AJ Allmendinger fails drug test

Updated: July 8, 2012, 11:52 AM ET
By Ed Hinton | ESPN.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- AJ Allmendinger was withheld from Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 and has been "temporarily suspended" for failing a drug test, NASCAR announced just 90 minutes before the start of the Sprint Cup race.

Allmendinger was replaced by Sam Hornish Jr. in the No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge.

Allmendinger
Allmendinger

Team owner Roger Penske said Sunday it's too early to reach any conclusions until getting the results of Allmendinger's second test in the next few days.

"You know it's a disappointment at this particular time, but we're going to wait and see what the second test results are before we make any comment or decisions. I don't think it's fair to him," Penske said outside the Team Penske pits at the Honda Indy in Toronto. He has three cars in the afternoon race.

Penske said he supports NASCAR's drug-testing policy and isn't sure whether the suspension will be a public-relations blow to his racing team.

"I think if you look at sports, things like this happen," said Penske, who arrived in Toronto on Saturday night. "It's unfortunate, but I don't want to really make a statement pro or con right now. I'm counting on the test being proper for him within 72 hours, and at that point they'll make a decision."

The team had also said it fully supported NASCAR's substance-abuse policy Saturday and promised to "work with NASCAR through this process" in a brief statement issued on its website.

Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR senior vice president for racing operations, read a statement and then declined to take any questions from the media.

Allmendinger "has been temporarily suspended from NASCAR competition based upon notification of a positive 'A' test NASCAR received from the medical review officer," O'Donnell read, citing rulebook clauses pertaining to "the NASCAR substance abuse policy.

"Pursuant to the rule book, Allmendinger has the opportunity to request within the next 72 hours that his 'B' sample be tested."

Allmendinger, 31, is winless in his fifth season of Cup competition and his first with the Penske team.

Penske's website statement said the team was notified Saturday afternoon that Allmendinger "was administered a drug test earlier this week, and those results tested positive.

"NASCAR has a strict drug testing program that Penske Racing fully supports," the team statement continued. "Penske Racing will work with NASCAR through this process and its next steps."

The "A" and "B" samples refer to what NASCAR calls a "split sample." That is, the specimen is split into separate containers for separate testing. The "temporary" in the NASCAR announcement of the suspension refers to the driver's option of having the "B" sample tested.

In past cases with other individuals, positive testing in both samples has led to indefinite suspension of drivers or crewmen.

Penske Racing president Tim Cindric said NASCAR notified the organization Saturday afternoon, and the immediate focus became getting Hornish back from North Carolina, where he was about to do a live television show on the Speed Channel.

Hornish finished 10th in Friday night's Nationwide Series race, and the team sent a plane to get him back to Daytona, where Allmendinger was scheduled to start eighth.

Hornish arrived about eight minutes before he needed to be in the car, and was aided by a police escort on the short drive from the Daytona airport. He finished 33rd.

"It's really been a whirlwind since we were notified, and we really just needed to get Sam back to Daytona," Cindric told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "We spoke briefly with AJ before he left, and we agreed we'd talk when we get back."

Cindric did not reveal details of the conversation with Allmendinger, and said the organization is still trying to digest the information.

Certainly there's no closure, and it's just not that simple of a situation. We need to let the process take care of itself. It's a situation we've never been in before, and when we were notified he failed the test, the next step really became getting Sam to Daytona and agreeing to table everything else until we're all back.

-- Penske Racing president Tim Cindric
on AJ Allmendinger's suspension

"Certainly there's no closure, and it's just not that simple of a situation," Cindric said. "We need to let the process take care of itself. It's a situation we've never been in before, and when we were notified he failed the test, the next step really became getting Sam to Daytona and agreeing to table everything else until we're all back."

Allmendinger's the most prolific driver since Jeremy Mayfield in 2009 was suspended for a failed drug test. Mayfield has fought NASCAR over the test, and has not raced a NASCAR event since.

Asked if Penske Racing is supporting Allmendinger, Cindric indicated the team is behind its first-year driver.

"He's our driver and that why it's important to understand all the facts," Cindric said. "It's very difficult to speculate on how it should be handled. On one side, we have personal relationships, and on the other, well, it's a business side. We've not been through this before, and we just really want to understand this some more."

Allmendinger was hired in late December by Penske to fill the seat that opened when Kurt Busch split with the organization. It's the most prolific ride of Allmendinger's career, and both driver and team seemed thrilled with the pairing even as Allmendinger has had his struggles in the No. 22 Dodge.

He was 23rd in the Sprint Cup standings heading into Daytona, where he won the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona sports car race in January shortly after his hiring at Penske.

As the team waited for Hornish, Penske officials briefly grabbed Kenny Wallace to be on stand-by just in case Hornish didn't make it in time.

Wallace was wearing one of Kevin Harvick's firesuits and had Allmendinger's helmet, and the team had changed the seat, shifter, the seat belts, the pedals and the steering column to suit Hornish.

"Well, that was drama," Wallace said. "It was a little uncomfortable for everybody."

Allmendinger in 2009 pleaded no contest in North Carolina to a misdemeanor charge of driving while impaired. He was given a 60-day suspended sentence, 18 months unsupervised probation and 24 hours of community service.

Allmendinger took responsibility a day after the arrest.

"Obviously it was my fault," Allmendinger said. "It was a bad decision. I wish I could take it back. I'd do anything to be able to take it back, but that's life. You can't. So all I can do is go out there and learn from it and be a lot better person from it, which I will be, and, hopefully, educate other people that you don't have to have a ton of drinks to (be) drunk."

Allmendinger drove for Richard Petty Motorsports at the time, and the team put him on probation through 2010 and fined him $10,000.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.