NASCAR: The Curious Case of AJ Allmendinger

Victor GenovaContributor IOctober 7, 2012

Products designed to fight fatigue can either get you fired, or keep you employed in racing.
Products designed to fight fatigue can either get you fired, or keep you employed in racing.Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

It’s been a couple of weeks since AJ Allmendinger returned to a NASCAR-sanctioned race after completing the sanctioning body’s "Road to Recovery" drug rehab program. 

Old news, really.

If you’re new to NASCAR, then allow me summarize: In July Allmendinger failed a NASCAR drug test, testing positive for a banned substance. He was suspended, and then eventually fired by his team owner, Roger Penske.  

His return to the track wasn’t worth writing about because there wasn’t really a story. He’s unemployed, looking to change that, and with none of the top NASCAR teams having any vacancies next year the only real question was whether Allmendinger would retreat from NASCAR to IndyCar or sports car racing—a question that will probably be answered in the coming months.

And then I stumbled up on the ridiculous reader comments at the end of this article.

While the comment section at the bottom any online article is meant to promote debate and discussion, it also has one unfortunate byproduct—the promotion of idiocy.

After reading comments from would-be "armchair crew chiefs" (who are more akin to cyber bullies) calling Allmendinger a "druggie" (that comment has since disappeared) and even trying to wager how likely he is to re-offend, I thought it would be a good opportunity to remind the Deep South just how minor his crime really was.

NASCAR’s drug policy isn’t public, so it’s difficult to deduce what exactly is prohibited.

Drivers do have the option of running it by NASCAR before using a certain drug. Now, for the discussion board bubbas this doesn’t mean asking the powers-that-be if marijuana is OK, just as long as it’s made in the USA. This is about the little things in everyday over-the-counter medicine and perceptions.

You read that correctly. Your local drug store could be chock-full of products that could end your career as a professional athlete.

It was eventually revealed that Allmendinger tested positive for amphetamine, an ingredient in the drug Adderall. The overall aim of Adderall is to increase alertness. While no doctor, Google was good enough show me that this is a prescription drug used to combat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

Allmendinger claims that a friend offered it to him to combat fatigue. I believe him when he says that is was an isolated incident, because it's likely that this would have come up a lot sooner if he were a true addict.

Whatever. Back to the point of my article.

Had he been booked for something like cocaine or heroin, then my response would have been one of sympathy and a speedy recovery. Had it been steroids, then I probably would have written something condemning. No athlete takes steroids without trying to get an unfair advantage and that, simply put, is cheating. We punish crew chiefs that forget their restrictor plates at Daytona, and we should punish athletes that go beyond vitamins and protein shakes.

But what Allmendinger has had to endure is a little draconian. Yes, it’s silly that he was taking someone else’s prescription meds, but calling him a "druggie" on an online discussion board summarizes why Penske was forced to fire him. The general population isn't smart enough to deduce the use of one drug from the next. He failed a drug test. Yes, it was banned and yes, he should be punished, but that’s all they see. He might as well share a bunk with Charlie Sheen.

The irony is that while drugs like Adderall can get you tossed from the sport, other (and arguably controversial) fatigue remedies such as Red Bull, Monster and 5 Hour Energy will not. In fact, their sponsorship dollars will ensure you stay employed.