Driver AJ Allmendinger has been reinstated after completing NASCAR’s Substance Abuse Policy Road to Recovery Program. Allmendinger was suspended on July 24 after failing a random test a week earlier.
Allmendinger spoke by phone to NASCAR.com’s Steve Byrnes, discussing his reaction to reinstatement, his suspension, and his plans for the future.
The 31-year-old Californian said his first reaction to reinstatement was relief. “This is the first step that had to happen before I could even focus on the next step which is figuring out what my options are what I really want to do racing-wise and what I have the opportunity to do,” he explained on NASCAR.com.
“It’s been a tough process, a lot of tough days and especially weekends, watching the NASCAR races and struggling through it but it’s also a process that I’ve learned a lot from and as a person I will be so much better for it.”
Many have speculated that Allmendinger will not be back to NASCAR for a season or two; sponsors might be leery of his tainted image, and most drivers have contracts for next season, so there might not be a seat available. The driver himself wasn’t sure what would come next.
“For me its leaving all options open and really seeing what’s out there figuring out who wants me I know whatever steam, whatever series I’m going to be in I have to go out there and earn the respect of the team owners, the sponsors, the drivers, the fans,” Allmendinger said on the NASCAR.com recording.
“I’m not really sure what I want to do I know whatever is the next step it’s going to be the best option fun, fit, competitive-wise just the best thing for my life at that point.“
Some have speculated that the former IndyCar star (he raced in CART/ChampCar for three seasons before moving to NASCAR) might return to open-wheel racing. Allemndinger attended the IndyCar season finale at Faontna as a guest of his employer Roger Penske, who might have a seat on his IndyCar team if Ryan Briscoe departs as has been rumored.
Allmendinger seemed non-commital; likely he would prefer to return to NASCAR, where the pay is much better and the fanbase much larger.
“To be able to go to Fontana and be a guest of Roger Penske, he’s been absolutely amazing in this process and such a close friend and I feel like we’re even closer now than when I drove for him. That’s meant the world to me.
“To be able to go out there and see the guys and see some faces I hadn’t seen in six years was a great thing to be finally back at a race track was really nice but I’m not really sure what I want to do I know whatever is the next step it’s going to be the best option fun, fit, competitive-wise just the best thing for my life at that point.
Allmendinger concluded the phone call by thanking his family, friends and fans for the deluge of support that poured out after his suspension
“There was times it felt like it got so overwhelming there was no end in sight—I felt like I didn’t know if I could do this anymore, but seeing that fan support and that support on Twitter, on Facebook, the social media in general helped me fight through it and I knew I wanted to come back, and come back better than ever,” the driver said.