LONG POND, Pa. — Days after he was dumped by Penske Racing, AJ Allmendinger found plenty of support from the drivers in the garage.
The backing of his peers was the least of his problems.
It’s the prospect of a driver who has never won a Sprint Cup race and flunked a drug test trying to coax another major sponsor and owner to give him a second chance at Cup racing. He might return to the sport, just never again with a ride like he had at Penske.
“I think he’ll be back in a Cup car. Will it be a good Cup car? I don’t think so,” driver Denny Hamlin said.
Allmendinger was thrust from NASCAR obscurity into infamy once NASCAR suspended him indefinitely for a positive drug test in late June.
Team owner Roger Penske fired Allmendinger this week and gave pinch-driver Sam Hornish Jr. the keys to the No. 22 for the “foreseeable future.”
There was plenty of talk Friday about the driver who wasn’t there, probably more than there ever was before about Allmendinger on his best weekend.
Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson were among the drivers rooting for Allmendinger to make a comeback. Tony Stewart said Allmendinger deserves a second chance. Carl Edwards said he’d be fine with racing against Allmendinger if he made a return.
“I think people like a comeback story and if AJ is committed to the process and getting back, I’m sure there will be some opportunities,” Johnson said.
SADLER MIFFED: Elliott Sadler says he’s still upset about getting penalized for jumping the restart near the end of the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Indianapolis last week.
“That’s a once-in-a-lifetime win that we felt got taken away from us,” he said Friday.
Sadler was in contention for the win when he passed eventual winner Brad Keselowski on a restart with 18 laps to go. Officials ruled that Sadler went too early and black-flagged him.
Sadler finished 15th but held on to the Nationwide points lead.
Sadler has said Keselowski slowed unexpectedly when he appeared to spin his tires on the restart, and Sadler had no choice but to keep going because he was getting pushed by cars behind him.
Several drivers have said Sadler should have given the lead back to Keselowski right after going past him.
Sadler said he’s uncertain whether racing resumes in the restart box or at the start-finish line.
“It can’t be both,” Sadler said. “Let’s pick one. Let’s either start in the re-start box when the leader goes and he initiates the start like Brad did last week, or let’s wait until the start-finish line. We can’t do both. That’s when it gets confusing to the drivers and puts NASCAR in a tough spot to make some tough calls.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. said the rules are clear.
“We know we can’t beat the No. 1 to the start-finish line,” he said. “I think it was made very clear that we better not beat him to the start-finish line. If so, we better give it back.”
DANICA EYES FRESH START: Midway through her first full year in the Nationwide Series, Danica Patrick is looking for a figurative restart of her own.
Patrick has failed to go the distance in five of her 19 starts, and her average finish is 20th. A crash ended her first race at Iowa Speedway in May, and last week’s wreck at Indianapolis was her fourth in 10 starts.
She and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. had a long talk after her day ended on the 39th lap last week.
“We need to definitely get on a good stretch here and regroup and get positive and get back to basics and stop trying so hard, if that makes any sense,” Patrick said.
The pressure to improve is building because Patrick plans to move up to the Sprint Cup Series next year.
“I think there has been a general amount of frustration,” she said. “We both have said we have higher expectations over time. We definitely haven’t had the results to show for that as far as the finishes go.”
She said she’s disappointed her “competitive” practices haven’t carried over to races.
“That’s what creates those expectations,” she said. “(Tony) is competitive and he wants to do well and so do I. Getting frustrated is not the way to do it. I don’t think you’re going to see too much more of that frustration that’s been going on for a while. That’s a result of talking through things and getting a new game plan and attitude.”
ANNETT HELPS IN SEARCH: Iowa native Michael Annett is joining two Sprint Cup drivers in getting the word out about two cousins missing for nearly three weeks.
The No. 43 Ford Annett will drive in the Nationwide Series U.S. Cellular 250 on Saturday night will feature a picture of 10-year-old Lyric Cook and 9-year-old Elizabeth Collins and include a phone number for the National Missing Children hotline.
Lyric and Elizabeth disappeared July 13 while riding their bikes in Evansdale, Iowa.
Annett grew up in Des Moines and played junior hockey in Waterloo, which is near Evansdale.
“We’re so fortunate to do what we do week in and week out, and we need to give back,” Annett said. “There is so much opportunity - with how many thousands of fans will be here tomorrow night and the millions of people watching at home - to get information out and try to do something for this horrible situation and get the best outcome.”
Cedar Rapids native Landon Cassill and Travis Kvapil will drive cars featuring photos of the girls at the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway on Sunday.
WALLACE NOT SATISFIED: A lot of drivers would be happy with a top-10 finish in their first Nationwide Series race. Not Darrell Wallace Jr.
Wallace qualified eighth and came in ninth at Iowa Speedway in May. His second Nationwide start comes Saturday on the same track.
“That top-10 felt like a top-20 for me,” Wallace said. “I wasn’t happy with it. It was a good run for the team and myself. We’ll take it and move on.”
The 18-year-old Wallace, who drives primarily on the K&N Pro Series East circuit, will be in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Toyota in his Nationwide return.
“We built a brand new car for him,” crew chief Adam Stevens said. “We are looking to improve both our qualifying and finishing position over the first race. The key to that is to have a more productive practice than last time. I’m hoping we can better utilize Darrell’s feedback and experience now that he has a race under his belt in order to get the car a little closer for him.”