When A.J. Allmendinger failed his drug test, it was a shock to the NASCAR world. He was only the second Sprint Cup Series driver to fail a drug test under NASCAR’s substance abuse policy.
Allmendinger signed a one-year contract with Penske Racing before the start of the 2012 season and now that he is indefinitely suspended, it looks like he won’t be returning to the team next year. This means there is an open high quality ride open for the 2013 season.
As for the rest of the 2012 season, Sam Hornish Jr. will be piloting the No. 22 Penzoil Dodge. Hornish made his debut in the Sprint Cup Series in 2008, but didn’t perform well and is now driving full-time in the Nationwide Series. He currently sits fourth in the points this season and is in the middle of the Nationwide Series championship hunt. His sudden ride in the Cup Series is a great opportunity for Hornish to showcase that he can be a quality driver in NASCAR’s top series.
Hornish is the driver who has the most to gain from all of this. Roger Penske is very loyal to Hornish and admits that he rushed him up to the Cup Series too early back in 2008. Penske wants to give Hornish another chance to succeed and it seems unlikely that any other driver will be in the 22 car next season.
However, Penske will have some other interesting choices as there are some interesting free agents to choose from. Drivers such as Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray and Brian Vickers could all be options for the ride.
Newman currently drives for Stewart-Haas Racing and has lost his main sponsor Army for next season. Tony Stewart has said that he plans on racing three full-time cars in 2013 with Danica Patrick driving in the third car. Stewart has also said that he is only negotiating with one driver for the 39 car and that driver is Newman. However, there is still no contract signed and Newman knows what it’s like to drive for Penske as that is his former team.
An underdog for this ride will be Vickers. He is currently driving eight races for Michael Waltrip Racing this season and his plans for 2013 are still up in the air. His performance has been great with MWR, but if he doesn’t get offered a full-time ride with them next season, look for Vickers to campaign for the ride at Penske.
Allmendinger’s drug failure is a disgrace to the sport, but on a positive note it will provide a clean talented driver an opportunity at one of the best rides in all of NASCAR. Hornish is the front runner for the ride and it will not be a surprise if he is in that seat in 2013. Also, Penske Racing has a couple of young talented drivers in Parker Kilgerman and Ryan Blaney who can possibly fill the seat in 2014 if if no other driver works out.
Whoever does get the ride next season deserves the ride more than Allmendinger. Drugs have no place in NASCAR and he needs to be kept out of the sport.
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