DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – NASCAR temporarily suspended driver AJ Allmendinger for a failed drug test, forcing Penske Racing officials to scramble to get Sam Hornish Jr. to the track before Saturday night's race at Daytona International Speedway.
Allmendinger's suspension was announced about 90 minutes before the race by NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations Steve O'Donnell.
Allmendinger's "A'' sample taken last weekend at Kentucky Speedway came back positive, and the driver has 72 hours to request his "B'' sample be tested.
"NASCAR has a strict drug-testing program that Penske Racing fully supports. Penske Racing will work with NASCAR through this process and its next steps," the team said in a statement.
Penske Racing President Tim Cindric said NASCAR notified the organization Saturday afternoon, and the immediate focus became getting Hornish back from North Carolina, where he was about to do a live television show on the Speed Channel.
"Right before I was about to do the last segment on my Speed TV show, I got a call from Mike Nelson while I was in the studio and all that I could think about was that he was calling to harass me about my tie," Hornish said. "Obviously, that's not the case."
Hornish finished 10th in Friday night's Nationwide Series race, and the team sent a plane to get him back to Daytona, where Allmendinger was scheduled to start eighth.
"For me, it was a lot of waiting around," said Hornish, who finished 33rd after a flat tire caused him problems midway through the race. "I'm sure for everyone else it was hectic. We sat there and had no idea what was going to happen from the time that I left Charlotte to when I got to Daytona. ... I actually went and got a sandwich and tried to hydrate as much as I could. I think I drank 18 bottles of water knowing how hot it was down here."
Hornish arrived about eight minutes before he needed to be in the car, aided by a police escort on the short drive from the Daytona airport.
"It's really been a whirlwind since we were notified, and we really just needed to get Sam back to Daytona," Cindric told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "We spoke briefly with AJ before he left, and we agreed we'd talk when we get back."
Cindric didn't reveal details of the conversation with Allmendinger, and said the organization is still trying to digest the information.
"Certainly there's no closure, and it's just not that simple of a situation," Cindric said. "We need to let the process take care of itself. It's a situation we've never been in before, and when we were notified he failed the test, the next step really became getting Sam to Daytona and agreeing to table everything else until we're all back."
Cindric is in Toronto for Sunday's IndyCar Series race, and team owner Roger Penske has been on a European vacation. Bud Denker, senior vice president of Penske Corp., also wasn't in Daytona.
Allmendinger was hired in late December by Penske to fill the seat that opened when Kurt Busch split with the organization. It's the most prolific ride of Allmendinger's career, and both driver and team seemed thrilled with the pairing even as Allmendinger has had his struggles in the No. 22 Dodge.
He was 23rd in the Sprint Cup Series standings heading into Daytona, where he won the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona sports car race in January shortly after his hiring at Penske.
He's the most prolific driver since Jeremy Mayfield in 2009 was suspended for a failed drug test. Mayfield has fought NASCAR over the test since, and has not raced a NASCAR event since.
Asked if Penske Racing is supporting Allmendinger, Cindric indicated the team is behind its first-year driver.
"He's our driver and that why it's important to understand all the facts," Cindric said. "It's very difficult to speculate on how it should be handled. On one side, we have personal relationships, and on the other, well, it's a business side. We've not been through this before, and we just really want to understand this some more."
As the team waited for Hornish, Penske briefly grabbed Kenny Wallace to be on standby just in case Hornish didn't make it in time.
Wallace was wearing one of Kevin Harvick's firesuits and had Allmendinger's helmet, and the team had changed the seat, shifter, the seat belts, the pedals and the steering column to suit Hornish.
"Well, that was drama," Wallace said. "It was a little uncomfortable for everybody."
Allmendinger in 2009 pleaded no contest in North Carolina to a misdemeanor charge of driving while impaired. He was given a 60-day suspended sentence, 18 months unsupervised probation and 24 hours of community service.
Allmendinger took responsibility a day after the arrest.
"Obviously it was my fault," Allmendinger said. "It was a bad decision. I wish I could take it back. I'd do anything to be able to take it back, but that's life. You can't. So all I can do is go out there and learn from it and be a lot better person from it, which I will be, and, hopefully, educate other people that you don't have to have a ton of drinks to (be) drunk."
Allmendinger drove for Richard Petty Motorsports at the time, and the team put him on probation through 2010 and fined him $10,000.