A.J Allmendinger made a mistake – knowingly or unknowingly he made a mistake that could of cost him what he loves to do most.
Instead, he has been given a second chance.
Allmendinger was suspended from NASCAR after failing a random drug test in July, in a spiral of events he was then released from his Penske Racing contact and barred from NASCAR until he completed their substance abuse program. It was later found out that Allmendinger had tested positive for a stimulant. He found out the hard way that “one time” can ruin everything.
He was remorseful. He truly understood he made a mistake, and he did what he needed to do to fix it. Allmendinger signed up for NASCAR’s “Road to Recovery” and finished the program. On September 18th, NASCAR said Allmendinger was eligible to race in NASCAR once again.
Who was going to hire a driver that was kicked out of his ride and NASCAR for failing a drug test, though? That was situation everyone, including Allmendinger supporters and fans were concerned with. Sponsorship plays a big role in NASCAR – and if the sponsor don’t want you, then you are essentially out of luck.
Let’s rewind back a few weeks. Furniture Row Racing announced Regan Smith was not going to be driving the #78 next season and instead they had signed Kurt Busch who had been driving the #51 for Phoenix Racing this season. Smith was to relinquish the ride to Busch following the race at Talladega. This left Regan Smith without a ride for the last five races of the 2012 season, and Phoenix Racing without a driver… so it made sense when they announced that Smith would take over the #51 for the remainder of the season.
But then, Talladega happened. Dale Earnhardt Jr., was involved in a crash that left him with a concussion, his second within about 7 weeks. By doctors recommendations, Earnhardt Jr. was not going to drive the next two weeks at either Charlotte or Kansas Speedway while he recovered. Now the #88 needed a driver.
Smith was called in to drive the #88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports at Charlotte and Kansas. It is speculated that Smith could have a contract with JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series for 2013, that would make it understandable as to why they decided to put Smith in the car over another driver. But this again left the #51 without a driver, at least for the next two weeks.
Allmendinger was ready and waiting. He deserved a second chance. Doesn’t everyone?
“I talked to Finch for about three minutes this morning,” Allmendinger said Thursday before the race at Charlotte. “He started to tell me what the deal was and I was like, ‘Man, it’s all good. I’ll come drive this weekend, and if you like me, you like me. And if not, it’s OK.’ It’s all about taking it as it comes right now.”
It was almost instantly announced that Allmendinger would drive the #51 at Charlotte. Owner of Phoenix Racing, James Finch was happy with Allmendinger’s performance of finishing 24th. After finishing 24th. Finch said, “He did a real fine job before he received the penalty. And he was outrunning Kurt (Former driver of the #51).”
Allmendinger was eager, saying it was “great to get back into a Cup car” and he thanked Finch and was “really grateful (for the opportunity).”
Allmendinger was then announced to be driving the car at Kansas. He was having a decent run until he had engine problems and finished in 35th position.
Earnhardt Jr. was officially cleared to return to his #88 Chevrolet at Martinsville on Tuesday. It was thought that when Earnhardt returned to his car that Smith would go back to the original plan and drive the #51. It seemed like that was the case as late as Monday when General manager of Phoenix Racing, Steve Barkdoll said that the commitment had already been made to Smith before Allmendinger had filled in.
So what changed? We don’t know… but on Tuesday it was announced that not Smith but Allmendinger would be in the car at Martinsville. Barkdoll said the decision to go with Allmendinger was based on how he has performed over the past two weeks. Barkdoll said who drives the #51 still remains a race-by-race decision and that he would not rule Smith out driving at Texas.
It seems like Finch saw something in Allmendinger and is giving him that second chance that he deserves. If Allmendinger performs well could he lock up a ride for 2013? Maybe. We like to think about the possibilities – although Phoenix Racing might not be the most ideal place for Allmendinger to race next season, there really aren’t any other options out there either… and a ride next season could open doors for the future. Sponsors might be more willing to sponsor Allmendinger if he runs a full season without issues and performs well.
So in a sense, Finch could be Allmendinger’s saving grace, or maybe it was Earnhardt Jr.,because without Smith taking over the #88, Allmendinger would of never got a chance in the #51, as Barkdoll said that Smith would have been in the car for the rest of the year had he not been called on to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the #88 the past two weeks.
At Martinsville, Allmendinger has two top 10 finishes in ten starts and an average finish of 20.8. His best finish came in the June race when he finished in second place.