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Allmendinger gets 1st start after drug suspension

Associated Press Modified: October 11, 2012 at 3:47 pm •  Published: October 11, 2012

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — AJ Allmendinger returned from an early morning workout to find a slew of missed calls and text messages on his phone.

"I thought this is either something good, or something really, really bad," Allmendinger said.

It was really good news for Allmendinger.

Phoenix Racing has grabbed Allmendinger to drive the No. 51 Chevrolet this weekend as part of the domino effect from Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s concussion. It's the first time Allmendinger has been in a car since his July 7 suspension for failing a random drug test, and comes a week after he spoke briefly with Phoenix owner James Finch at Talladega in Allmendinger's first trip to a NASCAR race.

"I talked to Finch for about three minutes this morning," Allmendinger said Thursday. "He started to tell me what the deal was and I was like, 'Man, it's all good. I'll come drive this weekend, and if you like me, you like me. And if not, it's OK.' It's all about taking it as it comes right now."

Kurt Busch had been driving for Phoenix this season, but left the team this week to get an early start on next year's partnership with Furniture Row Racing. That displaced Regan Smith in the Furniture Row ride, and Finch planned on using Smith for at least Saturday night's race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Then a doctor decided Earnhardt should not race the next two weeks because of a concussion he suffered in the 25-car wreck at Talladega on Sunday. Team owner Rick Hendrick called Finch late Wednesday and asked for Smith, who is a candidate to run for the Nationwide championship next season at JR Motorsports.

Smith received a text message at 7 a.m. on Thursday morning from Earnhardt crew chief Steve Letarte, who informed Smith he'd be driving the car of NASCAR's most popular driver the next two weekends.

Once he accepted, Phoenix Racing scrambled to find Allmendinger.

It's the break Allmendinger has been waiting for. He has said he tested positive for Adderall, a prescription drug typically used to treat attention deficit disorder, and completed NASCAR's "Road to Recovery" program. The series reinstated him last month, but he was dropped by Penske Racing after his backup "B'' urine sample also failed a drug test.

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