Roger Penske was forced to make a call every NASCAR team owner dreads having to make.
Following the indefinite suspension of Penske Racing driver A.J. Allmendinger for a failed drug test, the team owner parted ways with the Los Gatos, California native on Wednesday.
Allmendinger's tenure at Penske Racing began with such promise.
Having improved his position in the final NASCAR Sprint Cup points standings every year while driving for second-tier teams Red Bull Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports, it seemed as though Allmendinger was primed to make a run at the Chase in 2012, his first season driving the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge.
But this year was abysmal from the start.
Allmendinger earned just one top 10 finish in the first 15 races, albeit an impressive second-place finish at Martinsville. During that span, however, Allmendinger finished 31st or worse six times.
Things started to turn around for Allmendinger at Sonoma and Kentucky, where he notched back-to-back ninth-place efforts.
Then the wheels fell off the Allmendinger wagon when he was suspended for failing a drug test. After his second sample tested positive as well, Allmendinger was suspended indefinitely and immediately enrolled in NASCAR's Road to Recovery program.
That set Penske up for a tough decision: stick with his driver through this difficult time or cut ties with him altogether.
Unfortunately for both parties, the decision was clear. Penske knew what he had to do, and that was let Allmendinger go.
It had nothing to do with Penske not liking Allmendinger. Far from it, in fact. It's been said that Penske has talked to Allmendinger every day since the suspension to "keep his spirits up."
No, this was about doing what was fair. Here is Penske's statement, from the team's official press release, with the key point of it highlighted in bold:
Penske Racing fully supports NASCAR's substance abuse policy and we are disappointed with AJ's positive drug test results. AJ is a terrific driver, a good person and it is very unfortunate that we have to separate at this time. We have invested greatly in AJ and we were confident in his success with our team. The decision to dismiss him is consistent with how we would treat any other Penske Racing team member under similar circumstances. As AJ begins NASCAR's 'Road to Recovery' program, we wish him the best and look forward to seeing him compete again in NASCAR.
In other words, if a pit crew member, engine tuner or anybody else inside the Penske organization had failed a drug test, they would have been canned.
Even as one of the faces of the organization, Allmendinger is no different. He needed to be held accountable for what he did, and in Penske's eyes, that meant he needed to be let go.
It wasn't an easy decision, I'm sure. Especially considering this situation is harder on Allmendinger than anybody, and Penske recognizes that.
Which is why, hopefully, Penske will continue talking to Allmendinger and help him get through the Road to Recovery program, and maybe one day back into the Sprint Cup Series.
But today, Roger Penske needed to do what he felt was right, and that was release A.J. Allmendinger.
And as unfortunate as the situation is, that was the fair thing to do.
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