The recent suspension of A.J. Allmendinger for positive results on a test conducted as part of NASCAR's substance abuse program has triggered a plethora of emotions, leaving some to wonder if the testing may have room for improvement.
Testing is done randomly on drivers and others with hard cards at every race by obtaining urine samples and dividing it into two specimens to be sent to Aegis Sciences Corporation in Nashville, TN for testing.
Should the "A" sample prove to be positive, the person from whom the sample was taken has 72 hours to request the "B" sample to be tested. A temporary suspension is in effect until that takes place.
If the second test is negative then it voids the results of the first test. If the second test is positive, it verifies the first and the person in question is indefinitely suspended from NASCAR.
The person in question has a right to refuse to have the second test done, but that too results in an indefinite suspension from the sport.
Science is pretty exact, per se, but the human factor comes into play with any test.
It would also seem that Aegis would expect the "B" test to have the same results as the "A" test to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
NASCAR's drug policy left much to be desired prior to 2009. The policy seemed somewhat vague when Jeremy Mayfield filed suit against NASCAR claiming he was not guilty of substance abuse.
The substance abuse policy is now not only lengthy but very specific with the substances that will not be accepted if found as a result of testing.
Some of the obvious substances that would trigger a positive include stimulants, performance enhancers, ephedrine, benzodiazepine, alcohol and certain supplements. Medications are but a small sample.
When a person does test positive, he or she is notified and given a chance to offer an explanation as to what might have triggered the results, before NASCAR becomes involved.
NASCAR basically considers that person—in the case of Allmendinger, a driver—to be guilty until proven innocent with the immediate suspension until testing is complete. NASCAR will allow the member to be present in person or to have representation by a qualified toxicologist during the second test at Aegis at his or her expense.
In the worst-case scenario, if both tests are positive, the person being tested is able to go through the NASCAR Road to Recovery program that may result in reinstatement to the sport.
The program is deliberately lengthy and difficult.
The person has already been tainted by the fact that he or she tested positive, so seldom is it beneficial to go through the program with dismal prospects for a successful future in NASCAR.
You have to believe NASCAR is very diligent and certain of the results from testing before the suspension for the "A" test is announced and implemented.
The questionable part of this process may lie with how quickly the testing is done. In Allmendinger's case, he was tested at Kentucky, and the suspension took place within a couple hours of the next race.
The driver of the Shell/Pennzoil No. 22 Dodge, Allmendinger had practiced and qualified for the Cup race at Daytona. If there was an endangerment issue, it should have come to light before Daytona.
NASCAR must have a zero-tolerance policy for substance abuse. This is not like stick-and-ball sports, because in the case of a driver, he or she is wheeling 3400 pound cars at high speeds in close proximity.
Denial is the obvious immediate response a driver would take. It may indeed be some unlikely ingredient in something they ingested that has triggered the positive result.
Controversy surrounds the popular energy drinks that may have an effect on the readings in urine tests for substance abuse.
Allmendinger is a spokesperson for the energy and protein power shot, Fuel In A Bottle.
Athletes sometimes rely on supplements because of their rigorous training and health regimens. Ultimately it is their responsibility to monitor what they ingest.
Drivers have the opportunity to submit all supplements and medications they use to NASCAR during their annual physical, and it would be deemed appropriate anytime.
With Allmendinger, it has not been disclosed as to what the substance was that caused his drug test to give a positive reading. The unknown makes other drivers a little nervous and allows for great speculation, valid or not.
Does the NASCAR substance abuse policy need a few tweaks? Perhaps, it does.
Is the policy too strict? No, it is not, because zero tolerance must be strictly enforced in NASCAR racing.