Was a Misfortune for the Best?
By Remington Scott aka ajdingerfan
“Driver AJ Allmendinger has been temporarily suspended from NASCAR competition, based upon notification of a positive A test NASCAR received from its medical review officer”. Those were the words NASCAR Senior Vice President of Racing Operations Steve O’Donnell said on July 7, 2012 in Daytona Beach, Florida. A NASCAR driver, who happens to be my favorite, suspended for drugs? Very few NASCAR drivers have been suspended for drugs, due to NASCAR’s strict policy. Unlike the NFL, instead of a slap on the wrist, drivers are suspended indefinitely. Would AJ Allmendinger’s qualifying lap at Daytona the day before be the last time the world saw him in NASCAR?
AJ’s NASCAR career has been full of ups and downs. He jumped over to NASCAR in 2007 to join the newly formed Red Bull Racing after winning 5 races in Champ Car the previous season. 2007 was a tough year for AJ, failing to qualify for 19 races and had a best finish of 15th. The beginning of 2008 showed that it would be much like 2007. Allmendinger failed to qualify for the first 3 races, resulting in him being sidelined for Mike Skinner for 5 races. When he returned, things were still how they were. Allmendinger won the Sprint Showdown later that month, earning him a spot in the Sprint All Star race, where he went on to finish 17th. Red Bull Racing released AJ after Kansas in October, where he posted his first top 10 finish. He went on to finish the season with Michael Waltrip Racing and Gillett Evernham Motorsports.
In 2009, GEM turned into Richard Petty Motorsports, and AJ was hired to drive the #44 Dodge. He kicked off the season with a 3rd place finish in the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s version of the Super Bowl. His finishes slightly improved and he finished the year with 6 top 10s and 24th in the standings, despite being arrested for driving drunk in October. In 2010, Allmendinger was moved over to the famous #43 car, where he won 1 pole, 2 top 5s, 8 top 10s and finished 19th in the standings. He also led 143 laps at Dover, where he would go on to perform strong there.
2011 came along and that proved to be his best NASCAR season, almost winning a few races and almost making the Chase for the Sprint Cup, NASCAR’s version of the playoff’s. He was released from RPM at the end of the season and signed with Penske Racing for 2012, what he called a dream come true.
Allmendinger started what many thought would be a career season with a win in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona. Before his suspension, he placed 2nd at Martinsville, a career best.
After he was suspended, many thought the young driver’s career was over, he was worth nothing, nobody would ever hear from him again. He was released from Penske later. What did he have left? He had basically nothing, but he was determined to overcome what happened. In October, AJ was back racing for James Finch towards the end of the season.
2013 showed up and AJ had nothing but the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, where he went on to finish 3rd, on his ’13 schedule. That was all about to change. The man who changed that was the man who fired him last year, Roger Penske. Penske hired Allmendinger for 5 races in the IZOD IndyCar Series. One of those included the Indianapolis 500. Allmendinger, who’s racing roots were in open wheel, said it was a dream come true to race in the Indy 500 for Mr. Penske. Many though he had a chance to win it in his first start in the historic race. AJ led 23 laps and may have won it all had his seat belt not come lose while leading. He went on to finish 7th.
Roger Penske also hired him to drive the #22 car in the Nationwide Series at Road America and Mid-Ohio. AJ won the pole and went on to win the race at Road America, leading 29 of 55 laps. It was his first NASCAR win in 6 years. He did it for the same owner who was forced to release him just one year ago. Since his suspension last summer, Allmendinger has said numerous times that he is a better person, he is a lot happier with his life, and he no longer puts as much pressure on himself. Was failing a drug test, what could have been a career ending event, a blessing? In this case, I certainly think so, and AJ Allmendinger made the most of his 2nd chance.
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