CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Penske Racing supported AJ Allmendinger through his drug suspension from NASCAR and vowed to help the driver resurrect his career.
His opportunity appears to be in IndyCar.
Allmendinger will test an IndyCar for Penske at Sebring, Fla., on Feb. 19, with an eye on running the Indianapolis 500 for the storied organization. He was at Penske Racing on Thursday having a seat fit in an IndyCar.
"Roger is one of the most loyal owners you will ever know, and I think his loyalty has come into play in this case," Penske President Tim Cindric said. "AJ is obviously talented and when you look at the circumstances and how he handled the circumstances, well, he made a mistake. But he's a talented guy and someone who has shown what he can do in an IndyCar.
"We are in the racing business, and AJ has gone through the process required for him and as far as we are concerned the slate is wiped clean."
Allmendinger was suspended by NASCAR hours before the July race at Daytona for failing a random drug test. He asked to have his backup "B'' sample tested, and was released by Penske Racing on Aug. 1 when those results also came back positive for a banned substance.
Allmendinger completed NASCAR's "Road to Recovery" program and was reinstated in September. The Penske organization had already moved on without him in NASCAR, but is willing to give him a shot in IndyCar.
Allmendinger won five races in Champ Car in 2006, his final season in open-wheel cars before he moved to NASCAR. Cindric said he believes Allmendinger will adapt quickly to IndyCar's DW-12, which debuted last season.
"This IndyCar is relatively easy to drive — it needs more power and less downforce, so his learning curve would be less than other IndyCars," Cindric said. "When he was driving the open wheel car, he was very competitive. When you gauge him next to Will Power — it was the reason why he was able to make the step to NASCAR, because he was successful and a proven talent. Typically, guys don't forget what they know."
Penske, which has won 15 Indy 500s, is committed to running a third car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May. The team owner in December dangled the seat to three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart, who declined the opportunity.
But Cindric said it's still their intent to run the car, and Allmendinger is a viable option.
And in pursuing the opportunity, Allmendinger had to convince the organization he's interested in racing in the IndyCar Series. Allmendinger ran four NASCAR races after his reinstatement, has a handful of Sprint Cup races on his 2013 schedule, and was on Michael Shank Racing's third-place team at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona sports car race last month.
"When we look at the drivers out there, we've been looking at AJ and asked, 'Is he someone who wants to do this longer-term if there was a possibility with us?'" Cindric said. "For him to be a candidate to run at Indy, it would have to be something he'd be interested in doing beyond Indy. He's consistently told us, 'Whatever is the best ride for me, I just want the best opportunity as a driver.' He's convinced us that should we want him to drive beyond Indy, we would be his first priority."
Cindric said the test in Florida is so far the only thing on Allmendinger's schedule with the Penske IndyCar. Ideally, Allmendinger would run at least one race with the organization before the Indy 500 and Cindric said the April event at Barber was a good fit because IndyCar has an open test at the Alabama track.
Allmendinger's only run one oval track in an IndyCar, at Milwaukee. He finished fifth, second and fourth in his three career starts.
"Because he's only driven one oval in an open-wheel car, we'd want to run him in at least one race before Indy to get used to the team, to pit stops and get comfortable," Cindric said. "We're hoping to try to make a decision about the Barber open test by the end of the month."