AJ Allmendinger and his Todd Gordon led Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Team entered tonight’s Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway with survival strategy in play. To say that the new “Double-Deuce” driver/crew chief duo proved accurate in their assessment of what the 75-lap non-points race would hold would be an understatement.
Only 10 of the 25 drivers completed all 82 laps. Allmendinger, who finished 12th, came within a whisker of having a great shot to win in his first time out driving for Penske Racing. The super-competitive, but always-affable “Dinger” was disappointed, yet found some solace in tonight’s race.
“We were right there, about a half-a-corner from being perfect,” offered Dinger. “We have some things to work on, but we learned some things, too. The Shootout was crazy and our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge was really fast. I had the top rolling and we were going to the lead when the wreck happened. That’ll occur in this kind of racing. I am really looking forward to the (Daytona) 500.”
Allmendinger lined up ninth for tonight’s two-segment battle. But, because the team had to call on its backup car after getting caught up in a practice crash here yesterday, they had to fall to the rear. Dinger, Gordon and crew had no problems at all with doing that.
“Having to drop to the rear for the start actually was a plus,” said Gordon, making his debut atop the pit box for a Sprint Cup team here tonight. “The strategy for both Penske Teams was to fall back behind the big pack and steer clear of the multi-car crashes. It worked till the very end. Unfortunately, we got enough damage during the last crash that it cost us a good shot at winning here tonight.”
A multi-car crash in the first 25-lap segment eliminated three of the 25 starters from the competition and wounded another three cars. After starting last on the field, Dinger was 18th at the conclusion of the first segment.
The “hang back” strategy continued on into the final 50-lap segment. However, when all the leaders had pitted after Clint Bowyer spun to bring out the yellow on Lap 31, Dinger stayed out and led Lap 34. He then hit pit road for fuel and an air pressure adjustment.
Another multi-car crashed occurred on Lap 54 when Joey Logano got shoved by Martin Truex Jr., triggering the incident that sent another four cars to the garage area. Dinger was able to again escape unscathed.
The final “big one” occurred on Lap 74 when contact between Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch sent Busch fluttering on the low side. Busch was able to survive, while Gordon veered up the track and into the stacked-up cars in the outside lane. The impact sent Gordon flipping twice before skidding down the track on its roof. Fortunately, he escaped without injury.
Dinger did all he could in braking and maneuvering, but still sustained major damage to the left-rear quarter-panel of his Dodge. He was forced to hit pit road twice under the yellow to attempt making repairs. The team sawed off part of the sheet metal and attempted to use “bear-bond” to hold the remaining sheet metal together.
The lengthy repairs saw Dinger running a straightaway behind the lead pack on the green-white-checkered restart. When he blasted down into Turns 1 & 2, the damaged sheet metal cut down a tire. He spun and was forced to nurse his car back around to the garage just as the race was ending.
The exciting finish saw Kyle Busch use the outside lane to sweep by Tony Stewart in the tri-oval to win by only 0.013 seconds, the closest finish in the Shootout’s history. Marcos Ambrose finished third, with Penske teammate Brad Keselowski fourth and Denny Hamlin fifth. Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, Bowyer, Carl Edwards and Juan Pablo Montoya rounded out the top-10 finishers.
“It was just a matter of figuring out when was the right time to go and make your move to the front,” said crew chief Gordon. “One thing we learned here in this race is the importance of patience. AJ really showed his ability to be patient out there tonight. I expect that we’ll see more of this kind of racing here in Thursday’s qualifying races and in next Sunday’s Daytona 500.”
Credit - Walldinger Racing