As a friend, Kyle Petty was happy to hear AJ Allmendinger would join NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program after failing a drug test a month ago and being fired at Penske Racing on Wednesday.
As a former driver and car owner, however, he knows Allmendinger faces impossible odds to make a comeback.
“I’m glad he’s on the Road to Recovery, but he might as well be on a weight-loss program when it comes to coming back in NASCAR because I don’t see any way for him to come back to this sport,” Petty said. “I pray that when it all comes out, it’s nothing major.”
Allmendinger was tested at the Kentucky Speedway. It came back positive, forcing car owner Roger Penske to scramble to get Sam Hornish Jr. in the No. 22 Dodge in time for the July 7 race at the Daytona International Speedway.
A backup test was conducted last week and it also was positive. Allmendinger’s business manager has since said the banned substance was amphetamines.
Allmendinger will have to go through a drug treatment program. Once he passes, he can ask to be re-instated.
The question is will he have anything to come to? Most don’t believe so.
“We all like to think ‘forgive and forget,’ but this is NASCAR and this is racing and this is competition and this is somebody else’s money,” Petty said. “We’re spending Corporate America’s dollars on this and he’s not going to come back. I don’t see how he can come back. I’ll say it. I don’t mind saying it. I don’t think he’s going to come back.
“A (Joe) Gibbs isn’t going to pick him up. A (Rick) Hendrick isn’t going to pick him up. A (Jack) Roush isn’t going to pick him up. And when you have owners like that that have that many teams and have that many employees and have that many things and so many pots on the fire, they cannot afford to have that.”
Penske met with Allmendinger Wednesday and decided to fire him.
“AJ is a terrific driver, a good person and it is very unfortunate that we have to separate at this time,” Penske said in a team release. “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.”
Allmendinger is the 10th driver to be suspended for failing a NASCAR drug test, and the third since NASCAR adapted a comprehensive substance abuse policy.
Of the 10, only three – Tim Richmond and truck racers Tyler Walker and Brian Rose – were re-instated.
Richmond came back to make selected starts before dropping completely off the circuit. He eventually died in 1989 of AIDS.
Rose was suspended in 2003 and didn’t attempt a return until 2010, and that proved short-lived. He made three races in 2010 with a season-best 19th-place effort at Iowa. He hasn’t raced since.
Walker never got back to NASCAR.
Since stock cars weigh 3,450 pounds and are capable of surpassing 200 mph, NASCAR said it’s imperative its drivers are physically, emotionally and chemically capable.
That’s why the sanctioning body is relentless once a test comes back positive.
“We believe it’s a strong testing system that works,” NASCAR chairman Brian France said.
Darrell Waltrip, who works with Petty at SPEED TV, said must be diligent in keeping the sport clean.
“You can fight the wall, you can fight the law, but you can’t fight city hall,” Waltrip said. “They don’t want to suspend drivers; they don’t want to catch drivers doing something wrong. But when they do, these policies are pretty much foolproof. They are what they are.”
With very little chance of a return.