NASCAR: A.J.’s New Lease on His Racing Life
It’s racing, after all. So it’s only natural: What goes around, comes around. The alternative is parking behind the wall, so you go along with it.
This month, A.J. Allmendinger is right back where he was a year ago. But boy, oh boy, has the scenery changed. Nearly a year ago, Allmendinger carried the Michael Shank Racing team to victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and was sitting atop the racing world.
His outgoing demeanor, quick wit and ready smile made him a perfect fit for modern racing stardom. And that seemed to be in store, since he was on the cusp of long-awaited NASCAR success at the highest level, or so it seemed. Several weeks before last year’s Rolex, he’d been hired by Roger Penske to replace Kurt Busch in Penske’s No. 22 Sprint Cup Series ride.
But any momentum Allmendinger owned disappeared in a long string of mediocre (and worse) finishes during the first half of the 2012 Cup season. But finishing several laps down and behind the wall is nothing compared with the sidelining he suffered when he returned to Daytona in July for the midseason 400-miler. Not long after NASCAR’s traveling road show set up shop for an early-July weekend, word spread about Allmendinger failing a random drug test.
“That’s when all the hell in my life started — the July race (in Daytona),” he said during last week’s Daytona sports-car test session.
Allmendinger soon lost his Penske ride. When his suspension was lifted, he did mop-up duty the last month of the Cup season for James Finch’s Phoenix Racing. As of now, the Rolex 24, with his defending-champ teammates at Michael Shank Racing, is the lone entry on his to-do list.
But he’s painting a positive picture.
“I’m a lot better person than I was when I sat here a year ago,” Allmendinger said. “Racing is a priority, but it doesn’t have to control your life. For 30 years, it controlled my life, and once it gets taken away, it doesn’t control it anymore and you have to figure out, ‘OK, what kind of person am I?’
“Once you get all those defense mechanisms and all the walls down, it’s just you standing there as a person. You gotta look at yourself every day. That’s what I do. It’s a constant battle, because there’s good and bad.”
by Godwin Kelly (c) 2013 King Features Synd. Inc.