Allgaier to make Cup debut at Chicago in No. 51, with new team owner

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Rumors floating all season that Phoenix Racing, the independent NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stalwart led by James Finch, would be sold have come true as of Wednesday.

Team owner Harry Scott Jr., part of the Turner Scott Motorsports juggernaut in NASCAR’s Nationwide, Camping World Truck and K&N East Pro Series, has bought Phoenix on the Cup side and will run three of the last 10 races with one of his Nationwide drivers, Justin Allgaier. Further information regarding the purchase can be found on NASCAR.com.

Allgaier is a former Penske Racing protege made somewhat famous with Verizon’s “Little Gator” ads, who has finished in the top six in the Nationwide standings each year since 2009. He has three career wins and his three Cup starts will be the first of his career.

For the rest of this year, Allgaier’s car will still  retain Nick Harrison as crew chief and Phil Barkdoll general manager of the No. 51 Brandt Chevrolet.

Allgaier will follow AJ Allmendinger, Mike Bliss, Austin Dillon, Brendan Gaughan, Owen Kelly, Bobby Labonte, Regan Smith, Ryan Truex and Jacques Villeneuve as drivers of the No. 51 this year.

Bliss has been drafted in as a last-minute substitute this weekend at Atlanta for Labonte, who is being treated in hospital for three broken ribs.

F1 2017 driver review: Esteban Ocon

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Esteban Ocon

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 31
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P5 (Spain, Mexico)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 87
Championship Position: 8th

A shining star in Mercedes’ junior programme, Esteban Ocon vaulted fellow youngster Pascal Wehrlein in the pecking order to secure a seat at Force India for 2017 – and boy, did he live up to the hype.

Ocon arrived at Force India with half a season of racing under his belt after his outings with Manor late in 2016, but wasted little time in settling in, scoring points on debut in Australia after winning a thrilling three-way fight with Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso.

The Frenchman spent much of the year close to teammate Sergio Perez – even if things did get a little too close in Canada, Baku and, finally, Spa, prompting the team to introduce team orders – and impressed the entire paddock with his displays.

While no podium was forthcoming, Ocon was often leading the midfield fight, enjoying three straight finishes ahead of Perez from Japan to Mexico. Given how well Perez is rated on-track in the paddock, to have convincingly beaten him in such fashion did a lot for Ocon’s reputation.

The term ‘Oconsistency’ also came into F1’s dictionary as he set a new record for consecutive finishes from his first race, with his retirement in Brazil ending the streak at 27 grands prix. It was also his first retirement in a single-seater race since the 2014 Macau Grand Prix.

The highlight moment arguably came at Monza, though, when Ocon stuck his Force India third on the grid through torrential rain in qualifying. While he would drop to P6 at the checkered flag, the display nevertheless cemented his place as one of F1’s rising stars.

Mercedes rates Ocon very highly, and with Valtteri Bottas’ future beyond 2018 already being questioned by the paddock, a good season could see the youngster move on up to the top table of F1 for 2019. His progression in the next 12 months will be fascinating to keep track of.

Season High: Lining up P3 on the grid at Monza after a rainy qualifying.

Season Low: Clashing with Perez in Baku, costing Force India a possible podium.