A positive test is a negative story in NASCAR circles

The recent drug controversy surrounding NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver A.J. Allmendinger has a lot of people around the garage looking pretty worried.

Just hours before the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 7, NASCAR announced that Allmendinger had failed a random drug test administered the week before at Kentucky Speedway. He was indefinitely suspended from competition, effective immediately.

Penske Racing, Allmendinger’s employer, was forced to hustle Nationwide Series driver Sam Hornish Jr. in from North Carolina to serve as a backup, and the controversy has been the major NASCAR storyline ever since.

This is a shocking case not simply for the fact that it happened, but for who it happened to. Allmendinger, like so many drivers these days, adheres to a strict fitness schedule including supervised workouts and nutrition plans. He is easygoing and well-liked, although some would be quick to point out that plenty of popular athletes, even superstars, in other sports have gotten into trouble with drug policies.

NASCAR administers 20 drug tests, including five drivers and 15 crew members, officials and such, each week. The tests are completely random, meaning Jeff Gordon is just as likely to be asked for a urine sample as the rear tire changer on Landon Cassill’s car.

Samples are divided in half and labeled A and B. The A sample is immediately sent to Aegis Sciences Corp., the lab that administers NASCAR’s drug program, for testing. The B sample is sealed and stored.

In the event of a failed test, the driver or crew member is suspended immediately. He or she then has 72 hours to request that the B sample be tested. Aegis also performs the second test, although subjects are allowed to bring in their own experts to oversee the process. Allmendinger has requested testing of the B sample, and will be accompanied by his toxicologist and his attorney.

Carl Edwards, perhaps NASCAR’s most physically fit driver right now, feels that drug testing should not be confined to a single facility.

“What does a guy that doesn’t drink, use any drugs, have any chance of being in violation, what does that guy really have to gain by subjecting himself to these tests? He has the potential … of having some sort of false positive or having something happen. I think that’s really scary for a lot of the guys in this sport when you go in there and subject yourself to that,” he said.

“Let’s be honest … tests are imperfect. 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.

“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 going to be that little question of, ‘Maybe there was a mistake.’”

NASCAR’s policy where alleged drug violations are concerned is a sort of frontier justice – swift and painful – but in their defense, that’s understandable. After all, this is not a case where a bulked-up first baseman might potentially hit one over the left field wall. Rather, an allegedly pumped-up NASCAR driver who makes a single mistake behind the wheel of a 3400-pound stock car moving 180 MPH just inches from 42 other competitors could be the catalyst for a real tragedy.

One reason why the Allmendinger case may be so surprising is that we simply don’t see drug-related suspensions very often at NASCAR’s highest level. Only one other driver has been suspended under NASCAR’s current drug policy – Jeremy Mayfield, back in 2009.

The NASCAR rule book’s list of banned substances is three pages long, running the gamut from Ambien to alcohol. Drivers who are prescribed certain medications by their physicians for things like asthma and other chronic conditions are required to provide NASCAR with that information.

NASCAR did not say what Allmendinger tested positive for, but in a statement, his business manager simply called it “a stimulant.” The driver has denied knowingly taking a banned substance, and is collecting information on his medications and nutrition supplements.

“Obviously I would never do anything to jeopardize my opportunity here at Penske Racing or to my fellow drivers. I am very conscious about my training and health and would never knowingly take a prohibited drug,” he said in an official statement.

Allmedinger’s team is standing by him. On July 15 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Mr. Penske said his driver’s job is waiting for him once he is cleared of the drug charges.

They don’t come around too often, but this is definitely one of those rare occasions when everyone involved would love to see a positive turned into a negative.

The next race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule is the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 29. The defending champion is Paul Menard.

Driver standings after New Hampshire:

1. Matt Kenseth

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

3. Greg Biffle

4. Jimmie Johnson

5. Denny Hamlin

6. Kevin Harvick

7. Tony Stewart

8. Martin Truex Jr.

9. Clint Bowyer

10. Brad Keselowski

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