NASCAR: AJ Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty team making strides last few weeks

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Chances are you haven’t noticed much, but one of the surprise and better stories the last several weeks from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage is the progression of AJ Allmendinger and the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet team.

This time last year, Allmendinger was ramping up for his Indianapolis 500 debut in a third Team Penske Chevrolet. He’d driven in two Verizon IndyCar Series races prior to that and had also made several starts for James Finch’s Phoenix Racing team, which is now HScott Motorsports.

Towards the end of the year, the brief open-wheel dalliance ran its course – Allmendinger started only the IndyCar season finale after a nightmare weekend at Roger Penske’s promoted race in Detroit when he crashed out on the first lap in both races.

His NASCAR presence intensified, with a higher volume of starts coming for both Finch and in the No. 47 car, which he now drives full-time. In total, Allmendinger started 18 of 36 Cup races last year, nine apiece with the two teams, and posted a 10th place finish at Watkins Glen for JTG as his best.

The No. 47 team, now running Chevrolets and with ECR engines after switching from Toyotas over the winter, has been a quiet surprise the last several weeks.

In 10 races this year, Allmendinger has not finished worse than 26th. In the last six races, Allmendinger has five top-15 finishes, and three top-10s; the best of which was a fifth he just posted this past Sunday in Talladega. He now sits 15th in points, only 18 out of the top 10.

“Heck, I just wanted to finish this race because I haven’t finished much here,” Allmendinger said in the team’s post-race release. “I was close to two of the wrecks. I was coming to the checkered flag thinking, ‘Please, let’s just roll this thing back up on the hauler with all four tires rolling.’

“It’s just a testament to this team. They work hard and all the credit goes to my guys. We only have about 35 employees and they keep busting their butts. Tad Geschickter his wife Jodi and Brad Daugherty have such a great ownership and it’s a lot of fun. They make me feel like family. This whole team is like family. This is probably the best team I have driven for when it comes to the unity of the team making me feel important.”

It’s not something to overlook, the progress of a motivated driver on a single car team looking to overachieve. Kurt Busch’s efforts for Furniture Row Racing were among the great stories of 2013.

Now, the guy who replaced Busch at Penske, and is now going through his own rebirth, is starting to write the chapters of his own great story.

Ferrari F1 chief Arrivabene ‘honored’ to be working with Haas

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 21: Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico driving the (21) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Ferrari Formula 1 chief Maurizio Arrivabene says he is “honored” to have been working with the Haas team through its debut season in the sport.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas saw his F1 operation make its grand prix debut in Australia back in March, with Romain Grosjean finishing sixth on debut.

The Haas team arrives in Austin, Texas this weekend for the United States Grand Prix, becoming the first American outfit in 30 years to be racing on home soil.

Haas has enjoyed an extensive technical partnership with Ferrari through its debut season, with part of the deal seeing Esteban Gutierrez race alongside Grosjean.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference, Arrivabene expressed his happiness with the Haas partnership, saying the American team’s approach to F1 is an example that could be followed.

“I’m happy about our partnership with Gene. And also, I have to say, honored, to work with Haas,” Arrivabene said.

“The reason why is that it’s an example to follow. In the way that they come in, they are investing in Formula 1, they trust in Formula 1, they are very serious, very committed.

“In many, many years I saw people coming in, taking here or there some points, having the money in the pocket and leaving.

“Team Haas is not like this. It’s an example to follow in the way that they come in, they have an objective, they’re working for their objective and they have a long-term commitment.

“So, I’m more than pleased and I repeat, honored to work with a team like this. Formula 1 needs serious people.”

The other team bosses in the press conference also offered complimentary remarks about Haas’ debut season.

“I think they’ve had a great first year,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said.

“First of all, it’s super to have a credible team on the grid. Haas has got a great track record in motorsport in this territory and to come into Formula 1 is no insignificant challenge.

“So, to have come in, to have come in credibly and efficiently and gone about scoring a good portion of points, being competitive, I think it’s very, very positive.”

“The track record of Gene in the States speaks really for itself and how they’ve done in the first year is impressive,” Mercedes’ Toto Wolff added.

“Like Gene said, we’ve been around for many years and he’s competing against teams who have built-up infrastructure and capability over decades and doing as good in the first year is really good.”

“I think they’ve done a great job and in particular because they are ahead of us so they are some form of nightmare to us, to the championship,” Renault’s Cyril Abiteboul joked.

“Mostly I think it is interesting because they are showing that, as always, the points you are taking at the start of the season are very important. They almost count twice or three times more.

“Also, that in Formula 1 it’s important to have planning and preparation time. So it’s quite different and in contrast to our situation at Renault, where we sort of arrive in Melbourne in a bit of a panic mode, unprepared, with more resources.

“So it’s all to the credit of Gene and his team, but I think they are compensating, through planning and a clever business model and the relationship with Ferrrari, the lack of resources that they have in comparison to other teams.

“The challenge obviously is to make that sustainable on the long run. That’s obviously what I wish to the team.”

Sauber decision to keep 2016 power units for ’17 ‘not financially driven’

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 21: Marcus Ericsson of Sweden driving the (9) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C35 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Sauber Formula 1 boss Monisha Kaltenborn says that the decision to stick with 2016-spec Ferrari power units for the 2017 season is “not at all financially driven”.

Kaltenborn confirmed over the Japanese Grand Prix weekend that Sauber would not take updated power units for 2017 from Ferrari, saying the team preferred to focus on other areas of development.

“We know there is a big [regulation] change coming up and with the size we have and the capacities we have, we needed to focus on that change,” Kaltenborn explained further on Friday in Austin ahead of the United States Grand Prix.

“We didn’t want to wait for that long, whatever changes might come on the engine side or not. It’s clear that the engine supplier wants to develop as much as he can until the end of the possibilities, and we didn’t want to wait that long.

“We decided to work around what we know. We have sufficient information on that environment around the engine. So we can now focus totally on the chassis side and on performance development.”

Sauber has struggled financially in recent years, but had its long-term future secured over the summer when Longbow Finance completed a takeover of the operation in Switzerland.

While the decision to stick with year-old power units may seem like a money-saving exercise, Kaltenborn stressed that this was not the case.

“This is not at all financially driven. This is technically driven and we think it’s the right way ahead for us,” she said.

Toro Rosso has raced with year-old Ferrari power units throughout 2016, and has lost ground in recent races as other teams using current-spec designs have been able to continue development.

Toro Rosso will return to a Renault supply for 2017, making Sauber currently standing as the only team on the grid that will be using 2016 power units beyond the end of the season.

Taylor Swift ready to get into a F1 frame of mind Saturday at COTA

"One Chance" Portraits - 2013 Toronto International Film Festival
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If you’re a fan of both Formula One and singer Taylor Swift, you should be at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas on Saturday.

Swift will perform her only scheduled concert of 2016 after Saturday’s action concludes on the racetrack.

To get her fans even more excited about the concert, Swift – who is apparently already in Austin for rehearsals – took to Instagram earlier this week and posted several videos.

The first clip was a short scene showing Swift playing an acoustic guitar.

At rehearsals @cota_official @f1 #USGP

A video posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

The second clip, which she captioned “Band practice,” showed Swift and her band rocking out on her 2012 hit, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”

Band practice @cota_official @f1 #USGP

A video posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

And then the third Instagram clip shows an exuberant Swift proclaiming, “Hey guys, I can’t wait to see you this weekend in Austin, Texas.”

See you this weekend! @cota_official @f1 #USGP

A video posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

Then, as the camera continued rolling, Swift good-naturedly quipped, “Just said that so they don’t go to the wrong place. You know, people get lost.”

The weekend will be special for Swift, 26. Monday marks the 10th anniversary of the release of her debut album.

Also, several reports indicate that she may debut songs from a rumored new album that may be released later this month.

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IndyCar: Tony Kanaan keeps his word, much to fans’ delight

Phoenix International Raceway - Day 1
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Tony Kanaan has long been one of the classiest drivers in the IndyCar world.

He proved that once again – as well as being a man of his word – recently.

Kanaan was slated to speak last Thursday, Oct. 13, to the Boys and Girls Club of Wayne County, Indiana. Among topics he was slated to talk about in the fundraising event were life lessons and the importance of keeping your word/promise.

But Kanaan also had to take part in a Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone tire test at the same time at Gateway Motorsports Park, nearly 300 miles away from the B&GC event in Richmond, Indiana.

Even though he agreed to speak at the club meeting several months ago, Kanaan could easily have simply cancelled. But he went the extra distance by reaching out to former IndyCar driver and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk to substitute for him.

Luyendyk had to travel all the way from his home in Phoenix, but was glad to fill in for Kanaan.

B&GC executive director Bruce Daggy was happy that Luyendyk stepped up, but also “I was sad we weren’t going to have Tony here,” Daggy told IndyCar.com. “We had invested in it.”

Indeed, Kanaan’s appearance had been heavily promoted, including posted on nearly 20 billboards in and around the Richmond area.

Even with Luyendyk as his fill-in, Kanaan still felt bad about cancelling.

“I hate to make commitments I can’t fulfill,” Kanaan told IndyCar.com. “I put myself in their shoes. If I was coming to an event to see a person and they didn’t show, I would understand, but I would feel bad. So, I didn’t want to let anybody down, especially in Indiana.”

MORE: Click here for the full IndyCar.com story

That’s when the 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2004 Verizon IndyCar Series champion hatched a plan. Close friend and fellow driver Scott Dixon got on board by chartering a private plane to fly Kanaan from St. Louis to Richmond as soon as the tire test concluded at 6 pm ET.

When the plane landed about an hour later, Kanaan was given a police escort to Richmond High School, where the event had been moved to accommodate the large crowd when it was announced Kanaan would be the featured speaker.

“I just felt that there is always a way and we would make it happen,” Kanaan said, even though he arrived close to the event’s scheduled conclusion. Instead, his arrival extended the event, to the glee of those in the audience.

“The guy chartered a plane,” Daggy said. “That tells me he is a real man of character.”

Added Kanaan, “Getting me here was everybody’s effort. I had a blast. It was worth it.”

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