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AJ Allmendinger may have won the Cheez-It 355, his first Sprint Cup win, Sunday at Watkins Glen, but it was by no means his first victory.
Allmendinger began his professional motorsports career at the helm of open-wheel cars where he won championships and broke records before making the switch to stock cars in 2007. The 'Dinger, as he would come to be known, had no wins during the first few years as a NASCAR driver in the lower tiers. He was one of those drivers who averaged a mid-pack start and usually finished somewhere in that same mid-pack. To the casual fan, Allmendinger wasn't one who garnered attention on or off the track … at least not until the summer of 2012.
Following the Kentucky race that year, Allmendinger was subjected, as all drivers routinely are, to a random drug test. Having failed the initial test, the driver submitted a second sample for testing. It, too, tested positive for an unapproved stimulant, which was later revealed to be Adderall.
At the time of his subsequent "indefinite" suspension, NASCAR issued the following statement, "As outlined in the rule book, NASCAR next will provide Allmendinger a letter outlining a process for reinstatement. By agreeing to the letter, he will be allowed to participate in the Road to Recovery Program."
The program is designed to provide drivers and others who have an on-track presence with a road map to return to competition. Upon successful completion of the program, participants can be recommended for reinstatement. Allmendinger signed up for the program in late July 2012 and was reinstated by NASCAR in mid-September 2012.
At the time of his reinstatement, Allmendinger issued the following statement, “I want to thank everyone for their support through this entire process. I appreciate that NASCAR created the the Road to Recovery program and am grateful for the opportunity to return to competition. The Road to Recovery program was really helpful to me in getting my priorities reset away from the race track. And, honestly, that helped find my love of racing again and why I began racing in the first place. I’m looking forward to taking this experience and be better for it moving forward.”
On Sunday, Allmendinger proved he had done just that. Scoring his first Sprint Cup win as a driver for JTG Daugherty, Allmendinger all but secured himself a spot in the 2014 Chase field. Besting road course veteran Marcos Ambrose in the closing two laps, Allmendinger and his No. 47 race team held off a charge from the Aussie driver and found themselves celebrating in Victory Lane.
Other drivers who've experienced the kinds of problems that have led them to the Road to Recovery Program haven't enjoyed the kind of celebration that Allmendinger and his team found yesterday. Allmendinger really did take his experience and push himself to be better as he's moved forward. His story is one from which we can all learn a lesson. Whatever trials we face aren't insurmountable. Everyone makes mistakes, but winners learn from them.
AJ Allmendinger is a living embodiment of why the Road to Recovery program is in place. Congratulations to the No. 47 team and to AJ — not just for winning yesterday's race, but for the personal battles he's won in the last few years.