HAMPTON, Ga. (AP) - Less than 14 months after a devastating blow to his career, AJ Allmendinger reclaimed a full-time ride in the Sprint Cup series.
JTG Daugherty Racing announced Saturday that Allmendinger will take over the No. 47 car from Bobby Labonte next season, capping his comeback from a positive drug test in July 2012 that resulted in a NASCAR suspension and losing his job with Roger Penske's Sprint Cup team.
"I didn't deserve a second chance," Allmendinger said during a news conference at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "But I worked really hard to get there."
He went through a NASCAR-mandated treatment program and managed to land a handful of one-off Cup rides, in addition to getting a chance from Penske to drive in a few IndyCar events. Allmendinger competed in the Indianapolis 500, led 23 laps and finished seventh- a performance he calls "probably the biggest moment of my career." He also won two road races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series driving for Penske.
Allmendinger landed with a one-car team that includes former NBA star Brad Daugherty among its owners, having persuaded his new employers that he's improved as a person since a positive test for the prescription drug Adderall.
"It's really not hit me what happened the last 13 or 14 months," Allmendinger said. "More than anything, I wouldn't change any of it. I feel so good about it now. It's taken a lot of hard work to get where I want to be in this sport."
With Labonte, the 2000 Cup champion, enduring a tough season, Allmendinger was tapped to drive the car at Kentucky and Watkins Glen. He'll be behind the wheel again Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway and continue to fill in as needed while Labonte recovers after breaking three ribs in a bike riding accident near his North Carolina home.
"Bobby's pretty banged up right now," said Tad Geschickter, another of the team's owners. "He's got another doctor's appointment Monday. He may be a game-time decision (next weekend at Richmond), but Bobby Labonte's burning passion is to drive the car and see this season through the end."
Allmendinger knows he'll race the No. 47 Toyota at Kansas and the season finale at Homestead, and any other experience he gets will provide a head start on 2014.
"I don't want to get more races to push him out," Allmendinger said. "He's a Hall of Famer. I'm here to do whatever Tad wants, whether it's next week or here and there. Of course, I want to drive. But I don't want to do that at the expense of somebody else."
Allmendinger already feels like he's hit the jackpot.
"It's just a great feeling to be back," he said. "In a way, I feel like I'm playing with house money. I didn't feel like I would ever be back here."
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