NASCAR: A.J. Allmendinger ready to do “whatever it takes” to get a victory

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A.J. Allmendinger needs a win in these final five regular season races to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. So while he’d rather earn a victory without controversy this weekend at Watkins Glen, he’ll take one any way he can get it.

When asked about what he’d do to win if he were running second on the final lap in Sunday’s Cheez-It 355, Allmendinger said he’d do “whatever it takes” while noting that “you race people how they race you.”

“That sets the idea of how you are going to race that person throughout the course of a race,” he said today at the Glen before running fourth in the first Sprint Cup practice session of the weekend.

“When it comes down to the end having a shot to win this race – I’ve been doing this for a while and it’s a tough sport. Unless you are Jimmie Johnson or somebody like that you don’t get that many opportunities to win a race.

“Whatever I have to do to win it, but I will be the first one to say I don’t want to win it in controversy either. I want to go out right and say ‘I earned that win and I won it the right way.’ If I have to stray a little bit, I will.”

He then elaborated on what “a little bit” meant: “I won’t come barreling in the corner and out right just crash the guy on purpose and just say I won the race because of that. But if he’s got to be moved out of the way or whatever, I’m going to do it.”

‘Dinger can’t afford to hold back right now, as he sits 113 points behind the 16th-place cutoff in the Chase standings. Only a victory will be able to get him a post-season berth, which would be a feather in the cap of his single-car JTG Daugherty Racing team.

JTG was among several squads that recently tested at the Glen, and Allmendinger believes it was time well spent.

“The main thing for our test was to really just make the box a lot smaller, so when we got here, we didn’t have to throw big things at it and hope to make a big difference,” he said.

“I felt like we really shortened the box in our race car to what we need to try just little stuff throughout the weekend to keep up with the race track.  For that reason, I thought it was a successful test.”

But will that extra work pay off the way he hopes it will? Allmendinger said he didn’t want to make the weekend “all or nothing” but knows that he and his team are capable of something big.

“I feel like if we do the right things, we can be in contention to win the race,” he said.

Red Bull rising into the form expected when the season began

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Young “Mad Max” Verstappen had plenty to be angry about for the first half of the Formula One season. After his breakout season in 2016, this year had been little more than a rash of retirements, crashes and clashes with other drivers.

But a late burst over the last two races delivered his second career victory and a second-place. Those results have Red Bull rising and looking more like the fast and muscular team it was expected to be.

Verstappen and teammate Daniel Ricciardo now look primed to keep pushing for the front over the final four races of 2017, starting this week at the U.S. Grand Prix. Do that and the prospects for a 2018 title fight grow brighter.

“We’re definitely going the way we need to be going,” Ricciardo said. “If we start on the front foot, I genuinely believe we can fight for the title if we start closer. That’s what we’re aiming for.”

Verstappen’s win in Malaysia demonstrated a perfect marriage of the young Dutchman’s driving skill and his improving car when he beat Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton with a head-to-head pass early. He was on the podium again a week later in Japan. The champagne spray at both races was a tasty but dry reminder that Red Bull wanted – and expected – so much more this season.

While Ricciardo has been a workhorse with nine podiums and one victory, Verstappen’s season was crippled by reliability issues with his car or crashes.

“There were so many races this year when he was in a fantastic position to achieve big results,” team principal Christian Horner said this week. “Credit to him that at such a young age he hasn’t let frustration boil over … when it comes right for him, it’s going to come right in a big way. And that’s exactly what happened in Malaysia. He drove a great race there, with no issues.”

Some of the “issues” created internal tension.

The first lap of the Hungarian Grand Prix was a disaster for Red Bull. Verstappen tried to overtake Ricciardo and hit him, knocking Ricciardo out of the race while Verstappen finished fifth. Ricciardo lashed out at Verstappen as “immature” and criticized the “amateur” maneuver.

Verstappen said he can’t think about what happened early in the season.

“That frustration I put behind me,” Verstappen said. “It happened. You can’t change it anymore. You’re just happy that it’s going well again and we had some good results.”

Ricciardo has carried Red Bull to the podium time and again but his broad smile hasn’t beamed from the top spot since Azerbaijan in June. Despite his run of strong finishes, he’s stuck at fourth in the driver’s standings and needs a boost to overtake Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas for third.

The Circuit of the Americas has been good for both Red Bull drivers in the past. Ricciardo finished third here in 2014 and 2016. Verstappen had an attention-getting drive in 2015 when he finished fourth in his Toro Rosso after sloshing his way through the field on a wet track.

Verstappen had a wild race in 2016 when he challenged for the lead early, came in for a pit stop when the crew wasn’t ready and yelled to his garage: “I’m not here to finish fourth!” He didn’t finish at all when his car was knocked out with a gearbox problem on lap 32.

Verstappen was 17 when he joined the F1 grid as the youngest driver in series history and he still jokes about his age. Austin is known for its live music and nightlife, but he’s limited as to how much he can party away from the track.

“I’m only 20. I can’t drink,” Verstappen said. “If I’m on the podium (Sunday) I won’t care.”