A.J. Allmendinger thinks Kurt Busch can handle Indy 500

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A.J. Allmendinger is certainly happy to be back full-time racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but it’s clear he still has high respect for IndyCar racing.

The former Champ Car star returned to open-wheel for six Verizon IndyCar Series starts last year for Team Penske, which included a Top-10 finish at the Indianapolis 500. Next month, fellow Sprint Cup competitor Kurt Busch will compete in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing as part of an attempt to do the 1,100-mile Indy 500/Coca-Cola 600 double.

Allmendinger ran a pair of tune-up races at Barber Motorsports Park and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach before going into last year’s ‘500.’ Busch isn’t expected to have that luxury before he straps into an Andretti Autosport Honda for his Indy debut.

However, the ‘Dinger believes that Busch will be OK even as he comes to grips with other obstacles during the Month of May.

“Kurt going to Indy being at Andretti, he was fast at his rookie orientation,” Allmendinger said today at Texas Motor Speedway. “He’s a hell of a race car driver, so I think he’ll be fine…The only thing is, just the way those cars race at Indy compared to driving by yourself, it’s a lot different. And I spent a lot of time during the month of May last year trying to learn how to be in traffic.

“And heck, I even went into the race still wishing I had more practice. So, that’s a big challenge. But I think he’ll be fine. He can wheel a race car, for sure.”

Allmendinger also chimed in on Juan Pablo Montoya’s return to IndyCar following a seven-year run in Sprint Cup. The Colombian’s comeback didn’t start too well, as he finished 15th for Penske in last weekend’s season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

But while noting the impressive depth of the IndyCar grid – “the series is so difficult from top to bottom” – Allmendinger figured also thought that Montoya would eventually rise to the front.

“For me, it was just hard to go and try to run Top-10 and figure out how that is, so it’s not easy just to jump back in and do it,” he said. “Juan has had a lot of testing. He’ll be fine. He’s never been to St. Pete.

“When you go to those street course races, you don’t get a lot of track time. It makes those weekends tough. But, I think he’s a world-class racer. We’ve seen it. He’s won in everything. So, he’ll be fine.”

F1 2017 driver review: Sergio Perez

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Sergio Perez

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 11
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P4 (Spain)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 1
Points: 100
Championship Position: 7th

While failing to hit the podium as he did in both 2015 and 2016, Sergio Perez once again finished the year as Formula 1’s leading midfield team driver, but faced a greater fight from within Force India in the shape of Esteban Ocon.

Perez has long been knocking on the door of F1’s top teams should an opportunity come up, and 2017 saw him continue his solid if unspectacular form. The dominance of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari meant any finish higher than seventh was impressive, something he managed to do on five occasions.

But there were some missed opportunities along the way, most significantly in Baku. Force India had been quick all weekend, with Perez charging to sixth on the grid, and when drama struck at the front, he and teammate Ocon were eyeing a podium finish as a minimum.

Contact between the two forced Perez to retire and prompted Ocon to pit for repairs, leaving the team without the top-three finish it targeted heading into the season. With Lance Stroll taking P3 for Williams and Daniel Ricciardo winning the race, a maiden victory for Force India was not out of the realm of imagination.

Perez and Ocon came to blows on a number of occasions, with the final straw coming in Spa when they twice touched on-track, prompting Force India to introduce team orders. Perez finished the year 13 points clear of Ocon in the final standings, meeting his own pre-season target of 100 points, yet the Frenchman had arguably made the bigger impression at Force India through his first full season in F1.

Force India remains the top underdog in F1 with Perez spearheading its charge, but it is difficult to see either taking the final step to becoming true contenders at the front of the field anytime soon, as solid as their displays have been.

Season High: P4 in Spain after retirements for the ‘big three’.

Season Low: Losing a sure-fire podium, if not a win, in Baku after contact with Ocon.