Penske drops AJ Allmendinger
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Suspended Sprint Cup driver AJ Allmendinger was released by Penske Racing on Wednesday.
Allmendinger, who drove the No. 22 Shell Penzoil Dodge, was indefinitely suspended last Tuesday after his "B" sample urine test supported an original test that was positive for amphetamines.
"I apologize for the distraction, embarrassment and difficulties that my current suspension from NASCAR has provided," Allmendinger said in a statement. "As I stated last week, I have begun NASCAR's Road to Recovery program and look forward to using those resources and its completion to compete again in NASCAR in the near future."
The release didn't come as a surprise. Team owner Roger Penske said Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that he planned to meet with Allmendinger this week, noting others in his organization who have failed drug tests have been terminated.
Even had Allmendinger not violated NASCAR's drug policy there was a good chance he wouldn't return tp Penske in 2013. He had a one-year deal and was 23rd in points at the time of his initial suspension.
Penske Racing officials said Sam Hornish Jr. will remain in the No. 22 for the foreseeable future. Hornish drove the past three races at Daytona, New Hampshire and Indianapolis that Allmendinger missed.
There are a couple of races in which Hornish was committed to a third Penske Cup car with sponsors that will have to be evaluated. Penske has said those races could be used to try out other drivers.
"Penske Racing fully supports NASCAR's substance abuse policy and we are disappointed with AJ's positive drug test results," Penske said in a statement. "AJ is a terrific driver, a good person and it is very unfortunate that we have to separate at this time.
"We have invested greatly in AJ and we were confident in his success with our team. The decision to dismiss him is consistent with how we would treat any other Penske Racing team member under similar circumstances. As AJ begins NASCAR's Road to Recovery program, we wish him the best and look forward to seeing him compete again in NASCAR."
Penske said he will evaluate his options for the No. 22 car in 2013. Among those expected to be interested in addition to Hornish are Joey Logano, Brian Vickers and possibly Ryan Newman if sponsorship can't be found for him at Stewart Haas Racing.
Logano is in the final year of his contract with Joe Gibbs Racing. Gibbs officials have said they want to re-sign him, but until sponsorship is found Logano said he's keeping all options open.
Roush Fenway Racing driver Matt Kenseth, according to multiple sources, will take over Logano's No. 20 team with primary sponsor Home Depot and likely Dollar General in 2013.
Penske Racing president Tim Cindric said he, Allmendinger and Allmendinger's business manager flew to Detroit to meet with Penske and other top management on Tuesday night. He said Penske explained there really were no options but dismissal based on company policy with others who have failed drug tests.
"He said, 'Look, I can't help you in this particular situation relative to going forward, but there will be a point and time -- I don't know how or when -- when I'll be there to help you,'' Cindric said.
"It's certainly not the news (Allmendinger) wanted. Nobody wins in this situation. But we needed to have closure. We just wanted to make sure he knew where we could so he could plan accordingly.''
Cindric admitted it will be tough for Allmendinger to get another top ride in NASCAR's top series based on what has happened if and when he's reinstated.
"It's going to be a bit of a mountain to climb for him to have another opportunity as good as this one,'' he said. "We realize that, but there is nothing we can do to help that other than go through steps to be reinstated and make sure we're able to express our support for him as an individual.''
Cindric said the decision to release Allmendinger was all Penske's.
"Internally, we have a zero tolerance policy,'' he said. "We don't think the drivers should be outside that policy. As much as we wanted it to be different, there was nothing we could do.''
Cindric said closure at this time gives Penske Racing more time to focus on 2013. While the hope is to have Hornish in the No. 22 the rest of this season and do well enough that he makes next year an easy decision, he said the process is wide open.
Cindric said the only potential conflict for Hornish this year is Talladega where he already was committed to sponsors to drive in a third Cup car.
"We'd love to see him in the car,'' Cindric said. "We also need to ensure we have results.''
On whether Allmendinger will be paid by Penske for the rest of the year, Cindric said, "The fair answer to that question, I've seen Roger's concern for individuals. I feel as though in all circumstances he's been fair. Only AJ can really explain to you whether he was fairly treated or not.''