Allmendinger to return to Sprint Cup full-time in 2014

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A.J. Allmendinger will be back full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series next season as driver of the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing machine.

Allmendinger, who was suspended and then released from his full-time ride with Penske Racing last summer following a failed drug test, has been working hard toward a second chance.

In addition to running nine Cup races this year with James Finch’s Phoenix Racing, he returned to driving for the Penske organization – making five IZOD IndyCar Series starts (including his debut at the Indianapolis 500) and winning two NASCAR Nationwide Series races at Road America and Mid-Ohio.

Now, he’s ready to make the most of an opportunity that he thought may never arrive more than a year ago.

“It was a muddy, cloudy picture – I didn’t know what was going to happen then,” Allmendinger said today at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “This year, there’s been so many things that have happened that I would’ve never expected.”

This weekend, Allmendinger is doing the fourth race in a six-race run with JTG Daugherty, whose normal driver, Bobby Labonte, is currently recovering after breaking three ribs in a cycling accident this week.

In addition to the matter of when Labonte will be back in the No. 47, the team also has the question of which manufacturer it will choose to align with next year. Team co-owner Brad Daugherty said that JTG Daugherty will finish out 2013 with Toyota.

But no matter if he’s driving a Camry or something else, Allmendinger feels that he’s now playing with “house money” after what he’s been through.

“It’s been a long journey over the last 12 months, but in a strange way, I would never change it,” he said. “The place that I’m at now as a person – I feel so much better about it.

“I know there’s still a lot of hard work ahead of me to try and get where I want to be in this sport, and to get where we want to be as a race team in this sport. But it’s just a great feeling to be back…I didn’t feel like I would be back here.”

Daniel Ricciardo would relish being Lewis Hamilton’s teammate

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BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Daniel Ricciardo says he would relish the challenge of having Lewis Hamilton as his teammate if he joins Mercedes next year.

Ricciardo is out of contract at Red Bull at the end of the season and expressed interest in joining teams like Mercedes or Ferrari to help him challenge for the championship.

The Australian says he would “love to obviously be challenged against the best and Lewis is obviously up there.”

He adds: “I don’t want to say it’s just Lewis I’m looking for but that would be a good challenge.”

Ricciardo says he won’t accept a faster car if it means playing second fiddle to an established star.

He says “there’s always been really good clarity and fairness (at Red Bull) … and I would expect that environment everywhere.”