AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Dodge, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway on June 29, 2012 in Sparta, Kentucky.
(June 28, 2012 – Source: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images North America)
(PhatzRadio / USA Today) — Penske Racing released A.J. Allmendinger on Wednesday, nearly a month after the driver of the No. 22 Dodge was suspended for a positive drug test.
Penske President Tim Cindric said team owner Roger Penske delivered the news Tuesday night after flying the driver to Detroit.
“He was hoping for a different outcome,” Cindric told USA TODAY Sports when asked about how Allmendinger took the news. “I think he took an understanding approach, a remorseful one. He was as disappointed as we were we wouldn’t finish what we started.”
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Allmendinger’s suspension became indefinite last week when a backup urine test confirmed the original result.
“We wanted to understand as much of the circumstances as we could,” Cindric said. “Last week was the final step there. When it became obvious to us that there wasn’t any more information about the situation that was going to influence our decision, it was time to make a decision. Roger felt we needed to do that face-to-face rather than over the phone.”
Though many factors were weighed, Cindric said Penske ultimately made the decision.
“I can’t say enough about of how (sponsor) Shell has supported us,” Cindric said. “It’s important to state that the decision with A.J. was Roger’s decision and no one else’s. You consider a lot of things when you make that. (Shell) fully supported the process, and we felt we needed to bring closure to the process.”
Though Allmendinger technically wasn’t an employee (drivers are independent contractors), Cinrdric said it was “difficult to differentiate. You have to be consistent with the message that NASCAR sends. We support that. We echo that. Doing anything different wouldn’t really show that.”
Allmendinger has entered NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program that would make eligible to be considered for reinstatement. His business manager, Tara Ragan, said last week that he tested positive for an amphetamine, though the driver had denied knowingly taking an illegal substance.
Cindric said the team “didn’t get into any more specifics about what occurred. As we focused on things that would deal with we’re going, it became obvious to us there didn’t seem to be any information that would add to what’s there already.”
In a statement, Penske said the team was “disappointed” with Allmendinger’s positive test and supported NASCAR’s substance-abuse policy.
“A.J. is a terrific driver, a good person, and it is very unfortunate that we have to separate at this time,” Penske said. “We have invested greatly in A.J., 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.”
Allmendinger had been 23rd in points through the first 17 races of his first season at Penske, earning a career-best second at Martinsville Speedway and a pole position at Kansas Speedway.
He was hired in late December after the team split with Kurt Busch, who left following a series of outbursts with the No. 22 team and the news media.
In a statement, Allmendinger apologized “for the distraction, embarrassment and difficulties that (the) suspension from NASCAR has provided” and said he was planning to complete the Road to Recovery program so he could return to NASCAR “in the near future.” (It typically takes at least a few months for NASCAR members suspended for substance abuse to be reinstated.)
“I wish to thank Mr. Penske, Penske Racing, their sponsors, and especially all the of the No. 22 team for the opportunity they provided me and for their support in this difficult time,” Allmendinger said.
Sam Hornish Jr. has driven the past three races in place of Allmendinger and will remain in the car this weekend at Pocono Raceway while shuttling between practice and qualifying for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at the 2.5-mile track and Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at Iowa Speedway.
In a statement, Penske Racing said Hornish would drive the car “for the foreseeable future,” and the team “will evaluate its options” for finding a driver for its No. 22 in 2013.
In speaking with reporters before Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Penske said he hoped Allmendinger would “rebound and have a successful career because he’s a terrific kid, and it almost feels like it’s one of your kids. That’s what makes it so tough.”