INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - AJ Allmendinger looked and sounded like a driver getting the second chance of a lifetime Friday.
Eight months after failing a NASCAR drug test and losing his job on Roger Penske's Cup team, the 31-year-old California native was rehired by The Captain to drive in two IndyCar races this season - including the season's biggest race, the Indianapolis 500.
Allmendinger got the series title sponsor, IZOD, as his primary sponsor and will drive the No. 2 car that won the pole last year for an owner who has won a record 15 Indy 500 titles.
It doesn't get better than that.
"When you're racing against people at over 200 mph, they're the ones that have to trust you and if they don't trust you, you're not going to be back in the sport anyway," Allmendinger said after listing a series of drivers who had offered support to him in his comeback bid. "So they told me do what you have to do and get back, get back as soon as possible."
The current deal is only for two races: April 7 at Birmingham, Ala., and May 26 at Indy. If Penske finds more funding, the schedule could be expanded.
He also will try to juggle his new part-time job with a part-time Cup schedule that already includes races at Bristol and Fontana with Phoenix Racing. That team also wants more funding to keep Allmendinger on the track regularly.
There was speculation that Penske's third car would go to Ryan Briscoe, last year's pole-winner, or three-time Cup champion and IndyCar veteran Tony Stewart.
Team Penske president Tim Cindric said the team never made an offer to Briscoe, who was looking for a full-time ride. As for Stewart, Cindric said that offer was made and was on the table until the driver-owner decided he needed to focus his attention solely on NASCAR.
So Penske's team turned to the American it used at 17 Cup races last season and had him test the car in February at Sebring. The official offer still surprised Allmendinger, who sat inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's trackside media tower smiling almost in disbelief.
"To have Roger Penske and everybody at the Penske organization ask me to come back is just amazing," Allmendinger said. "Roger told me last year that once you're in the family, you're always in the family and to have Roger say those words and not just say them but to act on them, to have him call me every week and check on me and make sure I was all right, and then to come back to Indy, really is amazing."
NASCAR suspended Allmendinger in July after he failed a random drug test. He was released by Penske when a backup "B" sample also tested positive for a banned substance that Allmendinger later confirmed was Adderall. The prescription drug is commonly used to treat attention deficit disorder, which Allmendinger does not have. He also did not know what was in the pill.