- Associated Press - Friday, August 3, 2012

LONG POND, PA. (AP) - Days after he was dumped by Penske Racing, A.J. Allmendinger found plenty of support from the drivers in the garage.

The backing of his peers was the least of his problems.

It’s the prospect of a driver who has never won a Sprint Cup race and flunked a drug test trying to coax another major sponsor and owner to give him a second chance at Cup racing. He may return to the sport, just never again with a ride like he had at Penske.

“I think he’ll be back in a Cup car. Will it be a good Cup car? I don’t think so,” driver Denny Hamlin said.

Allmendinger was thrust from NASCAR obscurity into infamy once NASCAR suspended him indefinitely for a positive drug test in late June. Team owner Roger Penske fired Allmendinger this week and gave pinch-driver Sam Hornish Jr. the keys to the No. 22 for the “foreseeable future.”

“I can see a long time. But that doesn’t mean my eyesight and theirs is the same,” a smiling Hornish said.

Hornish has an unexpected second act at Penske because of Allmendinger’s misfortune. This time, Hornish plans to keep the ride for this season and beyond.

“It’s been an interesting month, that’s for sure,” Hornish said.

There was plenty of talk Friday about the driver who wasn’t there, probably more than there ever was before about Allmendinger on his best weekend.

Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson were among the drivers rooting for Allmendinger to make a comeback. Tony Stewart said Allmendinger deserves a second chance. Carl Edwards said he’d be fine with racing against Allmendinger if he made a return.

“I think people like a comeback story and if A.J. is committed to the process and getting back, I’m sure there will be some opportunities,” Johnson said.

Allmendinger’s only way to come back to the series is to complete NASCAR’s rehabilitation program, and he pledged to do so in a statement this week so he can compete again “in the near future.” He was suspended July 7, just hours before the race at Daytona and forcing Penske to bring in Hornish at the last moment. His backup urine sample, tested last week, confirmed the initial positive test. That sealed his fate at Penske.

He can only hope it hasn’t ended his career.

But top seats are scarce in NASCAR and the millions of dollars needed to fund a team have tightened as sponsors are looking for big names and sure things. Sometimes, even that winning combination isn’t enough to pry open the corporate wallets and keep a team afloat over 36 races, test sessions and expensive stock cars.

“These companies are just not willing to take the risks like they used to on a young driver, much less someone with a bad history,” Hamlin said. “It’s going to be a tough road. I’m sure we’ll see him back in the Cup series at some point.”

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