CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There are a lot of questions surrounding AJ Allmendinger after a failed drug test got him suspended.
What exactly did he do?
NASCAR, per its policy established in 2009, did not reveal the substance found in a positive test late last month.
That lack of transparency is harmful to both NASCAR and, potentially, to the 30-year-old Allmendinger, who is just the second Sprint Cup Series driver suspended since the policy went into effect.
NASCAR’s not alone in its decision to keep the information confidential. The NFL and NHL do not reveal the substance, and the NBA only announces the drug if it’s a performance enhancer.
Major League Baseball’s new agreement with the player’s union calls for the substance to be released in positive tests for players with major league contracts, and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency reveals the substance – as it did Monday when it said U.S. national team goalkeeper Hope Solo tested positive last month for a banned diuretic.
But in NASCAR, where drivers race at speeds up to 200 mph, nothing is said beyond the announcement of the positive test and the ensuing suspension. It was only through a lengthy legal battle with Jeremy Mayfield that NASCAR revealed in court documents that the first driver suspended under the policy had tested positive for methamphetamines.
Driving a race car under the influence of meth is bad. And, at minimum, the 42 other drivers on track with Mayfield deserved to know about the hazards they may have faced.
Now Allmendinger is out, learning Saturday that a random test conducted June 29 had come back positive for a banned substance. He was suspended hours before Saturday night’s race at Daytona, and his Penske Racing team said Monday that Sam Hornish Jr. will drive Allmendinger’s No. 22 Dodge this weekend at New Hampshire.
The decision to move forward with Hornish came before the situation is even close to being resolved. Allmendinger has a midday deadline today to request his “B’’ urine sample be tested. If he declines to ask for that sample to be tested, his suspension becomes indefinite.
And if the “B’’ sample is tested and comes back positive, the suspension also becomes indefinite.
There are only two ways for Allmendinger to get back on the race track: either the “B’’ sample must pass the test or he must complete a recovery and rehabilitation program designed by Aegis Sciences Corp. in Nashville, Tenn.
But what is it that Allmendinger has tested positive for? Is it meth like Mayfield? A prescription drug?
Nobody knows, everyone is trying to guess and the answer is critical to Allmendinger’s career.
NASCAR is unlike any other sport in that corporate sponsorship is critical for a driver to have any sort of success. Companies that shell out millions of dollars rate marketability and personality as high as they rate talent, and they aren’t going to align themselves with drug users.
So Allmendinger’s reputation takes an instant and immediate hit because NASCAR hasn’t said what he’s done wrong. Penske Racing officials have also stayed silent, and Allmendinger has said nothing publicly since Saturday.
His longtime business manager told The Associated Press on Monday that Allmendinger, whom she described as so “health conscious” was “shell-shocked” by the positive test.
“It’s just so far from AJ’s character, and he’s trying to come to terms with what has just happened and figure out how this could happen and respect NASCAR’s process,” Tara Ragan said.
Ragan’s characterization of Allmendinger’s reaction leads everyone to believe his defense is that this has been a terrible misunderstanding.
Trouble is, NASCAR’s policy leaves wiggle room for that very possibility. When NASCAR’s medical review officer first notified Allmendinger around noon on Saturday of the positive test, Allmendinger had the opportunity to offer an explanation that under policy had to be investigated.
In the case of a “my doctor wrote me this prescription” defense, the MRO would have attempted to contact the physician and clear up the confusion. NASCAR is not informed of the positive test result until after the MRO has ruled that the driver has no acceptable reason for testing positive.
That was done about 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, and that short window doesn’t bode well for this being an easily explained mistake. NASCAR moved quickly from that moment to meet with a Penske Racing official and Allmendinger, and the suspension came just as fast – and, unlike the 2009 Mayfield case – it came before the “B’’ sample had been tested.
There’s been no reason given why Allmendinger was not allowed to exhaust all his options before his suspension, and one can only believe that NASCAR and the MRO believed either his personal health or the safety of those on the track was an immediate concern.
But Allmendinger is in the first season of the best ride of his career, and he certainly can’t be dumb enough to throw it all away, right?
On the flipside, Aegis, the laboratory that handles NASCAR’s drug testing program, isn’t in the business of destroying careers. They wouldn’t have jeopardized Allmendinger’s livelihood if they weren’t certain of the test results, and certain this wasn’t a big misunderstanding.
Toss in the scrutiny Aegis and its CEO David Black faced during Mayfield’s long and ugly court fight, and there’s no way the company would move forward on anything but an airtight case.
So everyone gossips and guesses from here, and Allmendinger’s reputation may never recover.
It matters very much what the substance is because even though NASCAR’s policy is zero tolerance, there’s a big safety issue associated with a race car driver using recreational drugs or abusing prescription medication. Sure, a PED could provide a competitive advantage, but it isn’t likely to endanger the lives of 42 other drivers.
And it matters for NASCAR’s image. If there was any doubt about that, Allmendinger’s teammate made it perfectly clear on Thursday at Daytona, where Brad Keselowski, in a question about the positive stories in the sport, inadvertently and unknowingly foreshadowed what was coming.
“We’re one of the few sports that doesn’t have a story about an athlete going to jail,” Keselowski said. “Look at those sports <0x2014> there’s a different guy going to jail every day. We had one guy ... Jeremy got into some kind of trouble, and we’re like, ‘Wow, that’s a big deal.’
“Guess what? Look at the other stick and ball sports, major sports, it’s an everyday occurrence over there and that’s something that we should be really proud of.”