Drug Policy Making Some Drivers A Bit Nervous
Confused about NASCAR’s drug policy? Unsure of the details? Frustrated and left wondering about the specifics of the AJ Allmendinger suspension? Welcome to the club. A club that apparently includes many of the top drivers in the Sprint Cup Series.
Many of those drivers were asked about the policy and the Allmendinger situation on Friday when the teams arrived at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, site of this weekend’s Lennox 301 Cup race and the first stop on the schedule since the Penske Racing driver was suspended.
And yes, some said, clarity on the situation is in short supply.
Allmendinger was parked by NASCAR last Saturday afternoon, just hours before the start of the annual Fourth of July weekend race at Daytona International Speedway.
About all the public was told was that Allmendinger was parked because he failed a drug test.
In the days since, very little new information has been added. Nobody in NASCAR has said what banned substance was discovered by the test, or how much of the substance was detected.
A spokesperson for Allmendinger said at mid week that the initial positive test was for a stimulant. And that is about the only thing that fans, the media and those in the garages have to go on.
But which stimulant? One that is illegal or one that may have been taken involuntarily by way of dietary
supplements or, even, food or drink?
NASCAR has said only that it tests for a “broad panel of substances.”
Allmendinger has said he would not knowingly take a banned substance.
What seemed to emerge from the questions put to drivers Friday about drugs, testing, policy violations and the Allmendinger suspension was a sense that competitors don’t have a thorough grasp of NASCAR’s system.
And it’s making them edgy.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. of Hendrick Motorsports, for instance, on Friday was asked about the situation and said, “Anytime somebody gets in trouble regardless of what it is, when you don’t know the true identity of the crime or don’t have a real understanding of the chain of events, everybody gets curious, nervous, whatever.”
Driver Matt Kenseth of Roush Fenway Racing was asked about Allmendinger. He said that details may be forthcoming, especially after Allmendinger’s “B” sample is tested. But for now, he is just not sure what is going on with the test.
“Yeah, I think everybody would want to know,” Kenseth said. “I’d love to know what it is. Did they come out and say it’s a supplement?”
Told that Allmendinger said it was a supplement, Kenseth said, “Oh, it was? I didn’t see that he said anything, but I wouldn’t know. But, yeah, I think everybody of course would want to know what it is from both sides. People are curious. You guys, I’m sure, want to know and we’d all want to know as well.”
The nervousness on the part of drivers has not, several said, descended into paranoia. That for the simple reason that they trust NASCAR.
“I think they did a lot of things when they put that system in place to make it as fair as they can and I really believe that NASCAR is going to err on the side of caution,” Kenseth said. “I think they’re gonna be pretty darn careful before they do something that could really jeopardize somebody’s career, so I’d have a hard time believing that it’s not pretty rock solid, or I don’t think NASCAR would have reacted like that.”
Carl Edwards of Roush Fenway had a suggestion which might clarify drivers’ situation vis a vis substances which may be banned and benefit the sport as a whole.
“I think the drivers need to get together and we need to have our own group that is paid by us, that works
for us, to be here in tandem with the NASCAR drug testers and have them test us at the same time so that we have not just an A and B sample, but an A and B testing facility, and we can all agree on that facility, it’s no big deal,” Edwards said. “I don’t think it would be a contentious thing, I think that would remove almost all doubt in any situation of a positive test. If a driver had someone that they could go to and say, ‘Hey look, this is my representative. They tested at the same time on the same day and we have this result.’
“If the results are the same, obviously I think we’d all agree that it was a positive, and if they’re different, I think it would give a different perspective. But I think until we do that, no matter what is found to be positive, no matter what the test results are, there is always gonna be that little question of, ‘Maybe there was a mistake.’ ”
Hendrick driver Jimmie Johnson said his solution is to head off potential problems. He said he is super careful about what he puts into his system.
Johnson says he follows NASCAR’s “protocol” to the letter.
“Prior to taking supplements I worked out the list that I wanted to take and submitted it and four or five days later I heard back that everything was approved,” he said. “It’s just stuff you buy at GNC anyway, so I don’t think there’s a ton of concern. But on the medical side, again, at the start of each year when we get our physicals, I make sure I lay out anything. I think I’ve had some prescription changes mid-season, and I make sure that I file those as well. And that’s been it.”
Several of the drivers were shocked by the news when it broke late on Saturday.
“That is not in AJ Allmendinger’s character so I don’t know what is going on there,” Tony Stewart of Stewart-Haas Racing said. “It’s unfortunate because he’s a good guy and he’s a really good race car driver so I mean I would say there is probably a logical explanation for it.”
Many drivers said they were most shocked by the timing of the suspension.
The sample which tested positive was collected from Allmendinger at Kentucky Speedway the week before the Daytona race.
The announcement of the suspension came just hours before the start of the Coke Zero 400. Penske Racing had to scramble to fill Allmendinger’s seat as Nationwide driver Sam Hornish Jr. had to be flown into Daytona.
Once the race started, Hornish struggled.
“I don’t necessarily understand 100 percent the timing of why that takes so long,” Kevin Harvick of Richard Childress Racing said. “It seemed like an odd situation to be right before the race.”
The Sprint Cup cars are back on the track this weekend. Thoughts will return to winning races and making the Chase.
But after Friday’s driver interviews, it sounds like the competitors are anything but certain about NASCAR’s drug policy in general and the Allmendinger situation specifically.
Said four-time champion Jeff Gordon, “I hope we get a full story. I haven’t asked anybody or talked to anybody that has any real details and I don’t even know if they’re capable of giving those details. But you’d certainly like to know what it is.”
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgOne Comment