Tony Stewart supports Allmendinger

Updated: August 4, 2012, 11:27 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

LONG POND, Pa. -- Three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart says suspended driver AJ Allmendinger deserves another chance in NASCAR's top series.

The owner-driver of Stewart-Haas Racing also understands it will be tough for Allmendinger to re-establish confidence with a team and sponsors to get that opportunity after violating NASCAR's substance-abuse policy.

"It's not a position we really have had to deal with much in this series," Stewart said on Friday at Pocono Raceway. "He's a talented driver and a good guy. He deserves to be in this series.

"Whatever he has to do to make those steps happen, he has the talent and skill to do it, and he deserves another chance."

Allmendinger, 30, is only the second Cup driver in the past 20 years to be suspended for failing a drug test. The other was Jeremy Mayfield, who remains suspended.

Allmendinger was released by Penske Racing on Wednesday, about a month after testing positive for amphetamines. He still hasn't spoken publicly but has entered NASCAR's "Road to Recovery" program, which he must complete before he can be reinstated.

The program typically takes three to five months. Then comes the hard part: finding a team that will give him a second chance.

"It's going to be tough," five-time champion Jimmie Johnson said. "There's no doubt about it. We don't have anyone else to really base it off of coming back into the sport to get a feel as to the corporate involvement, team owner's response, and how that's going to go for him.

"But in the car he was developing at a great pace and showing plenty of speed and was very competitive. I think people like a comeback story, and if A.J. is committed to the process and getting back, I'm sure there will be some opportunities. I don't think it's going to be the one that he wants to start, but over time I would assume he could get back to a good spot.''

Four-time champion Jeff Gordon agreed.

"AJ is a friend of mine,'' he said. "I've always been a fan of his ever since his open-wheel runs in the CART Series. You hate to see it because it was a great opportunity for him to be at Penske in that car. It's disappointing to see.

"I'm as anxious as anybody else to know all the details as to what happened, what went wrong. He's a fighter. I don't see him just turning away. I see him doing what he can to come back."

Denny Hamlin said he would have no problem being on the track with Allmendinger.

"I think he'll be back in a Cup car," Hamlin said. "Will it be a good Cup car? I don't think so. He'll get an opportunity. It's just so hard now.

"When a champion of our sport like Matt Kenseth can't find sponsors, it's going to be a real tough road to get back to where you were. He had a really good ride. It's so hard now. Companies are not willing to take risks like they used to."

Carl Edwards said from his limited interaction with Allmendinger "he seems like a very mentally tough guy that can deal with things pretty well.''

"I've sat in a lot of meetings with him,'' Edwards said. "He's a very fast racer. It seems if anybody can come back from it, he could. He's a huge talent. I wish him the best."

Sam Hornish Jr. has been the benefactor of Allmendinger's suspension. He drove the last three races in the No. 22 Penske Racing car and is scheduled to be in for the unforeseeable future.

Hornish will compete in Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Iowa Speedway and Sunday's Cup race at Pocono. If the Nationwide race is postponed by weather until Sunday, Hornish will remain in Iowa.

Hornish is fourth in the Nationwide standings, which is his priority as he tries to earn the No. 22 ride full time.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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