Allmendinger may have to accept suspension

AJ Allmendinger needs to get back in a racecar. And soon. To do that, he might have to decide between fighting his recent NASCAR drug suspension and accepting whatever penalties and rehabilitation plan NASCAR hands down. The Penske Racing driver, who was suspended last week for failing a random drug test, awaits the results of his B sample after his A sample tested positive for what Allmendinger said was a stimulant.

NASCAR officials haven’t disclosed the drug Allmendinger tested positive for, and they haven’t issued any statement except for announcing that Allmendinger was suspended temporarily. The suspension is a statement in and of itself.

NASCAR didn’t have to suspend Allmendinger last Saturday, just hours before the Sprint Cup race at Daytona. But it invoked a rule in its substance abuse policy that allows it to suspend a driver before the B sample is tested if it believes such a move is urgent or that the safety or fairness of the event might be compromised.

Sure, a mistake could have be made during the test. But as far as we know, NASCAR hasn't rescinded a failed drug test in the past 20 years. Clearly, NASCAR saw something that concerned it enough to bench Allmendinger—even knowing that if it jumped the gun, it would have egg on its face.

If Allmendinger’s B sample is positive, he will be suspended indefinitely and must meet with a substance abuse professional to determine a program he must follow to be reinstated. The amount of time that would take, and any rehab required, would be determined once the substance abuse professional can analyze the extent of a problem, if any.

Considering Allmendinger’s stance that he never “knowingly" took a prohibited drug (NASCAR’s definition of a stimulant includes drugs such as methamphetamine, Ecstasy as well as amphetamine derivatives), his first instinct might be to challenge the drug test and fight NASCAR and its drug-testing program.

That’s what Jeremy Mayfield did, and he hasn’t driven a racecar competitively in the past three years. He lost his lawsuit against NASCAR because he signed away his right to sue when he signed the contract drivers must agree to in order to enter a Cup race.

In his lawsuit, Mayfield brought up several reasons why his drug test could have been a false positive for methamphetamines, while NASCAR staunchly argued that Mayfield’s claim that he tested positive because of a mixture of over-the-counter and prescription medication didn’t add up. That issue was never decided by the courts, so while Mayfield’s case left some doubt about whether the test was accurate, he also was never exonerated.

The big difference between Mayfield and Allmendinger is that Allmendinger is in the prime of his career with the best ride of his life.

Mayfield had already lost a competitive ride with Evernham Motorsports, along with rides at Bill Davis Racing and Haas CNC Racing, and was struggling with his own team. Sitting out and hoping to win a settlement or jury award didn’t necessarily damage his long-term earnings in the sport.

Mayfield, a former winning driver, was 40 at the time and was scrapping to keep his career going. He could hire lawyers and take on NASCAR — he was having trouble getting sponsors for his new team anyway and the disputed drug test turned out to be a career-ending blow.

But Allmendinger, at 30, could be a Sprint Cup driver for another decade if he can prove that he’s worthy of his Penske ride. He has just a one-year contract and needs to win races and run better — he’s 23rd in the standings — but he’s still considered a driver with potential and one that has endeared himself to sponsors.

The longer he sits out, the more time Penske has to evaluate other drivers—welcome back, Sam Hornish Jr.—that could replace Allmendinger.

Allmendinger can’t afford a legal battle. His best bet might be to go through a rehab program, which in some ways might seem like an admission of guilt, but he could argue that following NASCAR’s program was his only choice to salvage his career.

Fans have enough distrust in NASCAR, which dictates the lab where the tests are analyzed, that many might give Allmendinger the benefit of the doubt, even if NASCAR says that the drug was something more hard-core than a mixture of medications and supplements.

Allmendinger can overcome this latest blow to his career. Maybe he took medications and supplements that created a test result that showed elevated levels of a stimulant that NASCAR just couldn’t ignore.

If that’s the case, many will feel bad for Allmendinger but understand that NASCAR had the right to suspend him in the name of safety—that the rights of Allmendinger were trumped by NASCAR’s responsibility to ensure the safety of other competitors and fans.

Allmendinger probably could even attract some sympathy and generate a feel-good story by admitting that he made a mistake. He’s a likable guy and his fans might forgive him.

But for him to move on and salvage his career, he’s got to prove that he can contend in a Sprint Cup car. And he can’t do that while under NASCAR suspension and while fighting to protect his reputation.

People are going to believe what they want; some will believe NASCAR and what it says the test results showed and others will be skeptical of those in power and believe any explanation Allmendinger provides.

He’s in a tough spot. The sooner he gets this behind him, the better. It might be better for him to move on and put this in his rear-view mirror rather than having it define his stock-car career. Sporting News

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