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Once-banned driver rehired by Penske

– AJ Allmendinger looked and sounded like a driver getting the second chance of a lifetime Friday.

Eight months after failing a NASCAR drug test and losing his job on Roger Penske’s Cup team, the 31-year-old California native was rehired by The Captain to drive in two IndyCar races this season – including the season’s biggest race, the Indianapolis 500.

Allmendinger got the series title sponsor, IZOD, as his primary sponsor and will drive the No. 2 car that won the pole last year for an owner who has won a record 15 Indy 500 titles.

It doesn’t get better than that.

“When you’re racing against people at over 200 mph, they’re the ones that have to trust you and if they don’t trust you, you’re not going to be back in the sport anyway,” Allmendinger said after listing a series of drivers who had offered support to him in his comeback bid. “So they told me do what you have to do and get back, get back as soon as possible.”

The current deal is for only two races: April 7 at Birmingham, Ala., and May 26 at Indy. If Penske finds more funding, the schedule could be expanded.

He also will try to juggle his new part-time job with a part-time Cup schedule that already includes races at Bristol and Fontana with Phoenix Racing. That team also wants more funding to keep Allmendinger on the track regularly.

NASCAR suspended Allmendinger in July after he failed a random drug test. He was released by Penske when a backup “B” sample also tested positive for a banned substance that Allmendinger later confirmed was Adderall. The prescription drug is commonly used to treat attention deficit disorder, which Allmendinger does not have. He also did not know what was in the pill.

“I was dumb and naïve, and it was a one-time thing,” he said. “I took it unknowingly, but it was dumb.”

The suspension gave Allmendinger time to contemplate his future in racing and complete NASCAR’s “Road to Recovery” program. He was reinstated by Cup officials in September and finished the season by competing in four Cup races with Phoenix Racing.

IndyCar officials said Allmendinger will be subjected to random tests. But neither the team nor the series has created any additional requirements to ensure Allmendinger is clean.

The job gives Allmendinger a chance to return to his open-wheel roots where he was once considered a rising star. From 2004 to 2006, he had 14 podium finishes in the now-defunct Champ Car Series, winning five times and finishing third in points in 2006.

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