HAMPTON, Ga. — Less than 14 months after a huge 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 Allmendinger's comeback from a positive drug test in July 2012 that resulted in a NASCAR suspension and him losing his job with Roger Penske's Sprint Cup team.
"I didn't deserve a second chance," Allmendinger said at Atlanta Motor Speedway, site of tonight's AdvoCare 500. "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 has 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.
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 at Atlanta and continue to fill in as needed as 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 team co-owner.
Allmendinger knows he'll race the No. 47 Toyota at Kansas and Homestead, and any other experience he gets will provide a head start on 2014.
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."
Sprint Cup points
After 24 of 36 races. The top 10 in points plus two wild cards after 26 races make the Chase for the Championship.
Driver Pts. Back
^Jimmie Johnson 821—
^Clint Bowyer 803 18
^Carl Edwards 768 53
Kevin Harvick 760 61
Kyle Busch 739 82
Matt Kenseth 736 85
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 714 107
Kasey Kahne 701 120
Greg Biffle 698 123
Joey Logano 685 136
Brad Keselowski 681 140
Kurt Busch 679 142
Jeff Gordon 674 147
Martin Truex* 663 158
Ryan Newman* 659 162
^ — Clinched a Chase for the Championship spot
* — Wild-card leaders
Advocare 500, 7:30, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Hampton, Ga.