Those of you who who have read these pages regularly know that yours truly has been following the story of A.J. Allmendinger closely. It’s hard to explain why. Perhaps spiritual beliefs fuel an interest in redemption stories, maybe it’s because in my own way, I was A.J. Allmendinger once. Whatever the case, a new chapter is about to unfold in his story.
Many have written off the young racer’s career. Even before his positive tested for a banned substance (Allmendinger says it was the drug Aderall, a medication for ADHD), A.J.’s career in NASCAR had been long on promise and short on delivery. With the unspectacular resume and the blemish of a drug-related suspense, it was assumed Allmendinger would be as attractive to an owner as the Ebola virus. Would you want a driver with a “drug” suspension marketing your product at the track? Most assumed the answer would be in the negative.
What’s more, there’s really no track record of drivers landing a decent ride after such a ordeal. A suspension of this nature generally marks the driver as a pariah. Don’t forget though, just about every story has played out a little differently and A.J.’s story will be different than those before him.
First of all, once he got past the denials, Allmendinger has fessed up, signed up and followed through. There’s been no ugliness through this, not even the release of Allmendinger from his ride at Penske. And let’s not kid ourselves, if Adderall was the culprit, it doesn’t carry the same stigma as pot, cocaine or meth.
Speaking of “The Captain,” Roger Penske has said he would consider re-hiring A.J. With his background as an open wheel racer, Penske sees Allmendinger as viable for either an Indy car ride or a return to NASCAR. It’s by no means a sign of things to come for the 31-year old, but it says something about what the respected owner sees in the driver.
Don’t be so sure a sponsor wouldn’t take a chance on A.J. No, it would be a hugely bad idea to get him sponsored by say, an energy drink company, a pharmaceutical company, or anything that’s within two degrees of Allmendinger’s past indiscretions (including a past drunk driving charge). I could go on, and there is a list of bad matches at the moment. On the other hand, how about a tool company? Something technology related? An oil company? It would take someone willing to take a bit of a risk; there’s always a chance that one who has made bad choices before could yet slip up again. Look at it another way, imagine you are a potential sponsor with a big heart; how would it be if Allmendinger made a major comeback and became a winner a la Josh Hamilton? It stands be a public relations coup as much as it does a blunder.
As a society, we don’t take well to being lied to as a matter of practice, but we tend to be forgiving, thinking of the Michael Vick story, and others. He’ll face critics, he will get heckled, but surely Allmendinger knows this comes with the territory and he will be prepared to face it. What’s more, Allmendinger must truly be repentant. If you understand repentance as turning and walking the other way, Allmendinger will have to display a maturity that as been missing from time to time.
Thus far, history is not repeating itself in the matter of A.J. Allmendinger’s suspension from NASCAR, and his re-instatement. Heck, even his relationship with his prior employer is different. A.J. Allmendinger has the opportunity to become a new success story. The pen is in his hands. As a human being, one can only hope he uses it wisely.
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Jim McCoy is a radio and television sports reporter and producer in Southern Oregon, where he makes his home with his wife and three children. Jim is also a radio play-by-play announcer for high school football, baseball and basketball. He was recently named Oregon Association of Broadcasters 2012 Sports Announcer of The Year- Non-commercial Division