Comments on AJ Allmendinger reinstatement

NASCAR on Tuesday announced it has reinstated driver AJ Allmendinger following his completion of the sanctioning body’s Substance Abuse Policy Road to Recovery Program. Allmendinger was indefinitely suspended from the sport on July 24 after testing positive for a banned substance, and subsequently was released from his driving duties with Penske Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Below, SPEED analyst Larry McReynolds offers his perspective on the news:

On his initial reaction to Allmendinger’s reinstatement:
“I’m happy for AJ. I was very hard on him when everything was going down with his suspension and before he entered the ‘Road to Recovery’ because I don’t have a high tolerance for substance abuse because of my love for the sport. But if a driver is willing to commit himself to the ‘Road to Recovery,’ I’ll support him 100-percent. I’m tickled to death for AJ, although I think he should reevaluate who he surrounds himself with.

“He was reinstated rather quickly, and I think this is an example of this system working well. NASCAR has a defined line in the sand. They don’t care what the substance is. They don’t care how far over the line you are. But if you test positive for one of the banned substances, it’s an immediate suspension. We applaud that. But it is nice to know they also have a very good ‘Road to Recovery’ program. If an athlete is willing to accept that he tested positive for something, which AJ did, whether he knew what or how or even accepted it initially, and if he is fully committed, he can be reinstated rather quickly."

On whether the speed with which Allmendinger was reinstated will bolster his efforts to find a ride:
“I don’t know if will or not. It’s still a tough sell because as I’ve always said, you’re not trying to sell the driver to an owner like in most pro sports, you’re selling him to a sponsor. In a way, it’s the same thing with Kurt Busch. You’re not trying to sell him to an owner because there’s probably not an owner who wouldn’t grab him up. It’s just selling him to a sponsor that is the problem.

“What I think might be going on, though, and I talked to Robin Miller (SPEED open wheel reporter) earlier today about this before we even knew AJ was reinstated, is that AJ is under consideration for Roger Penske’s IndyCar ride. Roger has an open seat. I know Roger has offered it to a couple of drivers who have turned it down. AJ was in Fontana last weekend with Roger, and AJ came from open-wheel racing. That might be the best place for him right now. It might not be what he wants, but it probably is the best option for his career at the moment. What top rides are available in NASCAR? None at the moment. I truly think he’d be better off driving an Indy car for Penske than taking a middle-of-the-road ride in the Cup Series."

Matt Clark, SPEED NASCAR Analyst

“It’s positive for A.J. Allmendinger to have finished his prescribed course of treatment set forth by the program. It also speaks to NASCAR, and the fact that they provide a second chance, giving competitors the opportunity to get some treatment, and to allow them to have the opportunity to race again.

“Now, who will gamble on A.J. this early? Will a major sponsor? Will a major company gamble on him? It’s yet to be determined, but the fact that he’s done it in a timely manner – off the radar and on good behavior – it speaks positively of him, and how he’s handled a tough situation."

Are you surprised by how quickly he was reinstated?

“I am not because each treatment facility sets out a specific, prescribed treatment plan that fits the situation. They submit the program to NASCAR, but it’s based on their evaluations and A.J.’s response to the treatment."

Where does A.J. go with his career now?

“Short term, I just don’t see a Sprint Cup Series ride as an option. Honestly, these days, drivers looking for rides, if you can bring a sponsor or money, your chances are much better at finding a ride.

“I think he may have to start over or go back to his roots, which is open wheel. Then evaluate if he actually wants to come back to stock car racing. Does he want to come back to the Cup Series? I just think the landscape is sometimes so unforgiving, and I don’t know if he’ll ever be able to realize his dreams as a driver in the Cup Series."

Steve Byrnes, NASCAR Race Hub Co-Host

“It’s a pretty quick turnaround. It’s interesting though. This time of year, how are owners going to look at him? He’s obviously a talented race car driver, but what’s going to work against A.J. is the time of year. So many rides for next year have already been filled. Marketing campaigns are already being built, so it’s pretty late in the game.

“I thought it was great that Roger Penske invited him to go out to Auto Club Speedway in California, and he’s got a great personality. He wants to succeed at this. Nobody likes a comeback story better than I do; we’re a nation of wanting to see people get a second chance."

Where do you think he would be more comfortable? Open wheel or NASCAR?

“He had so much success when it was CART. He won races, but I think, just looking at him, he’s dedicated five years of his life to making it in NASCAR. He was making the moves he needed to make… Signing a one-year deal, like he did with Roger Penske, is tough. Any driver wants to know that the owner believes in him. If he makes a mistake, he can shake it off and come back to the next race. I just think being in a one-year deal was tough on A.J. I think it would be tough on anybody. There’s no security, and he had had a lot of tough luck.

“I don’t know if he’s better suited for open wheel cars, but there were so many flashes of brilliance in NASCAR. I think he has unfinished business here."

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