Feb 2, 2014, 9:40 PM EDT
He was with one of the better teams in the sport, driving for a motorsports legend in Roger Penske, and had Allmendinger stuck around for the whole season, would have shared in then-teammate Brad Keselowski‘s run to the Sprint Cup championship later that same year.
Unfortunately, the man they call “The Dinger” saw that world collapse just about six months into his term with Team Penske, being suspended by NASCAR after testing positive for a banned stimulant following a random drug test.
In a matter of days that followed, Allmendingers Sprint Cup career, if not his future racing career – not to mention his tenure with Team Penske – had come to an abrupt end almost as quickly as it began.
To his credit, Allmendinger owned up to what he did and became a virtual poster boy for NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program. Allmendinger did everything that was asked of him and was quickly reinstated less than 3 ½ months after being suspended.
“I learned that there’s a lot of things I needed to change,” Allmendinger reflected back about his layoff with MotorSportsTalk during last week’s NASCAR Media Tour. “That racing itself didn’t just make me happy. Being away from racing, that wasn’t making me happy. There were just a lot of things that I needed to work on personally and mentally, kind of like almost starting all over again.
“Honestly, if it didn’t happen, I probably would never have had those opportunities, just because you’re so busy and you try to carry on and say it’ll fix itself. We all know it’s not going to fix itself. We can’t hide from problems, they won’t just go away. It gave me a chance to step back, look at myself and say I need to start over, to figure out the areas I need to work on and find true happiness.
“Racing makes me happy, but it wasn’t the sole reason. I wasn’t happy at the time. Being at home and the things I was dealing with (including divorce proceedings) weren’t making me happy. It’s that whole package. I feel so much better where I’m at now as a person.”
Last season, Allmendinger hoped to return to a full-time ride, but the opportunities were not there, so he did what he needed to do to keep himself visible. After finishing third in the Rolex 24 last January, he came back to race for Penske (proving he didn’t burn any bridges) in the Indianapolis 500 (started fifth, finished seventh).
Allmendinger would race in a total of six IndyCar races in 2013, as well as 18 Sprint Cup races for Phoenix Racing and JTG-Daugherty Racing, and also won both Nationwide Series races he entered (both also for Penske).
Allmendinger now finds himself in a similar position as Kurt Busch was in last season. Busch took an opportunity from Furniture Row Racing and ultimately became the first driver in Sprint Cup history to qualify a one-car team in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
That’s what Allmendinger would like to replicate in 2014.
“It is almost like starting over to be with this race team,” he said. “They don’t make me feel just like a driver, they make me feel a part of their family, I’m a key component to the race team and building it, not just driving the car. For all those reasons, I’m really looking forward to the partnership.”
The feeling is mutual, says team co-owner and ESPN analyst Brad Daugherty.
“We think it’s going to be a huge step for our program going forward,” Daugherty said of having Allmendinger. “We’re hoping to kind of simulate what the 78 (Busch and the Furniture Row team) did last year, to be very competitive every week.
“Expectations within our company are very high. We want to be inside that top-20 every week. … If you run well as a single-car team and get inside the top-20, you’re doing something.”
Putting Allmendinger behind the wheel is one of several changes for JTG-Daugherty, which is entering its 20th season in NASCAR racing this year. The perennial also-ran organization intends on shaking things up this year in a big way.
“We’re going to show up, be loud and proud, walk into some of those places like Dover and kick their butts, that’s what we’re planning on doing,” Daugherty said. “There’s no need to be shallow or meek about it. We got our butts kicked the last couple of years, so we’re going to hopefully return the favor this year.”
One of the biggest changes is JTG-D’s switch from Toyota to Chevrolet motors and chassis leased from Richard Childress Racing.
“We knew we had to have the alliance if we truly were going to be competitive,” Daugherty said. “Within our four walls, we don’t feel like we’re a 30th-place race team; we feel like we’re a 20th-place race team, but the reality of it is we were a 30th-place race team last year.
“We felt that Richard Childress gave us the best opportunity to maximize everything they were going to allow us to utilize. From Day One, they’ve given us entrée to everything they do in their building and it’s up to us to take advantage of it.”
Allmendinger plans on sticking around JTG-D, having recently signed a three-year contract.
“I thought this was the right place to be, the right choice for me and a place I can be hopefully for a long time,” Allmendinger said. “I’m very fortunate. … After 2012, I had to really sit down and look at that maybe, what you call big-time auto racing, I might be done with it. I love being here. I hope it continues for a long time.”
Allmendinger also realizes that everything he’s gone through has made him stronger.
“I truly believe now that things are meant to happen for a reason,” he said. “God had a plan and there’s so many things that happened last year that I’m so fortunate about. I’m in a great place, I feel so good mentally, physically – I’m just ready to go.”
Yet no matter how positive his attitude is, Allmendinger realizes and has accepted that he will likely carry for the rest of his career, if not his life, the stigma of having been suspended for drug use.
“I know that because of that stuff and where I’m at now and how much better I am,” Allmendinger said. “It sounds dumb, not that I’d ever want to have to go through that, but I’m happy I did and I wouldn’t actually go back and change it. That’s really the true thing. No, (talking about) it doesn’t bother me anymore.
“I’m happy to know I’ve learned from the past. But I don’t go back to the past, I just look toward the future. It’s a part of me and probably always will be.”
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski
Sep 21, 2014, 7:51 PM EDT
Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Courtney Force (Funny Car), Dave Connolly (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were the winners in Sunday’s final rounds of the NHRA FallNationals in Ennis, Texas.
Sep 21, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
The talented rookie continues to duel with the Chasers at New Hampshire before finishing second to Joey Logano.
Sep 21, 2014, 6:36 PM EDT
As the Chase for the Sprint Cup moves to Dover for next Sunday’s third race of the playoffs, nine drivers will be fighting elimination by vying for five advancement spots there.
Sep 21, 2014, 6:09 PM EDT
Brad Keselowski started from the pole, led the second-most number of laps in the race (78), overcame a late wreck and still almost won Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Sep 21, 2014, 5:49 PM EDT
Prior to last week’s opening race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Kevin Harvick said it would take wins and uncanny consistency to advance to the final four, winner-take-all battle in the season-ending race at Homestead.
Sep 21, 2014, 5:36 PM EDT
The Connecticut native joins Penske teammate Brad Keselowski in the Contender Round with his victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Sep 21, 2014, 5:13 PM EDT
Kenseth was running in the Top 10, when Paul Menard washed up into him and sent him spinning into the wall with 31 laps to go at New Hampshire.
Sep 21, 2014, 4:38 PM EDT
Kurt Busch had a tire rub on his Haas Automation Chevrolet when the right front tire appeared to blow on Lap 222 of the 300-lap Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, sending him hard into the wall and suffering right front end damage.
Sep 21, 2014, 4:20 PM EDT
Several drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup suffered damage to their respective race cars in a wreck that involved Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman with just over 100 laps to go in Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Sep 21, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
4 p.m. ET – Already several laps down, Hamlin was caught in a multi-car crash that also involved Martin Truex Jr., David Ragan, and Cole Whitt.
Sep 21, 2014, 3:42 PM EDT
Kevin Harvick is the halfway leader of Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Joey Logano is running second, followed by Jeff Gordon, Brian Vickers and Jamie McMurray.
Sep 21, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
Spanish driver still pleased with the race weekend in Singapore, feeling that Ferrari has made a step forwards.
Sep 21, 2014, 2:31 PM EDT
Less than a week after a track flagman was killed at a Florida short track, a Wisconsin sprint car driver was killed following a wreck on Saturday night.
Sep 21, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
Bottas finishes outside of the points for the first time in 2014, with his only other non-score the result of a DNF at Monaco.
Sep 21, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Kvyat and Magnussen both go without water for much of the race, leaving them dehydrated following the race.
Sep 21, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
German driver lost the lead of the drivers’ championship for the first time in four months.
Sep 21, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
Less downforce? More horsepower? Or something else entirely? It sounds like we won’t have to wait much longer on what the 2015 Sprint Cup rules package will bring.
Sep 21, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Australian driver enjoys a great deal of home support in Singapore, but feels that Red Bull should have been closer to Mercedes.
Sep 21, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Singapore GP winner admits that he had worries about the reliability of his car following Nico Rosberg’s retirement.
Sep 21, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT
J.R. Fitzpatrick won last night’s season finale, but Dumoulin’s ninth-place finish enables him to claim the championship in Canada’s top stock car series.
Video from NASCAR America
- Joey Logano avoids “yellow fever,” wins at N.H. to advance in Chase 1
- Wreck involves several Chase drivers; Keselowski spins, suffers minor damage 0
- Rosberg reflects on a tough day in Singapore (VIDEO) 1
- Reports: 2015 Sprint Cup rules package expected to be released on Tuesday 0
- Hamilton rules in Singapore to re-take championship lead as Rosberg retires 0
- Rosberg forced to retire in Singapore after electrical glitch 0
- Brendan Gaughan takes lead with 6 laps to go, wins Nationwide at Kentucky 0