Higdon, Ragan & Cindric Talk Allmendinger Suspension

The focus of tonight’s NASCAR Race Hub on SPEED was NASCAR’s indefinite suspension of Sprint Cup Series driver A.J. Allmendinger, following positive results on his ‘B’ sample.

Co-host Danielle Trotta and NASCAR analysts Bob Dillner, Matt Clark and Larry McReynolds all took part in tonight’s show. David Higdon, NASCAR Director of Integrated Marketing Communications; Tara Ragan, Vice President of Walldinger Racing and Tim Cindric, Penske Racing President all shared their thoughts on the situation.

Here are the quotes from those interviews…

David Higdon, NASCAR Director of Integrated Marketing Communications

Danielle Trotta: Without revealing the specific stimulant that A.J. tested positive for, can you tell us if you, NASCAR, know what that specific stimulant is, and if you’ve told A.J. Allmendinger and his team that information.

David Higdon: Actually, specific substance, not stimulant, that is something that they said. We don’t reveal the actual substance. But it’s part of the protocol that’s outlined in our rulebook, the medical review officer does in fact inform the competitor of the exact substance that he or she has tested positive for. That information is also conveyed to NASCAR.

Trotta: So, per the rulebook, NASCAR has told A.J. Allmendinger what specifically that banned substance is?

Higdon: Correct.

Trotta: David, now that A.J has agreed to enter the “Road to Recovery" program immediately. I think fans out there are wondering what exactly that program entails.

Higdon: Yes. In fact he just signed this afternoon… the letter that provides him the first steps toward the “Road to Recovery." He’s officially in the “Road to Recovery," and ultimately, he will be notified tomorrow by Aegis, our program administrator, about where to go for evaluation. So, that’s the first step in the “Road to Recovery" in terms of the initial evaluation and ultimately, they will then outline what the program should be. They will customize it for the individual, and depending upon what the substance was what they’ve learned, some of the counseling that they will do, some of the in-house treatment, it will all be outlined over the next few weeks as a competitor. We won’t know exactly what that is until a later date.

Trotta: Is there a timeline for how long this could take? Could it be weeks? Could it be six months? Can you give us any further indication?

Higdon: No, it really has to do with the individual situation surrounding the competitor, the substance, and ultimately, the evaluation done by the program administrator. They will have somebody who is an expert in substance abuse to look at that information, review the facts, (follow) through the process of the interview, and then determine what exactly the roadmap should be for him to return to competition. From NASCAR’s perspective, it’s what the program is set up to do, provide the exact roadmap for him to return to competition.

Trotta: Once the “Road to Recovery" program is completed, that’s when the re-instatement process begins back to NASCAR racing for A.J. What are the steps and the time table to be reinstated?

Higdon: The program and the administrator will send us a letter of recommendation for reinstatement, and at that time, we will outline those steps to do it. There will be ongoing testing. He will be under a different set of rules as regards to the testing that he’ll have to undergo. Obviously, there will be random testing as well, which is how the substance was initially found. So that will be the process for him getting back behind the wheel of a car, and competing in NASCAR, which is the single goal that we have here at NASCAR through the “Road to Recovery," provide a roadmap for him to return to competition.

Tara Ragan, Walldinger Racing Vice President

Danielle Trotta: Let’s clarify a few things, at this point, a few weeks ago rather, you identified that A.J. came up for a banned stimulant. Do you have any more details tonight? Has any testing proven exactly what stimulant it is?

Tara Ragan: As we understand it. No. They did specimen ‘B’ that came back positive as we issued. But, what we are waiting for is a follow-up packet that has some more detailed information. Other than that, we don’t know about that. There are things that we know that it’s not, but the way that these reports are broken down, I know there’s been a lot of questions about that, and it’s not being evasive – I know people have said it’s kind of secretive – it’s just a process we’re all trying to learn and be respectful of that process, but also try to read report. But there are things we know that it’s not – we haven’t been informed yet of what it is.

Bob Dillner: Tara, a lot of people want to know, when you do know what the substance is, will you actually make that announcement (of) what it is? Number two, can you rule out any illegal substances for us?

Ragan: Yes. You can rule out. It was not cocaine, not ecstasy, not marijuana, not alcohol. Those are not stimulants. Not meth amphetamine. The test does show that it wasn’t any of those.

Matt Clark: Given the fact that there (is) still a lot of information that you don’t know. Why enroll in the “Road to Recovery" and start the process not knowing exactly what the substance was?

Ragan: Two reasons. The first and foremost is the essence of time. A.J’s goal is to get back behind the wheel of the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Dodge as quickly as possible. So we made the decision this morning to do that, and exhaust every resource that we can, including those that have been given to us by NASCAR, so that we can make that process as quick as possible. We didn’t want to wait; we’ve already lost a lot of very valuable time. We didn’t want to sit here and wait. Like I said, we’re still waiting today, for some information. We hired an independent lab to stand by; so that we can start running some of those things, so that we know what happened. I’ll have a better idea. We don’t know how long that will take because those tests, as we’ve shown yesterday, take a long time to do. If we can use that resource for NASCAR, and that helps speed the process, why would we not do that? We also know that that process is there to protest drivers the most. What could it hurt? Maybe we’ll all learn something, but we also want to get that done as quickly as possible? We can do as many of those simultaneously as we can; we’re going to do that.

Larry McReynolds: Tara, you talked about losing valuable time, and I’m a racer, and I know that this is a delicate subject and the process has to be done right. But when I think about “The Road to Recovery" and A.J. Allmendinger’s future being in the hands of what this substance truly is, I think that it’s almost been three weeks since that first sample was taken. Why in the world does this take so long?

Ragan: I wish I could answer that question for you. I mean, nobody has had a more painful couple of weeks than we have, and A.J. has, in particular. As you know, being a racer, it’s like an eternity. I don’t know. Like I said, and even yesterday, when they were running the ‘B’ sample tests, I was like, “Why does it take so long to do all of that, and run all of this?" I’m not a toxicologist. I’m not a lab technician. So I don’t know the answers to that. One of the things that did take a long time, and what people had questions about was, why the re-tests took so long. One of the things that we have all discovered through this process is finding a qualified toxicologist, that is in fact independent, is a lot trickier than you think it is. The other component is, the Aegis Lab is not dedicated to just NASCAR. I think there’s a misconception that that’s a NASCAR lab. That is not. They do (the) NFL, law enforcement agencies, so that lab is running a lot of tests. And trying to fit in when they can do it, along with when our qualified toxicologist independent, can be there at the same time. To me, that was a big eye-opening experience and I had no idea that it was as tricky as it is.

Trotta: Tara, we know that there is testing available to identify what the substance is at a molecular level. You’re waiting for some of those results. Just to follow up, when you find out what that substance is specifically, will you be announcing that?

Ragan: Um… I honestly don’t know. I don’t see why we wouldn’t, you know. The answer is I don’t know. If I was giving an honest answer, I don’t know. But I don’t foresee a moment why we wouldn’t.

Tim Cindric, Penske Racing President

Danielle Trotta: We know that A.J. Allmendinger is going to start this ‘Road to Recovery’ program immediately. In your eyes, is there a glimmer of hope that once he completes this process, we’ll ever see him in a Penske car again?

Tim Cindric: You never give up hope in terms of A.J.’s situation. I think the best thing that he can do is to continue to do what he is doing, and work with NASCAR to understand what process and what steps he needs to take to be reinstated in the Cup garage. I think that’s where his priority needs to be right now.

Trotta: Roger Penske has been very patient in this process, wanting it to all play out. Now that A.J.’s suspension is indefinite, can you gauge Roger’s reaction for us? And the reaction of the 22 team, including A.J.’s crew chief, the team members, and how they are going to keep their focus moving forward.

Cindric: I think Roger has said all along that his biggest concern is really for more about the individual, than anything else. We as an organization are certainly very sympathetic to the situation that A.J.’s going through. I think that from a team’s perspective, it’s our job to try an insulate the team as best as possible and keep them as focused as possible, especially going on to one of the biggest races of the year.

Trotta: Can you gauge the reaction of Shell-Pennzoil at this point?

Cindric: Well, they are certainly a partner of ours that’s continued to have unwavering support for Penske Racing, and will continue to do so – I’m sure – because our relationship is much deeper than the situation. I can’t say enough about their support and their advice to our organization.

Trotta: We know that A.J. has signed a one-year deal for the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Dodge. At this point, is it fair to say that A.J. is still employed by your organization?

Cindric: That’s correct

Trotta: What’s your plan for the rest of the year in that 22 car moving forward?

Cindric: I think the situation is going to continue to be fluid. We’ve done our best to do what we can to prepare the cars as best as possible, by giving our guys as much leeway, and as much time to prepare. In announcing that Sam’s going to continue to drive the car at Pocono (Pa.), that continues to give our team enough time to prepare in the right way. Sam has certainly done a great job under difficult circumstances because he has to adapt to new people and new things. I think that he’ll continue to get more comfortable as we go through a couple of more races.

Trotta: Are you still working through some of the double-duty races where Cup Racing and Nationwide racing are in two different cities?

Cindric: For sure. The Pocono weekend is certainly one of those challenges that we’ll face, as the Nationwide cars are in Iowa. From a logistical perspective, it will be challenging, but it helps keep the continuity for us. It’s always been one that you can try to weight those different things, and that’s the conclusion that we’ve come to.

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