NASCAR reinstates AJ Allmendinger

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - The first phase of his comeback complete, an optimistic AJ Allmendinger is ready to get on with his life.

He’s hopeful that includes another job in racing.

Allmendinger on Tuesday was reinstated by NASCAR, which said he successfully completed its rehabilitation program after testing positive for a banned substance. The process took a little over two months, and Allmendinger said he learned a lot about himself while participating in the “Road to Recovery” program.

“I knew I didn’t have a problem, I knew it was a one-time mistake,” Allmendinger told The Associated Press. “I’m going to use the word “educated” because I feel like I was educated on a lot of things and a lot of things about myself. I just needed to get my priorities straight and my life straightened out.

“And learn to be happy as a person away from the race track,” he added. “If you are not happy away from the race track, you aren’t going to be happy at the race track. So much of what I was doing at the race track was dictating the person I was.”

Allmendinger was suspended July 7 after failing a random drug test in June. His backup “B” urine sample also later tested positive.

NASCAR has not revealed the substance, but he has said he tested positive for Adderall, a prescription drug typically used to treat attention deficit disorder. He does not have an ADD diagnosis or prescription, and said he took it a couple of days before the June 30 race at Kentucky Speedway because he was tired.

He was released by Penske Racing after his “B” sample failed, and participating in NASCAR’s program was his only hope at reinstatement.

Now that he’s done it, he may find a home sooner than anyone expected back in July.

“The first thing is what options are out there for me? I don’t know the answer to that,” he said. “But I’ve learned this is life, and everything is an option.”

Team owner Roger Penske had Allmendinger as his guest at the IndyCar season finale last weekend and said the 30-year-old driver is a viable candidate for rides in both NASCAR and IndyCar. Penske even said he’d consider hiring Allmendinger again.

Allmendinger said he was nervous to attend the race, in part because it was his first public appearance since the suspension and because he’d not been in the paddock since leaving Champ Car for NASCAR after the 2006 season. But he felt at ease as soon as he walked back into the track, and said he was welcomed by everyone from team owners to crew members to fans.

Allmendinger said there’s been interest from IndyCar teams, but he’s not sure what comes next.

“I don’t have a specific answer, I just know that it will be something I want to do,” he said. “But I also don’t want this to be the end of NASCAR. I don’t want to leave like that. I don’t want to feel like I failed.”

Allmendinger ran three seasons in Champ Car and won five races in 2006, right before he was lured to NASCAR by Red Bull Racing. But the team had no development program for him, and he struggled with the move to stock cars.

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