AJ Allmendinger happy to get unexpected return to NASCAR at Charlotte

AJ Allmendinger woke up at 8:30 a.m. Thursday morning, ready for a day of golf and a visit to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage to shake some hands and say hello.

First, though, he went to work out – and left his phone at home in the process. After all, he figured, why would anyone call him so early in the morning?

But upon returning, Allmendinger picked up his phone to see four missed calls from Phoenix Racing general manager Steve Barkdoll.

He knew it was urgent, but there was just one problem: Allmendinger's condominium doesn't get very good reception.

"It was like, 'What? You want...today? What?'" he said with a laugh. "Is this a joke?"

Eventually, he got the message: Phoenix Racing wanted Allmendinger to get his butt to Charlotte Motor Speedway right away to drive its No. 51 car in place of Regan Smith, who was called to sub for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The race will mark Allmendinger's return to a race car for the first time in three months, since he was suspended for testing positive for an amphetamine. He completed NASCAR's "Road to Recovery" program last month, but had yet to get a new job.

"It's like riding a bike – at 200 mph," Allmendinger said with another laugh. "It's tough. Charlotte is a fast race track, so it's a matter of getting used to it again."

Allmendinger was asked whether he would have thought he'd return so quickly when his suspension became indefinite in late July. But the driver said at that time, he wasn't thinking about driving at all.

"In late July, I was not worried about driving a Cup car; I was worried about fixing everything and getting where I needed to be as a person and what that entailed," he said. "So at that point, racing was the last thing I was worried about."

As for his goals for Saturday night's race? Allmendinger said he'd love to "come try to set the world on fire," but would settle for running all 500 miles and minimizing his mistakes.

After all, if this doesn't work out, Allmendinger doesn't know what's next. Asked what other irons he had in the fire, the driver laughed.

"You're looking at it!" he said. "This is my iron in the fire: Getting in a race car tomorrow. That's all I have right now."

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