"Man this is not the start to the season any of us were expecting,” said Dinger. “I'm struggling to figure out what to say because I'm feeling so many things right now.
“Our 22 Pennzoil Dodge was really good. I knew we had a top-five car after we got into the race. I overshot the pit box on my first stop. I've never done that like that. I got lost behind the 56. Embarrassing, but the Captain (Roger Penske) got on the radio and said he knew we could get it back; hearing that helped me get refocused and back in the race. We had worked back up to 14th with a lot of race left. Just when I knew we could make something solid, we started having fuel pressure issues. It was sporadic. Then it just went away.
“We came into the garage and changed some things and went back out, but the same thing happened. My guys busted their butts changing everything related to fuel pressure we could and went back out to salvage what was left. We're not sure yet what the cause was, but you know the guys back at the Penske shop will figure it out"
Allmendinger started 14th and, with two cars in front of him having to drop to the rear for the green flag, he was up to seventh after the first lap. He reported his Dodge was a little tight, but made progress, several times turning in the fastest laps on the track. He had climbed to fifth on Lap 19.
The tight condition saw Dinger fall to seventh on Lap 37, just before the first caution flag of the race flew for Timmy Hill’s crash in Turn 2. The leaders pitted on Lap 46 and that’s when Dinger overshot his pits. He fell to 21st for the Lap 49 restart.
Dinger was back up to 17th on Lap 60 and went with a two-tire on Lap 77 under the second caution period of the race. The handling conditions deteriorated after the restart, with the front end way on top of the track and the rear end too loose.
A four-tire stop was the call under the green on Lap 125, only a lap before Travis Kvapil blew an engine to bring out the third caution of the race. Dinger pitted for four tires and fuel and pitted again after feeling something awkward with the tires.
The “Double-Deuce” Dodge was 20th on the Lap 133 restart and was moving back toward the front when Dinger reported he was losing fuel pressure on Lap 145. Only four laps later, the gauges were back to normal and he continued to go forward.
Another round of green flag stops were in order beginning on Lap 172. Crew chief Todd Gordon purposefully kept Dinger out to lead Lap 177 for the bonus point before pitting again on Lap 178. After getting four tires and fuel, the No. 22 car was 19th on the Lap 180 restart.
The same problem resurfaced 10 laps later and Dinger’s Dodge lost all fuel pressure. The team went to the garage to diagnose the problem, changed fuel pumps and headed back out, running 10 laps down. After only a few circuits with no improvement, Dinger returned to the garage for a complete fuel cell replacement.
When he returned to the action, he was 29 laps down and forced just to ride it out till the end. Teammate Brad Keselowski was running second with only 18 laps remaining when similar circumstances struck and sent him to the garage for repairs.
“It’s evident that we had what looks like similar issues that took both AJ and Brad out here today,” said Gordon. “Both of our Dodges showed strength during the race. There seems to be a distinct problem there and we’ll certainly get it figured out before we head to Bristol for next weekend’s race.”
Tony Stewart emerged as the winner here this afternoon, coming home the victor by 0.461 seconds over Jimmie Johnson. Greg Biffle finished third, with Ryan Newman fourth and Carl Edwards fifth. Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard, Jamie McMurray, Trevor Bayne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out today’s top-10 finishers.
Allmendinger finished 37th, completing 238 of the 267 laps. Teammate Keselowski was credited with a 32nd-place finish after completing 259 of the laps.
Biffle’s three third-place finishes to open the season sees him leading the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings with 125 points. He currently enjoys a 10-point advantage over second-place Kevin Harvick.
After three races during the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, Allmendinger is 29th in the standings. With 44 points, he is 81 points out of the lead, 53 out of 10th (#55) and 22 out of 20th (#36). Keselowski is currently 21st in the standings with 65 points.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup tour now kicks off the short-track part of the 2012 schedule by visiting the high-banked Bristol Motor Speedway for next weekend’s annual running of the Food City 500. The action at BMS kicks off on Friday with practice set from 12:00 noon until 1:30 p.m. Friday’s single round of qualifying at 3:40 p.m. (live on SPEED-TV) will set the entire 43-car starting field. Saturday’s schedule features practices from 9:30 a.m. till 10:25 a.m. and from 12:00 noon till 1:00 p.m. Sunday’s Food City 500 (500 laps, 266.5 miles) has a 1:00 p.m. ET start and features live coverage by FOX-TV, PRN Radio and Sirius/XM NASCAR Channel 90.
Credit - Penske Racing PR