As the 2012 motorsports season started, AJ Allmendinger was in an enviable position. He was set to drive Roger Penske’s No. 22 Pennzoil car in NASCAR’s premier division, the Sprint Cup Series. Seventeen races later, Penske had no option other than to dismiss the driver for an apparent singular lapse in judgment. After five years of driving clean, Allmendinger failed a random drug test that discovered amphetamines in his system. NASCAR subsequently suspended him.
Allmendinger completed NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program and was reinstated three months later. Sponsors still fled from the controversy though. Allmendinger’s record on the track didn’t help his case either. In the 17 races prior to his suspension, Allmendinger was ranked 23rd in the point standings. Sponsors might forgive a mistake made by an established winner, but they are less likely to attach their name to a tainted athlete who has yet to prove himself.
Things are looking up for Allmendinger now though. He’s sharing a ride in the mostly sponsor-less No. 51 Phoenix Racing car in the Sprint Cup Series and has two top-15 finishes so far in 2013. Penske has also given Allmendinger a second chance in the INDYCAR series with a three-race deal, starting at Barber Motorsports Park on April 7.
Equally important, Allmendinger is on the right path to fan and sponsor redemption. Working to prove his worth on the track, he has turned to social media to show his appreciation for a second chance and the support of fans and teammates.
Fans can forgive an indiscretion, especially if that athlete is humble and appreciative. Everybody loves a winner, but the general public loves a comeback story even more.