Roger Penske's Tough Call on A.J. Allmendinger Could Be Troubling

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IAugust 1, 2012

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 25:  Team owner Roger Penske looks at the #22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge of A.J. Allmendinger in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 25, 2012 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Tyler Barrick/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Tyler Barrick/Getty Images

One of the most highly respected and fairest team owners in NASCAR is Roger Penske, but having a team driver in NASCAR's Road to Recovery program forced him to make a gut-wrenching decision.

A.J. Allmendinger tested positive for amphetamines with both urine specimens taken from the same sample and tested by Aegis Laboratories on behalf of NASCAR.

The type of amphetamine or the exact level has not been disclosed.

The young man, who got the ride of his career when he signed on for the 2012 season with Penske Racing as the driver of the No. 22 Dodge, faced an uncertain future with the top-tier team.

Disclosure of the exact source of the substance that violated NASCAR's substance-abuse policy and triggered an indefinite suspension could perhaps change the outlook for his driving career.

There is a dramatic difference between a brief lapse on the part of Allmendinger when he ingested something as a pick-me-up type thing, or unknowingly took the substance as he has claimed, and hardcore use.

Few believe that Allmendinger is a heavy drug user, but the length of the time he will be in the Road to Recovery program may shed some light on that once it is announced. It could take many months.

Penske has a major sponsor with Shell/Pennzoil who has remained loyal despite the upheaval with Kurt Busch, his troubling outbursts and bad behavior at the track, which led to the departure of the driver.

Now they are faced with the embarrassment of the positive drug test with Allmendinger.

Penske Racing driver, Sam Hornish Jr., has been piloting the No. 22 since the suspension of his teammate. Hornish has a good relationship with Shell/Pennzoil.

Hornish is also running for the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship, and will be unable to run all of the remaining Cup races. He has made no secret of the fact he wants a permanent Cup ride.

There are many drivers who would covet a ride in the No. 22 with Penske, some of whom are free agents with major teams after the 2012 season.

Everyone likes a story with a happy ending, and many would like to see Allmendinger serve his time in the rehabilitation program and come back in a quality Cup ride, especially with Penske Racing.

Not all stories end the way we hope. Penske is faced with trying to support his tainted driver and serve his other master that doles out major amounts of money, Shell/Pennzoil.

Penske stated at Indianapolis, "There are so many questions: does he keep the ride or not? We don't know when he is going to be back. We have sponsor obligations. There's lots of things happening."

Penske added, "At this point, from my perspective, I have a very open mind, but I want to sit down face to face with him to determine what's the best thing for the team, what's the best thing for him."

The meeting between Penske and Allmendinger was to take place this week, though the boss has remained in contact with his driver and supported him during this tough time.

Shell/Pennzoil deserves a driver who can take the No. 22 to Victory Lane and keep the car near the front of the field, much like Busch did.

It may well sound harsh, but neither Allmendinger nor Hornish have much more than the potential to be winning Cup drivers one day. Penske needs a driver who will be strong out of the gate in 2013 with the #22.

Hornish will likely be in a Cup car for Penske, but it could well be in a third car perhaps with a partial schedule next season. The personable driver might run for the Nationwide title again next year.

Penske faced some tough decisions that revolved around Allmendinger. His emotional side would like to stand strong with the driver and get him back in the No. 22.

Unfortunately for Allmendinger, racing is big business. The decision of Penske  likely will not play to his favor, at least with his future as a NASCAR driver.

Update: Penske Racing announced the release of A.J. Allmendinger August 1.