NASCAR Nation was shocked this past weekend at Daytona as news of AJ Allmendinger’s (Dinger) positive drug test results from Kentucky hit Twitter and SPEED TV’s pre-race show. Assumptions and accusations quickly arose on social media sites, despite the disclaimers such as the fact that the list of prohibited substances is very long and even includes prescription drugs. Though the particular substance that was detected hasn’t been released to the public, Allmendinger dug himself a deep hole with NASCAR fans. If he does get to return to the track, he has a reputation to avenge.
Due to the drug test results, AJ is currently under temporary suspension from NASCAR, as he wasn’t able to compete in Saturday Night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. Penske Nationwide driver Sam Hornish Jr. was flown down from Charlotte to race in the No.22 car on very short notice as a replacement for Allmendinger, for the sake of owner points.
According to rules, Allmendinger has 72 hours to submit a ‘B’ sample for drug testing, and if that sample fails, he will be “suspended from NASCAR competition indefinitely”. The results could go either way, but what if the ‘B’ sample does fail? In the long-term future, Penske will be able to find a driver for the No.22 car, as there are many talented free agents on the market this year. But as of this season, who would fill in for Allmendinger if he was suspended?
There’s the obvious choice of Sam Hornish Jr, but he’s currently fourth in Nationwide Series points, and a Cup ride will serve as a huge distraction from the title. So would Roger Penske really want to throw out Nationwide championship contention for owner points in the Cup series? Also, it would only be practical for Hornish to drive double duty on weekends that Cup and Nationwide are competing at the same track, so there is a very good chance that another driver would have to wheel the 22 car in those situations.
Another choice could be Brian Vickers, who has five races scheduled with MWR throughout the rest of the Cup season, but lacks the Penske affiliation that Hornish has. Vickers has shown promising performance in Cup cars so far this year, but would Penske consider him?
Lastly, a driver who has Penske affiliation in the Nationwide series is Parker Kligerman, who drives the No.22 Nationwide car when Brad Keselowski is unable to. Currently, Kligerman is racing full-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and he sits 5th in the points standings. Though he has a relationship with Penske racing, his current skill level likely won’t match that of the Cup drivers.
That being said, what if Allmendinger’s ‘B’ sample comes back negative, and he’s allowed to return to competition? How will Penske feel about keeping him in the car after this year, especially with all of his bad luck? And has the primary sponsor of the 22, Shell, had enough of the drama; from Kurt Busch to Allmendinger’s drug test?
With all the future possibilities, Roger Penske’s employees can expect some serious headaches over the next few weeks. No one can predict what the future of the 22 car will be, but if Allmendinger won’t be returning, the car will most likely see several different pilots for the rest of the 2012 season.
By Alanis King