AJ Allmendinger Finishes 18th in Subway 500 at Phoenix

March 4, 2012

AVONDALE, Ariz. (March 4, 2012)  -- Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver AJ Allmendinger and his Todd Gordon-led Penske Racing No. 22 Team started 15th in today’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 here at Phoenix International Raceway.  After running from 10th to 15th for the first third of the race, Dinger got innocently wrapped up in an altercation with Paul Menard on Lap 133 that essentially tore the rear deck lid off all the way back to the fenders.  Somehow, Dinger, Gordon and crew were able to persevere to finish 18th.

"Honestly, it was a bit of a frustrating weekend especially on the heels of Daytona,” Allmendinger said.  “I've always run well here, so I came in with my goal being a top-5 or top-10 at least.  We just couldn't get the car dialed in from the start. Todd and our team sat down Friday evening and really worked on it.  I felt we made some good gains for qualifying and heading into the race with the Shell/Pennzoil Dodge.  But the way the schedule is this weekend without a practice after qualifying, those changes are still a bit of a gamble.  We just didn’t seem to be able to get the car into the track.  It just kept getting tighter and tighter.  It was a handful, but we were holding on.

“The 27 got into me and I bounced between him and the wall,” Dinger explained of the incident with Menard.  “That popped the rear deck lid. Man, the whole 22 Penske crew worked their butts off to repair the car and keep us in the race.  After that, we actually were running the fastest laps with the Dodge Charger, but we just couldn’t gain any track position.  So really, we spent the last runs trying to dig in and get what we could.  I’m glad Brad was able to bring home a solid finish for Penske Racing.  Like Todd said, this was our first real race together and there's still some learning of each other we have to do.  So we'll take that on to Vegas and keep moving forward.”

After the Lap 133 incident which saw the “Double-Deuce” team pit lap after lap under caution to make necessary repairs, Dinger fell to 27th.  He eventually went a lap down after pitting under green on Lap 200.  But after taking the wave-around under the fifth yellow on Lap 228, he returned to the lead lap.  Dinger was able to remain on the lead lap until he moved out of eventual winner Denny Hamlin’s path with three laps remaining.

Hamlin crossed the finish line 7.315 seconds ahead of runner-up Kevin Harvick, who had fuel pickup issues in the final laps.  Greg Biffle finished third, with Jimmie Johnson fourth and Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski fifth.  Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Joey Logano rounded out today’s top-10 finishers (see results below).

“You’ve got to take what you’ve got and keep digging with it,” crew chief Gordon offered after the race.  “It’s a communication thing, just learning what AJ’s talking about when he’s talking about tight or loose and the amount that it is.  That’s probably the biggest challenge we’ve got right now, quantifying what his statements are.  We were a little tight to start with and had a lot of rear grip.  We just over-adjusted on it and got him a little loose and kind of paid the penalty there with damage to the rear.

“I thought the guys did a good job getting it fixed and getting us back where we could race,” Gordon said.  “We were a couple of tenths off the leaders once we got it fixed.   We survived and turned a bad day into a mediocre day.  That’s what you’ve got to do.  You got to accumulate all the points you can.  It’s about survival.  Obviously, not what we were looking for coming into here, but I think we’ve learned more about our communication and where we’re at.  I’ve learned more about how I need to react to AJ’s comments.  It’s part of the learning curve of a new driver and new crew chief to a new team.”

After two races have been put into the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series record book, Allmendinger is up to 25th in the point standings.  With 36 points, he trails leader Hamlin by 53 points and is 16 points behind teammate Keselowski, who holds down the 12th spot (see top-30 points below).

The NASCAR Sprint Cup tour now heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for next Sunday’s running of the Kobalt Tools 400.  The action at LVMS kicks off on Friday with practice set from 12:00 noon until 1:30 p.m.  Friday’s single round of qualifying at 3:40 p.m. (live on SPEED-TV) will set the entire 43-car starting field.  Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 (267 laps, 400.5 miles) has a 12:00 noon local (3:00 p.m. ET) start and features live coverage by FOX-TV, PRN Radio and Sirius/XM NASCAR Channel 90.