This article is about the future, because NASCAR’s sanctioning body will soon make a judgment call that will set a precedent for any offenses against the substance abuse policy; a precedent that will have to remain consistent throughout their enforcement of the policy if they want to maintain their integrity. NASCAR drivers are watching and waiting. Team owners are doing the same. Sponsors, officials, and crew members are all hanging in suspense to see what happens next to driver AJ Allmendinger.
Speculation is rampant on social media sites that the cause of AJ’s positive test for stimulants was due to either a supplement or energy drink that he uses as part of his normal regimen of training. If that’s the case, many drivers and crew members who fall under the random substance abuse testing of NASCAR probably consider themselves lucky not to be in the same boat as AJ, since supplements and energy drinks are a staple for most athletes. And it seems that no one, not even AJ, knows for certain why his levels tested “slightly above the threshold” as stated by his business manager.
At this stage in the process, it now falls on toxicology experts to determine the precise cause of AJ’s positive test. If it can somehow be proven that the positive occurred because of a mis-dosage on an over the counter supplement or energy drink, it’s going to be up to NASCAR to determine AJ’s punishment. That’s a big decision. That’s when the NASCAR brass will have to determine if they’re going to follow the spirit in which the rule was implemented, or if they’re going to take a hard line no matter what the extenuating circumstances are.
When NASCAR’s current substance abuse policy went into effect in 2009, the purpose was to protect the safety and well-being of the competitors, officials, and spectators. That’s a noble effort for which NASCAR should be applauded, and I won’t ever argue against the intent of their policy. Safety should be one of their top priorities. But is safety an issue in this particular case? Is AJ deserving of an extended suspension and rehab for possibly drinking one too many energy drinks?
That's the kind of decision NASCAR is facing. When all the facts of AJ’s positive test come to light, how is NASCAR going to determine the scope of his punishment? Do they take into account whether or not there was intent on his part? When they’re determining the threshold for what’s allowable under their policy, do they make adjustments for differing heights and weights for each driver? And how do you examine whether or not there is misusage on an over the counter product when that product is more than likely not even covered by FDA standards?
It seems to me that there are going to be a lot more questions than answers, even after the toxicology reports come back on AJ’s ‘B’ sample test. NASCAR’s integrity may come into question, not about the process in which the drug policy was implemented, but about whether or not the punishment is fitting to the crime. Will NASCAR follow the spirit of the rule, or do they take an extremely blurry gray line and try to make it black and white? That’s the answer that everyone seems to be waiting for.