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Gordon, Johnson rooting for an Allmendinger return

August 03, 2012, Seth Livingstone, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com

LONG POND, Pa. -- Jeff Gordon doesn't think NASCAR has seen the last of AJ Allmendinger.

"He's a fighter," Gordon said Friday. "I don't see him just turning away. I see him doing whatever he can to come back.

Allmendinger

"You hate to see it. It was a great opportunity for him to be at Penske, in that car. [The turn of events] was disappointing to see."

Allmendinger, suspended July 7 by NASCAR for failing a random drug test, was released by Penske Racing on Wednesday. He must complete a mandatory recovery program before he would be eligible to be reinstated.

"People like a comeback story," five-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson said, "and if AJ's committed to the process and getting back I'm sure there will be some opportunities.

"I don't think it's going to be the one he wants to start, but over time, I'd assume he could get back to a good spot."

One thing no one can gauge is the response to a driver coming back from the adversity Allmendinger faces.

"We don't have anyone else to really base it off -- [a driver] coming coming back to the sport [in order] to get a feel for corporate involvement, team owners' response -- how that's going to go for him," Johnson said.

"In that car he was developing at a great pace and showing plenty of speed and [was] very competitive. ... Time will tell."

Toyota driver Denny Hamlin sees a "tough road" ahead for Allmendinger.

"I think he'll be back in a Cup car," Hamlin said. "[But] will it be a good Cup car? I don't think so.

"... He'll get an opportunity, but it's just so hard now. When champions of our sport like Matt Kenseth can't find sponsors ... it's going to be a real tough road to get back where you were. He had a real good ride in that 22 car. Companies are just not willing to take the risk like they used to on a young driver, much less one with a bad history."

Hamlin indicated he wouldn't have a problem racing side-by-side against Allmendinger.

"NASCAR is not going to let him back unless they feel like he's 100 percent ready," Hamlin said

In a release issued Tuesday, Allmendinger apologized for "the distraction, embarrassment and difficulties" his suspension created. "I have begun NASCAR's Road to Recovery program," he said, "and look forward to using those resources and its completion to compete again in NASCAR in the near future."

For now, Sam Hornish Jr. is replacing Allmendinger in the No. 22 Dodge. It remains to be seen what Penske Racing will do for the long haul. Former Penske driver Ryan Newman and Brian Vickers are among the possibilities.