Penske revels in Allmendinger’s second-chance success

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Even though team owner Roger Penske was enjoying a lengthy European vacation – including celebrating wife Kathy’s birthday in romantic Venice – he was never too far away from what his race teams were doing.

Penske kept up with Brad Keselowski’s second-place finish in Thursday’s trucks race at Kentucky Speedway, as well as Keselowski’s Friday night win in the Nationwide Series place there, as well.

And then, following a lengthy flight back to the U.S., Penske was at Kentucky for Sunday’s rain-delayed Sprint Cup race – unfortunately to watch Keselowski get wrecked and finish 33rd.

To add insult to injury, Keselowski dropped out of the top 10, falling four places to 13th in the rankings – his lowest in the standings this season.

On a brighter note, though, Penske’s other Sprint Cup driver, Joey Logano, finished fourth at Kentucky and climbed into 10th place in the standings.

And even though it occurred more than a week earlier, Penske was still beaming at AJ Allmendinger’s first career NASCAR win in the June 22 Nationwide Series race at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.

Allmendinger lost his ride in one of Penske’s Cup cars nearly halfway through last season after failing a NASCAR drug test. To his credit, Allmendinger went through and successfully completed the sanctioning body’s recovery program and resumed his racing career just over two months later.

Yet, even though he lost his Cup ride with Penske, Allmendinger was brought back into the Penske fold earlier this season, driving in a number of different series including Nationwide and Izod IndyCar Series, including finishing seventh in the Indianapolis 500.

Allmendinger has also competed in seven Sprint Cup races thus far this season with Penske’s blessing: five for team owner James Finch and two others (with three more still to come) for JTG Daugherty Racing. He’s also raced in the Grand Am Series for Michael Shank Racing, with a podium finish in the season-opening race at Daytona.

“I was so pleased to see him in the Winner’s Circle,” Penske told FoxSports.com about Allmendinger’s win at Road America. “It proves to everyone that he can drive a race car and he’s put everything behind him. He’s served his time, so to speak, and proved that even under pressure he was capable of getting the job done.

“This sport will bring you down but it can lift you back up if you let it. AJ has gained a lot of confidence through all of this. I don’t hire guys just to hire them. You want a guy that’s on the climb and he had potential from my perspective . . . he made a mistake and he paid for it.”

Allmendinger is scheduled to compete in another Nationwide race for Penske on Aug. 17 at Mid-Ohio and will also likely race in the IndyCar season finale at Fontana, with an outside chance of maybe a few other races still to be added to his dance card.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.