Penske revels in Allmendinger’s second-chance success

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Even though team owner Roger Penske was enjoying a lengthy European vacation – including celebrating wife Kathy’s birthday in romantic Venice – he was never too far away from what his race teams were doing.

Penske kept up with Brad Keselowski’s second-place finish in Thursday’s trucks race at Kentucky Speedway, as well as Keselowski’s Friday night win in the Nationwide Series place there, as well.

And then, following a lengthy flight back to the U.S., Penske was at Kentucky for Sunday’s rain-delayed Sprint Cup race – unfortunately to watch Keselowski get wrecked and finish 33rd.

To add insult to injury, Keselowski dropped out of the top 10, falling four places to 13th in the rankings – his lowest in the standings this season.

On a brighter note, though, Penske’s other Sprint Cup driver, Joey Logano, finished fourth at Kentucky and climbed into 10th place in the standings.

And even though it occurred more than a week earlier, Penske was still beaming at AJ Allmendinger’s first career NASCAR win in the June 22 Nationwide Series race at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.

Allmendinger lost his ride in one of Penske’s Cup cars nearly halfway through last season after failing a NASCAR drug test. To his credit, Allmendinger went through and successfully completed the sanctioning body’s recovery program and resumed his racing career just over two months later.

Yet, even though he lost his Cup ride with Penske, Allmendinger was brought back into the Penske fold earlier this season, driving in a number of different series including Nationwide and Izod IndyCar Series, including finishing seventh in the Indianapolis 500.

Allmendinger has also competed in seven Sprint Cup races thus far this season with Penske’s blessing: five for team owner James Finch and two others (with three more still to come) for JTG Daugherty Racing. He’s also raced in the Grand Am Series for Michael Shank Racing, with a podium finish in the season-opening race at Daytona.

“I was so pleased to see him in the Winner’s Circle,” Penske told FoxSports.com about Allmendinger’s win at Road America. “It proves to everyone that he can drive a race car and he’s put everything behind him. He’s served his time, so to speak, and proved that even under pressure he was capable of getting the job done.

“This sport will bring you down but it can lift you back up if you let it. AJ has gained a lot of confidence through all of this. I don’t hire guys just to hire them. You want a guy that’s on the climb and he had potential from my perspective . . . he made a mistake and he paid for it.”

Allmendinger is scheduled to compete in another Nationwide race for Penske on Aug. 17 at Mid-Ohio and will also likely race in the IndyCar season finale at Fontana, with an outside chance of maybe a few other races still to be added to his dance card.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”