AJ Allmendinger wasn’t officially listed as being part of the opening lap crash at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, but the incident none the less completely changed the outcome of the race for the driver of the No. 43 Valvoline Ford Fusion as it forced him to fight back from an overheating motor and a long pit stop to score 16th in the Brickyard 400 for Richard Petty Motorsports.
Starting from his best-ever Brickyard grid position on the eighth row, AJ managed to avoid the first-lap carnage, but the debris from the incident ultimately cost him a lap after having to pit under green to clear the rads as the FR9 motor suffered skyrocketing temps.
With a race that boasts a lap of 2.5-miles and several long green flag runs, the setback was significant. But AJ kept his head down and just focused on making up as much ground as possible despite a consistently loose-handling Ford Fusion as the NASCAR Sprint Cup made its annual visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
That comeback rally, which saw AJ fighting his way forward to get back on the lead lap as if it was for the win, was set back once again when a lug nut issue caused a long stop on pit road, costing track position and time for the Valvoline entry.
But after fighting his way on to the lead lap once again, AJ was continuing to move forward and ran as high as 15th late in the race before closing the day out 16th in the order, exactly where he had qualified.
Even though he had shown great speed once again on a track where he has previously led, he wasn’t able to once again take a top ten finish at IMS.
But the long hot afternoon’s hard work still brought some reward as the RPM racer brought home his seventh top-16 finish in the last eight races, and moved him one spot up in the provisional championship standings.
Given everything he had to fight back from, the 16th place result was one that he was happy to leave the famed Brickyard with, although he knows that even the current consistent run of strong finishes won’t be what it takes to move up to the Chase, but the program continues to pick up speed.
“I'm relieved we were able to get the Valvoline 43 back up to a reasonable finish given how the day played out for us, but we're not a 16th-place team anymore, so to say it's okay, it's not,” said AJ. “Yes, we had a pretty severe overheating issue that caused us to pit under green, but we then can't afford to make any mistakes-even small ones if we're going to gain some footing. I've said it before, when 16th is a bad day for us, that's definitely a step up, but that's not where our expectations are set anymore. Basically, we just have to be better at minimizing mistakes across the board.”
Credit - www.ajallmendinger.com