Fuel Gamble Leads to 22nd-Place Finish for Stremme
November 1, 2009
Stremme, ranked 30th in the NASCAR Cup Series point standings entering the weekend, lined up in the same position for Sunday's AMP Energy 500 after rain washed away qualifying on Saturday. Stremme piloted the No. 12 machine toward the front of the field in the opening laps of the race. The first caution period of the event occurred on lap 4 and many of the leaders came down pit road to top off their fuel. Stremme remained on the race track, however, and gained valuable position.
On lap 8, Stremme took the green flag restart in the 12th spot. He raced among the lead pack of cars on the famed superspeedway for the next 30 laps, pushing all the way to sixth place. Stremme was happy with the performance of his racing machine, but reported concern about his front splitter scraping against the track in the corners. "Keep us posted and we'll take a look at our first stop," responded crew chief Roy McCauley.
On lap 43, Stremme brought the Penske Dodge Charger down pit road for its initial stop of the day. The crew replaced the right side Goodyear tires and filled the car with fuel. The team also removed tape from the Charger's grill in an effort to get more cool air to the engine. Stremme rejoined the racing action in the 30th position. A caution period just seven laps later gave the No. 12 crew an opportunity to make additional changes. On lap 51, Stremme brought his machine back down pit road for four fresh tires and fuel. The crew carefully inspected the car's splitter and released Stremme onto the race course. Convinced the splitter was still rubbing on the racing surface, Stremme returned to the No. 12 pit stall for a metal shim in the right front shock to raise the front of the car up in the turns.
The field returned to green flag racing on lap 55 and Stremme battled at the tail end of the lead pack for the following 40 laps. As racing continued, the lead pack formed a single-file line at the top of the track and Stremme found himself positioned in 18th place. Roger Penske encouraged his driver, "Stay in line here, David." The advice proved valuable as several lead-pack drivers broke off to make a run on the bottom of the track and immediately fell back. Stremme battled to 14th place when McCauley called him in for his fourth pit stop of the afternoon.
Stremme continued to run in the lead pack of cars until the caution flag waved on lap 137. McCauley instructed the team to replace the right side tires and fill the car with fuel. Knowing that the No. 12 was carrying slightly less fuel on board than was necessary to finish the race, McCauley urged his driver to save fuel.
The field took the green flag on lap 143 and Stremme began to race inside the top-10 once again. On lap 154, Stremme fell out of the draft and lost his momentum. He found himself running in the 22nd position. Stremme ran in the middle of the lead pack until a strong run with drafting partners Marcos Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya pushed him to the top racing groove and into the race lead. As Stremme paced the field for several laps, McCauley reminded the team that they were rolling the dice on fuel strategy.
On lap 183, an incident on the backstretch resulted in a red flag that brought racing action to a halt. Cars eventually began rolling again with the scoring pylon indicating lap 186. As the field prepared to take the green flag, Jeff Gordon ran out of fuel and required a push to pit road. NASCAR indicated that the one-lap-to-go-to-green signal would be lifted to allow Gordon to return to the pit road safely. During the extra lap, Stremme also reported that the No. 12 was out of fuel. NASCAR said the same precautions would be taken with the Penske Dodge, which allowed Stremme to return to the pits and receive enough fuel to finish the race. Stremme rejoined the action in time to take the final green flag restart. On the final lap, Stremme's Penske Racing teammate Kurt Busch spun across the grass in front of the grandstands, but the checkered flag flew in the middle of the resulting melee.
Stremme crossed the finish line in the 22nd position and is now ranked 31st in the season standings. "Today's race is indicative of the luck we've had this season," said Stremme after he climbed out of the Penske Dodge. "We started towards the back of the field today, but we knew we could battle to the front at Talladega. If we hadn't run out of fuel, we would've had a real chance at the win today."
Next weekend, the No. 12 Penske Dodge team visits Texas Motor Speedway to compete in the Dickies 500. ABC will provide live television coverage beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, November 8. The event will also be heard live on PRN Radio as well as Sirius Satellite Radio, channel 128.