Less than a year after being suspended by NASCAR and dropped from his Sprint Cup Series ride, AJ Allmendinger is a NASCAR race winner.
Allmendinger won Saturday's Nationwide Race at Road America, pulling away from Justin Allgaier on the race's second green-white-checker restart for his first career win in a NASCAR race.
The first words out of Allmendinger's mouth amidst the screams for joy after crossing the finish line? "Thank you." Allmendinger was driving for Penske Racing, the team that's shown faith in him after he was suspended, giving him opportunities in the IndyCar Series and now the Nationwide Series. Hell, Allmendinger even kissed the camera and shouted "I love you Roger!" in victory lane.
Yes, this meant a lot.
Allmendinger was suspended from NASCAR for testing positive for a stimulant -- what he said was Adderall -- after last year's Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky. He was replaced by Sam Hornish for the rest of the season in Penske's No. 22 car, but Penske and the organization has stood behind him. He finished seventh in the Indianapolis 500.
Driving a car that he said was "phenomenal," Allmendinger started on the pole and had arguably the race's best car. That allowed him to be up at or near the front for most of the day and away from the typical road course chaos, especially throughout the race's final laps. Max Papis was so upset with Billy Johnson after the race that after gesturing at him during the cool down lap, he approached Johnson after he exited the car on pit lane and gave him a slap to the helmet.