News & Media

Penske, Allmendinger to meet in coming week

July 29, 2012, David Caraviello,

INDIANAPOLIS -- AJ Allmendinger may get some idea of his future with Penske Racing in the coming week, when he meets face-to-face with car owner Roger Penske to discuss his standing in the organization in the wake of his suspension for a positive drug test.

Allmendinger has been suspended indefinitely by NASCAR for failing a random drug test June 30, and last week agreed to participate in a recovery program the sanctioning body deems necessary for reinstatement. Teammate Sam Hornish Jr. piloted Allmendinger's usual No. 22 car Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, just as he's done in the past two Sprint Cup events.

Allmendinger's business manager has said the driver tested positive for amphetamines, and it is unclear how long his recovery program will last. This week Allmendinger will meet with Penske to discuss his future with the organization, which the car owner said has been deluged with telephone calls in regard to the No. 22 car. Allmendinger, who replaced Kurt Busch on short notice after last season, has only a one-year contract with the team.

"There are so many questions on, does he keep the ride, does he not. We don't know when he's going to be back. We have sponsor obligations. He has a year contract with us. There are a lot of things happening," Penske said Sunday after the drivers' meeting preceding the Brickyard race.

"Quite honestly, our phone is ringing off the hook with people who are interested in the ride in the 22. At this point, from my perspective, I've got a very open mind. But I want to sit down with him, which is the only fair way to do it, and determine what is the best thing for the team and what is the best thing for him. Because obviously, we have a lot invested in him to this date, and he has a lot invested in the sport, and I want to see him land on his feet. But I've got to look at things from the overall standpoint. There are so many factors."

Penske said he conducts drug testing within his own company. "We have released people who have had issues with drugs," he added. Allmendinger as an independent contractor is not subject to Penske's drug-testing policy, but the car owner said one factor would be how he might handle a similar situation with a regular employee within his company. "We really have to weigh that in," he said.

Penske, who claimed his first NASCAR victory at Indianapolis when Brad Keselowski won the track's inaugural Nationwide Series event on Saturday, said he's spoken with Allmendinger almost every day since news of his positive test first surfaced July 7.

"We haven't gone silent," he said. "We've talked to him every day, and tried to keep his spirits up, but he realizes it's a serious situation. But I said to him, there are people a lot bigger than you are who have had serious situations and bounced back. Let's take it as a speed bump and see where we go from here."

In addition to Allmendinger's fate, there's also the question of what to do with the No. 22 car. Hornish is slated to drive the vehicle again next week at Pocono, but Penske said he has a commitment from sponsors to field a third Sprint Cup car in some races later this season, and Hornish would be behind the wheel of that entry. There's also the factor of Hornish's standing in the Nationwide Series, where he's 28 points behind championship leader Elliott Sadler, and in three weeks facing a Montreal race that is separate from the Sprint Cup event at Michigan.

It all leaves open the possibility that Penske may put another driver in the car. But those details have yet to be worked out, and it seems clear sponsor Shell/Pennzoil will have a say in the decision. "We don't want this thing to be a rotating seat," Penske said. "That doesn't help us, either. It hurts us as far as our continuity with a sponsor. So we've got to take their input very seriously."

In the meantime, Allmendinger prepares for a meeting with his car owner that promises to be difficult on both parties involved. "I hope that he'll rebound and have a successful career, because he's a terrific kid," Penske said. "It almost feels like it's one of your kids. That's what makes it so tough."