Owner to meet AJ Allmendinger
INDIANAPOLIS -- Team owner Roger Penske said he will meet with suspended driver AJ Allmendinger this week to discuss how they move forward as an organization.
Allmendinger was suspended indefinitely on Tuesday after his second urine sample confirmed the first sample that tested positive for amphetamines earlier this month.
At this point, from my perspective, I have a very open mind, but I want to sit down face to face with him to determine what's the best thing for the team, what's the best thing for him.” -- Roger Penske, on his upcoming meeting with AJ Allmendinger
The 30-year-old driver has enrolled in NASCAR's Road to Recovery program that typically takes 4-5 months to be eligible for reinstatement, meaning his 2012 season is for all intents and purposes finished.
Penske said Sunday he has released Penske Racing employees that have failed the company testing program in the past. He said the difference with Allmendinger is he's an independent contractor who was tested by NASCAR, not the organization, and sponsors are involved.
Penske declined to comment on whether there was any possibility Allmendinger would return to the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Dodge in 2013, but he did say he has a "very open mind.''
"There are so many questions: does he keep the ride or not?'' Penske said before the Brickyard 400. "We don't know when he's going to be back. We have sponsor obligations. There's lots of things happening.
"At this point, from my perspective, I have a very open mind, but I want to sit down face to face with him to determine what's the best thing for the team, what's the best thing for him. We have a lot invested in him. I want to see him land on his feet. I've got to look at things from the overall standpoint.''
Penske said Sam Hornish Jr., who was in the car on Sunday at Indianapolis as well as next week at Pocono, likely will remain the driver for most of season moving forward for the sake of continuity with the team and sponsor.
Penske said he must factor into the plans a couple of races in which Hornish already was scheduled to be in a third Penske Cup car. He said those races might be used to try out another potential driver for next season, reminding his phone has rung off the hook from drivers looking for rides.
"We talked to the sponsor,'' Penske said of keeping Hornish in the car for most of the season. "We think that gives us the most chance to see how Sam develops. Then as we get further down the road, if we want to make a change, we can do that.''
Penske stood behind IndyCar star Helio Castroneves a few years ago when the driver faced possible jail time for tax evasion. He said this situation is different.
"Helio wasn't proven guilty until guilty,'' he said. "Unfortunately in (Allmendinger's) situation, there's been a trial and the judge has said the driver has had a situation which doesn't meet the rules. We have to evaluate that.''
Penske said he told Allmendinger from the start he's a young driver with a lot of talent, and "bigger people than you have made mistakes and come back and have been able to benefit from the experience and be a bigger and better discussion.''
"That would be my discussion today or tomorrow (with Allmendinger),'' Penske added. "I hope that he'll rebound and have a successful career, because he's a terrific kid.''
But Penske didn't indicate whether Allmendinger could rebound with his organization.
"That would be a discussion we wouldn't have at this point,'' he said. "We had a one-year contract with him. We've got to evaluate that. Talking about next year, we've really got to talk about how long is he going to be out, what's going to be NASCAR's final decision on number of races.
"I don't know that. NASCAR hasn't communicated that with us.''
Penske said he has talked to Allmendinger almost every day to "try to keep his spirits up.''
"He realizes it's a serious situation,'' Penske said.