Thursday, April 19, 2018
Sports

Eager to make break for better

CONCORD, N.C. — AJ Allmendinger landed the ride of his life when Penske Racing grabbed him during the offseason after Kurt Busch split with the team.

On paper, it doesn't seem as if Allmendinger has done much with his opportunity. But in the garage, everybody knows better.

Allmendinger has never been stronger in NASCAR, though he doesn't have the results to show for his improvement. He is 22nd in the Sprint Cup point standings after 11 races, and he has just one top-10 finish versus four finishes of 32nd or worse. But he also has led 99 laps, won a pole and qualified inside the top four four times. Last week he won the pole for the qualifying event before the All-Star race, only to get a flat tire in the warmup laps.

"A flat tire before we come to green? I mean, we've got to do something to change our luck up," he said.

Allmendinger had to pit for a tire change as the field went green, and it dropped him to last in the 22-car field. What happened next may be a sign his luck is about to turn. He drove his way into second place and transferred into the $1 million main event.

Though Allmendinger wound up 11th in the All-Star race, he was competitive and is looking ahead to the longest race of the season, the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday night at Charlotte.

"We've had fast race cars. We just need a little bit of luck," said Allmendinger. The All-Star race "gives me a good amount of confidence. I'm excited to go to the 600."

Allmendinger was welcomed into NASCAR by rookie team Red Bull Racing. He was let go after two seasons, hired by Richard Petty Motorsports, then tried to keep moving forward despite three seasons of chaos at Petty. Allmendinger last season had a career-best 10 top-10 finishes and a 15th-place finish in the Cup standings.

Roughly a month after the season ended, Penske Racing called to offer him the No. 22 seat that had unexpectedly come open.

"We've had a lot of speed pretty much everywhere we've went, and even when we do struggle, our struggle is, I would say, 15th to 17th place," said Allmendinger, who is paired with crew chief Todd Gordon, promoted from the Nationwide series. "It's hard to look at the points and look at the results and take positives out of it. But ultimately this is more competitive than I've ever been. I'm up front a lot more than I've ever been, qualifying a lot better."

Team owner Roger Penske is impressed and believes the organization has played a role in the more difficult races. For example, Allmendinger won the pole and led 44 laps at Kansas, but he finished 32nd after a linkage broke.

"We believe we've let him down at times this season," Penske said. "But that team is showing every sign of being contenders here soon and capable of winning races."

Wallace leads five into the Hall of Fame

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Rusty Wallace, who won 55 races and the 1989 Cup title and is now a broadcaster, heads the group of five picked for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Owner Leonard Wood and drivers Cotton Owens, Herb Thomas and Buck Baker are also in the hall's fourth class, which will be inducted in February.

Baker was tied with Fireball Roberts for the fifth spot, so a second vote was held for that slot.

"I'm just humbled, I really am," said Wallace, who was picked his first time as a finalist.

Comments
Bucs LB Kendell Beckwith fractured ankle in car accident

Bucs LB Kendell Beckwith fractured ankle in car accident

Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith fractured his ankle in a car accident in Louisiana last week, putting his status for the start of the upcoming season in question.General manager Jason Licht said that Beckwith had surgery Tuesday to repair his injure...
Updated: 12 minutes ago
The Mallex Smith effect can take effect for Rays

The Mallex Smith effect can take effect for Rays

ST. PETERSBURG – Mallex Smith has style.Effervescent personality. Pop culture hipness. Sense of fashion with accoutrements.Now the Rays are going to find out if he has game.More specifically, enough game to be a front-line outfielder, even an i...
Updated: 13 minutes ago
NHL makes right call in not suspending Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov

NHL makes right call in not suspending Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov

The NHL got it right.Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning's top scorer and best player so far in these playoffs, will play Saturday's Game 5 against New Jersey. He's not going to be suspended for his vicious hit on a Devils player in Tampa Bay's Game 4 vic...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Plant alumnus Rex Culpepper doing well in second chemo round at Syracuse

Plant alumnus Rex Culpepper doing well in second chemo round at Syracuse

Former Plant High quarterback Rex Culpepper recently started his second round of chemotherapy but is doing well and should return to football eventually, his college coach said Thursday morning."He's doing really good," Syracuse coach Dino Babers sai...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Life got you down? The Miracle League is back and making miracles again

Life got you down? The Miracle League is back and making miracles again

ST. PETERSBURG — An old friend is back in the lineup.The Kiwanis of Gulf Beaches Miracle League, which champions baseball for the physically and mentally challenged, returned with a flourish Saturday morning. We're better for it."This...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Nikita Kucherov drives Lightning past Devils

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Nikita Kucherov drives Lightning past Devils

Nikita Kucherov scores two goals and delivers some big hits as the Lightning beats the Devils, 3-1, in a physical Game 4 that pushes Tampa Bay to within one win of clinching the series.Meanwhile, the Rays beat the Rangers to as Jake Faria pitche...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Meet the state’s top pole vaulter: River Ridge’s Stone Baker

Meet the state’s top pole vaulter: River Ridge’s Stone Baker

NEW PORT RICHEY — Long before he became the best pole vaulter in the state, Stone Baker was 12 years old and liked to play football.He didn't know a vaulting pole from a tennis racket.Then one day his friend, Evan Bales, asked him to come over ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Lightning holds off Devils and David Puddy

Lightning holds off Devils and David Puddy

NEWARK, N.J. — The Devils pulled out all the stops for Wednesday's Game 4 of their Stanley Cup quarter final series with the Lightning by inviting David Puddy at the Prudential Center.For those who do not know who he is, Puddy was Elaine's...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Could Bruce Hector be the sleeper of USF’s draft class?

Could Bruce Hector be the sleeper of USF’s draft class?

TAMPA — His collection of skills seems to ooze NFL draft jargon: hip swivel, burst, agility, leverage, active hands.Over the past three or four months, most — or all — of these attributes have been affixed to USF defensive line...
Updated: 4 hours ago
2018 NFL draft countdown: Bucs GM Jason Licht speaks

2018 NFL draft countdown: Bucs GM Jason Licht speaks

We're a week away from the NFL draft in Dallas …Bucs general manager Jason Licht will speak to the media at 11:30 a.m. today at One Buc Place in Tampa. He'll take questions for about 20 minutes and use a lot of words to say nothing.That's the g...
Updated: 5 hours ago