AJ Allmendinger was set to start Duel #1 in the 12th position, but with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson both going to the back at the start of the race, he found himself starting in 10th place, right behind teammate Marcos Ambrose. At the green flag the two teammates hooked up with AJ pushing, but they got shuffled to the high side of the track and fell backwards before a quick caution came out on lap 2.
Restarting at almost the tail end of the field but in opposite lines, AJ and Marcos had to scramble to find other partners as the racing got back underway. With Jimmie Johnson having started in the back due to an engine change, he hooked up with the powerhouse RPM Ford of AJ and the two started making their way to the front.
From that time on there was a long stretch of green flag racing that lasted almost the entire remainder of the race. Chad Knaus made a visit to the #43 team pit box to discuss the two-car tandem’s pit strategy with AJ’s crew chief Mike Shiplett. They decided on a fuel only stop, but for some reason AJ got off pit road well ahead of the #48 car of Johnson and had to wait for his dancing partner to catch up to him.
With quite a gap between them and the leaders of the race, AJ and Jimmie worked together and closed the difference. By the time the caution flag came out with only 4 laps to go, they were mixing it up at the front of the field. With the interesting dynamic of the two car groups though, AJ and Jimmie found themselves side by side on the restart, instead of nose to tail. So when the race restarted, AJ had to decide who to go with and ended up with a great push from his former teammate Paul Menard, who had one of those powerful ECR engines under his hood.
With his new dancing partner giving him a shove, AJ made a surge towards the front but the duo lost momentum and ended up finishing 7th and 9th respectively. The solid race not only gave AJ a 15th place starting spot for the Daytona 500, but provided valuable learning experience on how these new two-car pairings work. Before they got separated, AJ and Jimmie had nearly perfected the switch that is required to keep the car in back from overheating. All in all, it was a respectable finish while gathering some info that AJ can hopefully use in Sunday’s big race.