FONTANA, Calif. — Roger Penske would consider re-hiring AJ Allmendinger, the suspended NASCAR driver who was at the IndyCar season finale as his guest.
Allmendinger failed a NASCAR drug test in July and was released by Penske Racing when his backup “B’’ sample also tested positive. He’s currently participating in NASCAR’s “Road to Recovery” program, and Penske said Saturday he felt the driver has been too reclusive during the process.
“I told AJ I wanted him to come to a race; I think he had been kind of undercover for quite a bit of the time, and I thought it would be good for him to get out and see people here, talk to some of the team owners,” Penske said before the IndyCar finale at Auto Club Speedway.
Allmendinger was in his first season with Penske Racing, the biggest ride of his career, when he failed a drug test taken June 29. He was suspended hours before the July race at Daytona and released by Penske on Aug. 1.
His suspension came at a time when Penske was evaluating picking up the option on Allmendinger for 2013. Sam Hornish Jr. has filled in for Allmendinger since, and Joey Logano was hired to drive the car next season.
But, Penske said once Allmendinger’s suspension is resolved with NASCAR, he’s a viable option for owners in both NASCAR and IndyCar. Allmendinger spent three seasons in Champ Car, and won five races in 2006 before moving to NASCAR.
“I think hopefully we’ll get some answer from NASCAR as quickly as possible because the Chase has started now, hopefully they’ll give him a clean bill of health and he can move on,” Penske said.
“This is a speed bump in his career, but he’s certainly an option for people on the NASCAR side and the Indy side. He did a great job when you think about what he did in Champ Car.”
Asked if he’d hire Allmendinger again, Penske said: “He could be an option for us, for sure.”
Pressed later on if he was being honest, Penske insisted “Yes. He’s someone we would consider.”
Penske doesn’t have an open seat in NASCAR, and it’s not clear what will happen with his third IndyCar team. He’s already picked up the 2013 options on Will Power and Helio Castroneves, but has told Ryan Briscoe he’s free to look around while the team tries to secure sponsorship for that seat.
BACK IN CHI-TOWN: Danica Patrick is back in the Chicago area and looking forward to another Sprint Cup race at Chicagoland Speedway, which is essentially her home track.
“It’s good to be close to home. There’s quite a few people coming out to the track. I have family members coming from Canada,” she said Friday. “So, there’s going to be a few people here. I just love Chicago. I love being in the city. “
This will be Patrick’s sixth Cup start this year in the No. 10 Chevrolet. She hasn’t finished higher than 29th.
She’s in 11th place in the Nationwide Series standings.
Patrick has raced nine times at Chicagoland – six times on the IndyCar Series. She finished 10th in a Nationwide race at the track in June 2011 and took 14th on that circuit at Chicagoland in July.
“I know it’s going to be different in the Cup car for sure. Everything is more difficult in the Cup car,” she said.
“I think the weather will help. Six or so weeks ago, whenever we were here it was very hot. I think the cool weather will hopefully help with the grip and make things a little bit easier, a little less slippery and greasy. When I say that I guess I’m thinking of somewhere like Atlanta where it just gets really slippery and you’re kind of fighting for grip.”
Patrick says although she has people in from out of the country for the race, that won’t be too much of a distraction.
“My mom’s side of the family is like right across the border from Minnesota. They saddled up and headed on down a few days ago,” she said. “I think when you have people that are coming to the track, they are coming to support you of course but they are coming to see you too. You want to make time for them for making the effort. .. In my situation, which is trying to create realistic expectations, low expectations for the people coming to the track, basically you are not going to see me until after race. Something like that, so they don’t get their hope up and think they are going to spend an hour hanging out with me knocking back beers before the race. That’s just not how it goes.”