A.J. Allmendinger gets his second chance

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Following his suspension and release from Roger Penske’s Sprint Cup team last summer due to failing a drug test, A.J. Allmendinger didn’t fret over whether or not the next opportunity would come. Instead, he focused on himself.

“I had to be happier first before I got into a race car,” he said on Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I always looked at it, if racing is going well, that will make everything else happy. Well, for me, it’s the total opposite. When you get in the race car, you’re totally focused — physically, mentally, everything that goes with it.

“I wasn’t worried about a phone call from anybody, getting a chance. I had to make sure if I got the chance, if and when, I was ready to go. That time period, going through that, is what I focused on. There’s no secrets. Nobody’s perfect in life. Unfortunately, mine was played out on TV over one dumb mistake. But with that mistake, you can do two things: You can keep making those mistakes or learn from them and be a lot better.”

It appears that the American has certainly done the latter, and now he has the opportunity to bring Penske a 16th Indianapolis 500 victory this May in the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet alongside regulars Helio Castroneves and Will Power. Allmendinger will tune up for the ‘500’ by competing in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 7 at Barber Motorsports Park.

In addition to getting a chance to repay Penske’s faith in him, Allmendinger will also experience the Month of May for the first time as a driver. He’s made four Brickyard 400 starts at IMS, but he was previously unable to compete in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” as a result of the chaotic open-wheel split between Champ Car, where he raced from 2004-2006, and the Indy Racing League (now the IZOD IndyCar Series).

“I felt like obviously with the split, it took away from the prestige of the Indy 500 because the best of the best weren’t there the whole time,” Allmendinger said. “So for me, honestly, it was like I kind of lost a little bit of the concept of what Indy really was until I got here for the first time in a stock car and pulled out in pit lane and realized, ‘God, this is what Indy is all about,’ coming down the front straightaway for the first time.

“My mind immediately went back to, ‘What’s it like in an IndyCar, coming down at 240 [miles per hour] and turn into Turn 1?'”

It won’t be long before he finds out.

Reaction to INDYCAR/NBC Sports Group announcement: Mario Andretti, Roger Penske, Bobby Rahal and social media

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Like countless others on the East Coast, Mario Andretti was fighting through a snowstorm Wednesday morning.

But emotionally and personally, it was a very bright and sunny day for the legendary Indy car driver.

In an exclusive interview with NBCSports.com, Andretti spoke in glowing terms about this morning’s announcement of a multi-year media rights partnership between INDYCAR and NBC Sports Group beginning next year.

“I think this is awesome,” Andretti said. “It’s music to my ears and all of us. NBC has been very familiar with IndyCar racing, so they’re a great partner. I’m elated that it’s all nailed down, secured and I’m looking forward to the future.

“It’s also great for the young lads in Indy Lights coming on, and it’s great for all the sponsors to have that kind of exposure. It’s a good day for INDYCAR today.”

Andretti lauded the fact that all elements of INDYCAR coverage – TV, digital and streaming – will now be under one corporate roof, so to speak.

“Personally, I think it’s huge,” Andretti said. “Everybody is going to be very familiar with everything, the storylines are going to flow perfectly from event to event. There’s nothing like continuity.

“It’s okay sometimes if you have two networks, but to me, the best possible solution is this. That’s why I think this is really a great day for INDYCAR racing to have NBC involved and the continuity is huge for us.”

MORE: NBC Sports Group, INDYCAR partner on new TV and digital rights agreement starting in 2019

MORE: Optimism abounds with new INDYCAR media partnership


Several other high-profile individuals within the IndyCar community also gave their take on Wednesday’s announcement, including statements from team owners Roger Penske and Bobby Rahal.

Roger Penske: “As an industry, we are very fortunate to have the NBC Sports Group grow their presence and coverage of INDYCAR racing and really invest in the future of the sport. We believe there is a great deal of positive momentum in the Verizon IndyCar Series right now, from the development of the new race car, to the very talented group of young drivers and new teams coming into the sport this season.

“With the announcement of the enhanced broadcast partnership with NBC, it certainly adds to the excitement for the future. We know that the ways our fans are watching races and viewing INDYCAR content is rapidly changing, so staying ahead of the curve and the developing technology with our partners is important to the growth of our sport. We look forward to working with the NBC team to continue to build INDYCAR and take the sport in new directions.

“We also need to thank ABC and ESPN for all their terrific coverage over the years. The ABC network helped bring some of the most memorable moments in racing to life – including many of our team’s Indianapolis 500 victories – and we appreciate all of their hard work and passion for INDYCAR racing.”

Bobby Rahal: “It’s great news. I think the fact that the IndyCar Series will be under one roof, so to speak, network-wise can do nothing but great things for our sport. To increase to having eight races on network TV is also great news of course.

“The quality of the NBC broadcasts have gotten better and better over the last several years. They do a great job of providing interesting and entertaining content for the viewers and I think that will only continue to grow with the relationship going forward. That type of storytelling is also what helps bring new fans to the sport.”



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