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.”

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.”