Allmendinger back in Cup with full-time ride

Less than 14 months after a devastating blow to his career, AJ

Allmendinger reclaimed a full-time ride in the Sprint Cup

series.

JTG Daugherty Racing announced Saturday that Allmendinger will

take over the No. 47 car from Bobby Labonte next season, capping

his comeback from a positive drug test in July 2012 that resulted

in a NASCAR suspension and losing his job with Roger Penske’s

Sprint Cup team.

”I didn’t deserve a second chance,” Allmendinger said during a

news conference at Atlanta Motor Speedway. ”But I worked really

hard to get there.”

He went through a NASCAR-mandated treatment program and managed

to land a handful of one-off Cup rides, in addition to getting a

chance from Penske to drive in a few IndyCar events. Allmendinger

competed in the Indianapolis 500, led 23 laps and finished seventh

– a performance he calls ”probably the biggest moment of my

career.” He also won two road races in the NASCAR Nationwide

Series driving for Penske.

Allmendinger landed with a one-car team that includes former NBA

star Brad Daugherty among its owners, having persuaded his new

employers that he’s improved as a person since a positive test for

the prescription drug Adderall.

”It’s really not hit me what happened the last 13 or 14

months,” Allmendinger said. ”More than anything, I wouldn’t

change any of it. I feel so good about it now. It’s taken a lot of

hard work to get where I want to be in this sport.”

With Labonte, the 2000 Cup champion, enduring a tough season,

Allmendinger was tapped to drive the car at Kentucky and Watkins

Glen. He’ll be behind the wheel again Sunday night at Atlanta Motor

Speedway and continue to fill in as needed while Labonte recovers

after breaking three ribs in a bike riding accident near his North

Carolina home.

”Bobby’s pretty banged up right now,” said Tad Geschickter,

another of the team’s owners. ”He’s got another doctor’s

appointment Monday. He may be a game-time decision (next weekend at

Richmond), but Bobby Labonte’s burning passion is to drive the car

and see this season through the end.”

Allmendinger knows he’ll race the No. 47 Toyota at Kansas and

the season finale at Homestead, and any other experience he gets

will provide a head start on 2014.

”I don’t want to get more races to push him out,” Allmendinger

said. ”He’s a Hall of Famer. I’m here to do whatever Tad wants,

whether it’s next week or here and there. Of course, I want to

drive. But I don’t want to do that at the expense of somebody

else.”

Allmendinger already feels like he’s hit the jackpot.

”It’s just a great feeling to be back,” he said. ”In a way, I

feel like I’m playing with house money. I didn’t feel like I would

ever be back here.”

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