Allmendinger and Penske continue a remarkable journey

Eight months removed from the biggest mistake of his life, AJ Allmendinger understands just how extraordinary second chances are – especially coming from the man who was forced to fire him. Before the 2012 season even started, Allmendinger had attained a lifelong dream. He was hired to drive team owner Roger Penske's #22 car in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. After 17 races in the Penske ride, his career was in shambles, as Allmendinger fell victim to a singular lapse in judgment and to a random drug test, administered at Kentucky Speedway, that discovered amphetamine in his system. Penske had no choice but to dismiss the 31-year-old driver after a "B" sample confirmed the results of the initial test. But Penske did so reluctantly, and since then the car owner, convinced that Allmendinger's mistake was a one-time occurrence, has been working to help his former driver repair a shattered dream.

After completing NASCAR's Road to Recovery program last year, Allmendinger earned reinstatement to NASCAR competition and competed in four Cup races in James Finch's #51 Chevy. In that same car, Allmendinger will make his 2013 Cup debut Sunday at Phoenix. Allmendinger also is schedule to drive Finch's car on Mar. 17 at Bristol and Mar. 24 at Auto Club Speedway [Allmendinger was scheduled to run Martinsville, but Ryan Truex will run the #51 there as Allmendinger will be in Alabama]. But the five-time Champ Car winner has other options, thanks to Penske. When details are finalized, Allmendinger will drive for Penske in IndyCar races at Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Ala., at Long Beach, Calif., and in the Indianapolis 500.

While Cup drivers were practicing for the Daytona 500, Allmendinger was two hours away in Sebring, Fla., testing an IndyCar with Penske drivers Will Power and Helio Castroneves. In a matter of hours, he was running competitive lap times. Though Penske recognizes Allmendinger's talent behind the wheel, the car owner feels a fondness for the driver that goes far beyond lap times and race wins. For his part, Allmendinger has difficulty believing his good fortune. "It means the world to me," Allmendinger said. "It still kind of blows me away that he cares about me that much. I feel like I'm one of the luckiest people in the world, because that's a guy that you want on your side." NASCAR Wire Service

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