If you ask most fans talking heads, A.J. Allmendinger is toast at Penske Racing, and has probably kissed good-bye his one shot at a quality Sprint Cup ride. Drugs in NASCAR? Until now, at least as drivers go, it’s pretty sure ticket to obscurity.
Is it this time? Admittedly, it won’t be any fun to be A.J. Allmendinger having a “Come to Jesus” talk with The Captain. Roger Penske commands respect, and if his track record with former drivers- Kurt Busch comes to mind- is any indication, it may be all over for the former Champ Car ace. Penske already has former IRL champ Sam Hornish in the ride, and there’s a truckload of hungry young prospects with no baggage eager for the opportunity to score a top flight ride. No matter how friendly or repentant Allmendinger may seem, it stinks to be him.
Penske says he has “an open mind,” but what does that mean? With some, that phrase can be taken at face value. In the world of “sports speak,” its often code for, “I am drawing up my firing statement as we speak.” Making matters worse is the struggles A.J. had before all this came down, and his DUII while with Richard Petty.
Is it really that simple? With Penske, it may be; but there also remains the distinct possibility the outcome could be different. First of all, few really know exactly WHAT the stimulant is, and the circumstances under which it was consumed. Stimulants keep you “up” right? Perhaps the guy was fatigued, took something in just enough (or so he thought) of a strength to keep him going, and he took too much? It doesn’t make the man innocent, but it sure as shooting doesn’t make him a “speed freak” either. What it was and why does matter doesn’t it?
We’re also in uncharted water here. Unlike Jeremy Mayfield, who chose to fight, Allmendinger has submitted to NASCAR’s “Road To Recovery.” What that looks like is also likely to have a bearing. Again, if you think if this positive test result is due to a lapse in judgment, instead of a full blown addiction to a recreational drug, this also matters to the powers that be- from NASCAR to Penske to any potential employer.
There’s something else not mentioned so far concerning the future of A.J. Allmendinger. He is by no means the first figure in sports to test positive for a banned substance. Even if we assume the worst, there’s still hope for his career. Fans like redemption stories; some owners will stick their necks out to offer that second chance, and that goes for sponsors too. One look need look no further than baseball slugger Josh Hamilton. Drugs and alcohol killed the former number one pick’s career. Thankfully, he reached out for help, got off the drugs and the drink, someone took a chance on him, and he lived up to his potential. Hamilton has even suffered a couple of well-publicized relapses, and yet still, Hamilton picks himself up, brushes off the dust, and starts over again.
If it were up to yours truly, I would give him the chance. Easy for me to say, I have no skin in the game. By the same token, I could argue that other drivers have gotten away with far worse.
It may be a bit much to hope for if you’re an Allmendinger fan, but sometimes, things aren’t as simple as they seem. The bottom line is A.J. Allmendinger hasn’t yet qualified himself for NASCAR pariah status. We’re a forgiving society, and stories like those of Josh Hamilton and others demonstrate such stains can be cleaned. What’s next? It’s impossible to say. There’s still a chance for the once promising prospect and the part of us who like a happy ending want to believe that’s true. Most of us, at least some of us have been given another chance; some more than once. Some still falter, others make the most of it, and become those stories of redemption that inspire us, while also serving as a teaching moment when we’re tempted.
Other articles by Jim McCoy include:
Mythbusting: NASCAR Is A Redneck Sport
NASCAR Mythbusting: Drivers Aren't Athletes
Wanting The Best, But Expecting The Worst With A.J.
Jim McCoy is a TV and radio sports anchor living in Oregon with his wife and three kids. Jim also moonlights as a radio play-by-play man and writes about his true sports passion: NASCAR. To paraphrase, racing is a sport, the others are just games.