Drivers Support NASCAR Drug Testing System But Curious About Unknowns

LONG POND, PA - JUNE 08: AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge, walks through the garage area prior to practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 8, 2012 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

What would you do if you were one of AJ Allmendinger's NASCAR driver colleagues this week?

With few details about Allmendinger's positive drug test available, would not knowing the specific substance make you nervous? Would you double-check your supplements and prescriptions to make sure they were OK? How would you answer reporters' queries about the situation?

And perhaps the biggest question: Would you believe there could have been a mistake?

Allmendinger remained the hot topic at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Friday, even though he wasn't at the track. The Penske Racing driver was suspended from NASCAR after testing positive for what his camp said was a banned stimulant (Allmendinger contends he doesn't know how that happened).

For fitness-savvy drivers who take various supplements and vitamins to help their workouts and keep them healthy, you'd think the thought of an over-the-counter product causing a failed test would be worrisome.

But while Allmendinger's fellow drivers each expressed shock or surprise at the failed test, few openly doubted NASCAR's methods.

"Anytime somebody gets in trouble...when you don't know the true identity of the crime or don't have a real understanding of the chain of events, everybody gets curious, nervous, whatever," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. "I'm certain that as big and structured an organization as NASCAR is and the agency they have that works with them on their drug program, they can't make any mistakes. They can't afford to make any mistakes.

"I have to believe that they are making the right calls and the right choices and there is a reason to make the call they made."

Similarly, Matt Kenseth said he's curious about what Allmendinger got busted for but said he knew NASCAR would "err on the side of caution" – something he appreciated, since he wouldn't want to race at 200 mph with someone who was on drugs.

"I think they're gonna be pretty darn careful before they do something that could really jeopardize somebody's career," Kenseth said, "so I'd have a hard time believing that it's not pretty rock solid, or I don't think NASCAR would have reacted like that."

Though NASCAR's policy is strict, there is some breathing room before a suspension is handed down. After a driver fails the initial test, he's given a chance to explain to doctors why a positive result may have occurred. If there's no acceptable reason, it's only then that NASCAR is notified.

None of the drivers who spoke to reporters on Friday said they've had an 'A' sample questioned before. Drivers like Danica Patrick, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards all carefully check their supplements and prescription medications (like for allergies) with NASCAR before taking them. Johnson said he's even spoken to NASCAR's drug testing administrator, Dr. David Black, when he has concerns.

"I guess when you're not in question; you just go about your day and don't worry about it," Johnson said. "But we're all paying attention now and wondering."

Just last week, Edwards said, he was drug tested at Daytona. He walked into the room, saw the testing cups and thought, "I don't know where they've been, who has been in there, who has messed with them, what's going on. I don't know where they go after that."

And since this is an "imperfect world" – as Edwards said several times on Friday – he suggested NASCAR allow the drivers to have their own lab and run tests at the same time. That way, if both NASCAR's lab and the drivers' lab came back with a positive result, there would be no doubt of a driver's guilt.

"Until we do that, no matter what is found to be positive, no matter what the test results are, there is always gonna be that little question of, ‘Maybe there was a mistake,'" Edwards said.

Edwards was careful to say he trusted NASCAR's testing procedures. What was "scary" to him, he said, was that mistakes happen and there's always a chance something may have gotten messed up.

Jeff Gordon was among the drivers who said he'd like to know what Allmendinger tested positive for and wanted the full story before casting any judgment.

But at the same time, Gordon said he had no doubt NASCAR's test was correct.

"I have pretty strong faith in that system that when it happens, they're right," Gordon said. "But what could have caused it, you know?"

Until those answers are out there, drivers must trust that NASCAR and its testing program wouldn't make a mistake. For men whose careers depend on being in the race car every week, there's simply no other choice but to convince themselves they won't end up in the same situation as Allmendinger.

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