Penske Racing Will Have No Shortage Of Options To Replace AJ Allmendinger

As the door closes for one driver, that same door opens for another.

In this case, the door represents a ride with Penske Racing in the No. 22 car formerly driven by AJ Allmendinger, who was released by the team Wednesday after both his samples tested positive for a banned substance.

In a statement released by the team it was announced that Sam Hornish Jr. would be Allmendinger's fill-in for the "foreseeable future" while the team evaluates its options for the 2013 season.

Hornish is the leading candidate to be named the permanent replacement because he has a close relationship with team owner Roger Penske. He is also currently driving a Penske-owned car in the Nationwide Series, sitting fourth in points and coming off a runner-up finish at Indianapolis.

But it's not a given that Hornish will occupy the seat in the No. 22 Dodge past this season.

Hornish's track record while wheeling a Sprint Cup Series car is spotty. In 113 career starts, the 2006 Indy 500 winner has finished in the top 10 on just eight occasions with a best finish of 28th in the year-end standings. And while Hornish has certainly matured as a stock car driver, the jury is still out on whether he deserves a full-time ride with the No. 22 team, which before this season had made the Chase three consecutive years.

If Hornish shows he's not up to the task and Penske officials decide to look elsewhere, there is no shortage of viable options. Among the names likely to be considered are Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Brian Vickers and David Ragan. And unlike Hornish, all four of the above drivers have proved capable of winning in Cup, and in the case of Newman and Vickers, have previously qualified for the Chase.

It also helps that all four drivers are free agents at the end of the year and would instantly provide some much-needed stability for an organization which has had to endure the turbulent end of Kurt Busch's tenure with the team followed by the ugliness of Allmendinger's failed drug test.

Logano, who is losing his full-time ride at Joe Gibbs Racing when Matt Kenseth arrives, will be under strong consideration for the No. 22 car. He's young, talented and is unlikely to get involved in any sort of trouble – which would be a priority for sponsor Shell.

Asked Saturday if he was interested in the No. 22 car should it become open, Logano said: "I'm going to look at all my options any way I can. Obviously that's a really good car and it's on the radar. You never know what can happen these days."

The Newman option is especially intriguing as he drove for the team full time from 2002-08, winning 13 races – including the '08 Daytona 500. He also left Penske on good terms, so it's not out of the realm of possibility that Newman could return to the team which first gave him his opportunity in NASCAR.

Newman's current team, Stewart-Haas Racing, has made it known that they would like him back next season if a sponsor can be found to replace the departing U.S. Army. But that seems unlikely given the current sponsorship climate.

With Penske switching from Dodge to Ford next year, one darkhorse to consider in all this is Trevor Bayne.

Ford views the 21-year-old Bayne as a promising up-and-coming driver and the manufacturer has worked hard to find him a full-time ride in either Cup or Nationwide. Although Bayne is under contract to Roush Fenway Racing and plans to run a full Nationwide schedule for the team next season, it's not completely far-fetched to think Ford would intervene and allow last year's Daytona 500 champion to move over to one of its other teams.

What we do know, though, is while Allmendinger's release is a giant setback for him – both personally and professionally –this has created an opening with a team which has the resources to contend and win a Sprint Cup Series championship. After all, rides with a team like Penske only come around every so often.

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