“Our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge was great, fast on the short runs,” said Dinger, who was still running in the top-five with only 64 laps remaining. “But on the long runs the tires went away so quickly. The car was like a light switch; it was great then immediately went bad. We couldn't keep from grinding the front tires.
“It was so bad one of the early runs we pitted early because it felt like I had a front tire going down,” AJ added. “We couldn’t seem to adjust for it. I tried driving differently and nothing seemed to work. Then, that second-to-last run was so long and the tires went away 35 laps into it. We started strong, but just kept falling back. So after running in the top-10 all day, we didn’t have a yellow fall when we needed it. So we have to take the 16th.
After starting fourth here tonight, Allmendinger was running seventh when the competition yellow flew on Lap 50. After Dinger had pointed out specific handling issues, crew chief Todd Gordon called for wedge and air pressure adjustments during the Lap 53 trip to pit road.
The team would continue to adjust on their Dodge throughout the race and eventually wound up where they started out on the wedge. Several times during the race, Dinger had the fastest lap times of all drivers.
At the 100-lap mark, he was running fifth. Contact with David Reutimann slowed Dinger’s run due to a slight fender-rub and an ensuing pit stop under the second yellow of the race on Lap 118.
Dinger was 12th on the Lap 122 restart and battled back up to eighth before the handling gave way to a tight condition. He had fallen to 11th on Lap 190. Thinking he might have a right-front tire going flat, he short-pitted on Lap 199. There was no problem with the tire, but the whole set was worn out.
When the stops cycled around on Lap 208, Dinger was running sixth and he held that position until the third caution flew on Lap 226 for debris. The final half-round of wedge was taken back out during the yellow-flag stop.
Dinger was seventh on the Lap 236 restart and climbed as far as fourth in the running order before the tire wear took its toll. He had fallen to eighth when he hit pit road under the green on Lap 305. Six laps later, the fourth caution of the race came out for debris left on the track from Jeff Burton’s contact with the wall.
Allmendinger was among the group of drivers staying out and taking the wave-around to return to the lead lap for the Lap 319 restart. When the inside lane bogged to a standstill on the first lap after the return to green, Dinger used the high lane to advance all the way up to third on Lap 322.
By Lap 350, Dinger had fallen to fifth. The car really went away after that and he had dropped to 14th on Lap 386, when the final caution flag of the race was displayed. Leader Tony Stewart had put Dinger down a lap four circuits earlier and had just gotten around Carl Edwards. Edwards received the “lucky dog” free pass back onto the lead lap and Dinger was forced to stay out and take another wave-around to return to the lead lap.
Allmendinger was 14th on the restart, but with worn tires and an ill-handling Dodge, he fell to 16th during the run to the checkers.
The final caution prevented a dominating Tony Stewart to cruise to the win. Instead, Kyle Busch jumped out to lead the field down to the wire and claimed a 1.095-second victory over runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr. Stewart finished third, with Denny Hamlin fourth and Kasey Kahne fifth. Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Mark Martin, Brad Keselowski and Edwards rounded out the top-10 finishers.
“We struggled in practice to start with,” Gordon offered. “First practice, we really kind of struggled to find rhythm around here and what we needed to work on. We thought we built decent balance in the race car there. We struggled when we got to the back half of the fuel run, struggled with losing some front grip. The long green-flag run there, coming to just about the whole fuel run, we short pitted about like everybody did other than Carl (Edwards) when the caution came out at lap 309. We were good to finish from there, but that forced us to take a wave-around and start at the back on scuffs. For all intents and purposes, that kind of bit us. We lost too much time there. That last run, we just lost the front end worse than we lost it all day and got ourselves down a lap.”
Allmendinger climbed two spots up to 21st after tonight’s finish. With 213 points, he trails leader Greg Biffle by 125 points. He is 65 points behind 10th-place Ryan Newman and 28 behind 15th-place Joey Logano. Penske Racing teammate Keselowski holds down the 13th spot with 252 points after nine races.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup tour now moves on to the longest track on the circuit, the massive 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway, for another round of restrictor-plate racing. This weekend’s schedule gets under way with Friday’s opening practice from 1:00 p.m. till 1:45 p.m. The final session of Sprint Cup practice is set to run on Friday from 2:30 p.m. till 3:30 p.m. Coors Light Pole Award qualifying to establish the starting grid for Sunday’s 43-car starting field is scheduled to begin at 11:10 a.m. on Saturday. Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 (188 laps, 500.08 miles) has a 12:00 noon CDT starting time and features live coverage by FOX-TV and MRN Radio (also on Sirius-XM NASCAR Channel 90 and streaming live at www.motorracingnetwork.com.
Credit - Penske Racing PR