at the proper time.’
"I go back over so many years. I’ve lost drivers at races, which obviously is a lot worse than this situation. I deal with business every day. We have adversities. We have situations come up similar in business where we’ve had to deal with it. To me, we’re going to move on. We have a good team. . . . Personally, I’ve got to deal with it like I deal with everything else. I want to stay behind our people — that’s the most important thing — and we’ll deal with the circumstances around that as they come to us and we’ll see what we have to do."