Allmendinger Scores First Top-15 Finish of Season

March 26, 2012

FONTANA, Calif. (March 25, 2012) – AAA Dodge driver AJ Allmendinger recorded his first top-15 finish of the season in today’s Auto Club 400 here at Auto Club Speedway, but it certainly didn’t come easy for Dinger and his Todd Gordon-led No. 22 Penske Racing Team.  A right-rear tire that went down after the second pit stop on Lap 67 threw the team a real curve ball, but Dinger, Gordon and crew persevered to finish 15th.

 “We started off way too tight and that hurt us,” Dinger recalled of the early laps in today’s race that was cut short by rain.  “I didn’t expect us to be that tight to start the race.  I got up to 18th or so and the car just stayed tight.  That cost us some time.  On our second run the car was too free, completely opposite of where we were the first green-flag run.  I felt like the car was a little bit quicker, more competitive. 

 “Then on our next green-flag stop, that’s when we developed an issue with the right-rear tire going down,” Dinger said of the aftermath of his second trip to pit road here today.  “It really screwed the car up.  That put us a run behind on setup.  The tire had to go down as soon as we left pit road because I got this nasty vibration in the car and I knew something was wrong.  By the end of the run, the car was really tight and we had to pit early because we were losing too much time. 

“It ended up working out for us and we made up a ton of time.  We were about seven to 10 laps on older tires and I felt like that I could get the top rolling for the first time all day.  We were actually decent and it stinks that it started to rain because I wanted to keep running.  Starting as tight as we were put us behind and with that long green-flag run to start the race, there really isn’t anything that you can do to help your car.”

Allmendinger started 25th on the grid today and cracked the top-20 after only 10 laps.  The extreme tight condition took its toll on any forward progress and Dinger was running 19th when he hit pit road for his first green-flag stop on Lap 33.  He was still 19th when the stops cycled around on Lap 36.

Dinger’s Dodge went from tight to loose during the next run and he was 18th when green-flag stops were the order again on Lap 67.  The “Double-Deuce” over-the-wall gang’s 12.4-second stop kept Dinger in the mix as the stops cycled around on Lap 70.  Dinger originally thought he had a loose left-front tire as he picked up a severe vibration.

Gordon and spotter Chris Osborne coached their driver to get all he could out of the ill-handling car, but when it got where it “wouldn’t turn anymore” on Lap 92, Dinger was instructed to hit pit road.  The green-flag stop came some 10 laps short of what was planned.

Sprinkles began falling on Lap 98 as the rest of the field began making their scheduled pit stops.  When the stops cycled around, Dinger was 16th and running 3.5 seconds ahead of leader Tony Stewart.  Stewart closed in and finally put Dinger down a lap on the 123rd circuit.  When Stewart came out of Turn 4, he was given the yellow flag.  Caution fell on the field for the first time of the race because the sprinkles had turned into a steady rain.

Dinger was awarded the “lucky dog” free pass back onto the lead lap.  He pitted on Lap 126 for four tires and fuel and rejoined the field in the 16th position.  Only three laps later, the field was brought down pit road and stopped, with the red flag displayed at 1:50 p.m.

The rain persisted; forcing NASCAR officials to call the race at 2:25 p.m. after 129 laps had been completed.

Stewart was declared the winner, with Kyle Busch second, Dale Earnhardt Jr. third, Kevin Harvick fourth and Carl Edwards fifth.  Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson (who had a punctured oil cooler) rounded out the top-10.  Denny Hamlin, Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Dinger and Matt Kenseth rounded out the 16 drivers completing all the laps.  Kenseth was originally scored as finishing 15th, but a penalty elevated Dinger to 15th and dropped Kenseth to 16th.

“It was another race where we never had the opportunity to see our full potential, but the way our season has gone we’ll take it and go on to Martinsville,” said crew chief Gordon.  “Earlier in the week, I said we were shooting for a top-15 finish and to be able to finish on the lead lap.  We accomplished that.  The tire going flat was a setback for us, but it forced us to short-pit and that wound up being beneficial.  We picked up several spots by pitting early.

“I said we had some positive momentum going after last week’s race at Bristol and I think today’s finish will certainly help keep us going in the right direction,” Gordon said.  “We’re looking forward to getting to Martinsville and see what we can do in the next short-track race on the schedule.”

After five races, Allmendinger stands 26th in the Sprint Cup point standings.  With 101 points, he trails leader Greg Biffle by 94 points.  He is 74 points behind fifth-place Truex Jr. and 54 points behind 10th-place Newman.

Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski finished 18th here today in the Miller Lite Dodge.  He is now 16th in the standings with 139 points.

 The Sprint Cup Series returns to short-track wars next weekend as the drivers and crews visit the .526-mile Martinsville Speedway, the shortest track on the schedule.  This weekend’s action gets under way with Friday’s opening practice from 12:30 until 2:00 p.m.  The final practice is set for Friday from 3:30 p.m. till 5:00 p.m. Coors Light Pole Award qualifying to establish the starting grid for Sunday’s 500-lap battle is set for Saturday at 11:40 a.m. local (live on SPEED-TV).  Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500 (500 laps, 263 miles) has a scheduled 1:00 p.m. EDT starting time.  FOX-TV and MRN Radio will provide live coverage of all the action.