Allmendinger Finishes 17th in Sunday's Bristol Battle

March 18, 2012

BRISTOL, Tenn. (March 18, 2012) – Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver AJ Allmendinger started on the outside pole in today’s Food City 500 here at Bristol Motor Speedway and showed plenty of strength in the early going.  But, after leading 54 laps during the first quarter of the race, the handling on Dinger’s Dodge went awry and he had to persevere to bring it home in the 17th finishing position.

“The car was very good early, but then it got real loose,” Allmendinger said.  “We lost track position. We never got it really handling well the rest of the race. Not the finish we wanted to have after starting out so strong. Those first couple runs my Shell-Pennzoil Dodge was really fast. Then after we put on that next set of tires, something just wasn't right -- felt like I had rocks under me.

I thought maybe it was the tires and after awhile started to think something broke,” Dinger added.  “Todd (Gordon, crew chief) and the guys did all they could to make it better again and the last couple adjustments started to help. We just weren't able to get the car where it needed to be to get back to the front. I'm happy for Mr. Penske, Brad and the whole Penske Racing organization. Just wish we could have stayed up there with 'em today.”

Pole-winner Greg Biffle chose to start on the outside of the front row for the start of today’s race and jumped out to a big lead.  Jeff Gordon moved into second with Dinger third and Ryan Newman fourth.  AJ passed Gordon for second on Lap 11 and was turning the fastest laps on the track.

A multi-car crash on Lap 23 brought out the first caution of the race.  Marcos Ambrose, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch and Regan Smith sustained major damage, while several other drivers had to make minor repairs during the yellow.  The lengthy caution period saw NASCAR officials wave the scheduled Lap 50 competition yellow, opting to use this period instead.

Crew chief Gordon made the call to stay out and Dinger inherited the lead on Lap 41.  The top seven cars had all stayed out when the racing finally resumed on Lap 47.  The “Double-Deuce” Dodge set sail and was lapping cars by Lap 80.  Dinger had led 54 laps when Brian Vickers was able to maneuver by for the lead as they were working the lapped traffic.

When Kenny Schrader blew a tire and hit the wall in Turn 3, the race went back to yellow on Lap 115.  Dinger and all the leaders hit pit road, with the No. 22 team going for four tires, fuel and a half-pound air pressure change in the lefts.

Allmendinger was second for the Lap 122 restart, but his potential great run began to unfold from there.  “Lost all grip,” he radioed on Lap 136 as he fell to fourth.  “We’re in real trouble…feels like I’m on rocks with the rears shattering…” he said when he fell to eighth on Lap 160. 

The condition worsened as the laps continued and Dinger felt he needed to hit pit road before he crashed.  Gordon and spotter Chris Osborne coached him on through Lap 235, when he hit pitted just after being put a lap down by the leader.  The team went with four tires & fuel, a reversal on the air pressure and two full rounds.

The other cars started hitting pit road under the green 10 laps later.  When the stops cycled around, Dinger was 22nd in the running order and still on the lead lap.  He fell a lap down again on Lap 288 and contended for the “lucky dog” spot until David Stremme hit the frontstretch wall on Lap 339 to bring out the third caution flag.  Ryan Newman was running just in front and received the free pass.

Such would be the case for the remainder of the race.  Adjustments made to the car made it better, but with only five cautions during the race, Dinger never could get back on the lead lap and challenge for a top-10 finish.

Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski made it two consecutive wins here at BMS as he battled nip and tuck with veteran Matt Kenseth and held him off for a 0.714-second victory here today.  The Miller Lite Dodge driver led a race-high four times for a total of 232 laps.  Martin Truex Jr. finished third, with Clint Bowyer fourth and Brian Vickers fifth.

Jeff Burton, Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jimmie Johnson and Paul Menard rounded out today’s top-10 finishers.  Kevin Harvick, Newman, Greg Biffle, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. completed the top-15 and were the cars running on the lead lap at the finish.  Joey Logano, Dinger, Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola and Denny Hamlin completed today’s top-20 finishers.

“We’ll take this car back to the shop a look everything over,” team leader Gordon said.  “As strong as it was at the first of the race and to have the problems we did, we need to check it all out, especially the rear suspension.”

After four races have been put in the 2012 record book, Allmendinger is 26th in the point standings.  With 72 points, he trails leader Biffle by 85 points.  He is 65 points behind fifth-place Denny Hamlin and 51 behind 10th-place Menard.  Teammate Keselowski is 13th in the standings with 113 points.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup tour now heads out to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., for next Sunday’s Auto Club 400.  The action gets under way with Friday’s practice from 12:00 noon until 1:30 p.m.  Coors Light Pole Award qualifying to establish the starting grid for Sunday’s battle is set for Friday at 4:10 p.m. local (live on SPEED-TV).  Saturday’s action begins with morning practice from 9:30 a.m. till 10:20 a.m.  The final “happy hour” practice session is scheduled from 12:50 p.m. till 1:50 p.m. Sunday’s Auto Club 400 (200 laps, 400 miles) has a scheduled 12:00 noon PDT starting time (3:00 p.m. EDT).  FOX-TV and MRN Radio will provide live coverage of all the action.