AAA Dodge driver AJ Allmendinger started from the pole and led the first 44 laps of today’s STP 400 here at Kansas Speedway. What was shaping up to be another solid performance by Dinger and his Todd Gordon-led No. 22 Penske Team fell apart due to an unusual problem related to the fuel injection system. The issue was totally different from the “pumping” difficulties the Penske Dodges have encountered in other races this season.
Allmendinger claimed the Coors Light Pole Award in qualifying here yesterday with a fast lap of 30.683 seconds (175.993 mph). He took off from the drop of the green flag and was able to hold Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. at bay until after the first round of green-flag stops. Dinger was ordered to hit pit road the next time around after Lap 43 and started running out of fuel in Turns 1 and 2. He was totally out when he got around to his No. 1 pit box, closest to the pit exit.
The extra time spent saw Dinger fall to seventh in the running when the stops cycled around on Lap 48. Only four laps later, the first caution flag of the race fell for Clint Bowyer’s spin off of Turn 4.
None of the leaders pitted and Dinger was seventh for the Lap 56 restart. After reporting that his car had gone “wicked tight” on Lap 60, he radioed in five laps later that he thought the engine was blowing. He lost power and his lap times dropped 1.3 seconds per lap.
Crew chief Gordon coached him to continue logging laps in hopes of catching a yellow flag to address the situation under caution. Dinger finally fell one lap down on Lap 80. The team pitted under green on Lap 89, but elected not to check under the hood and lose additional laps.
Dinger, Gordon and crew finally got the break they were looking for on Lap 132, when the second yellow flag flew, this one for debris. Under this caution, the crew went to work under the hood, changing the ECU, the relay box and the coil pack. All of those changes didn’t solve the issue and it wasn’t until a pit stop on Lap 188 that the culprit was identified and repaired.
“They were not fuel delivery system issues that bit us today,” Gordon explained after the race. “The first run, I thought that our AAA Dodge was pretty good. We needed a little bit of turn mid-corner to get the nose pointed. It’s a learning curve with these EFI systems. The best that we can say it is that with the ambient temperature being so much cooler that air quality was so good, the EFI was dumping more fuel. Our mileage backed up almost a half-mile per gallon. That’s more than anything that we’ve seen at a mile-and-a-half track. We actually ran out of fuel coming to the first stop.
“That set us back a bit,” Gordon said. “Halfway through the second run, the motor started to lay down. I give our team credit. We were pulling on a bunch of things trying to figure it out. We changed ECU’s, coil packs, relay box and the guys were thinking about what was going on with mileage with what we were seeing with more data. We decided to look at the throttle body and we discovered that the secondary linkage came off. We were basically running a two-barrel EFI system instead of a four-barrel. We swapped that out and that brought the motor back to life. Fortunately, it wasn’t an internal issue. Unfortunately, it cost us a bunch of laps to identify it and get fixed.”
“Man, it’s just starting to feel like 'Ground Hog's Day,’” Allmendinger said when he looked back on the day. “I wish I had something totally different to say. I know I'm not the only one here that’s frustrated. We all are. We were off to such a great start. We had pole, the 22 AAA Dodge Charger was so good that first run. Our car was fast out front and then the gremlins hit us.
“Not sure how to explain it other than you’re on the pole one minute riding around leading laps and then next thing you know your car isn’t right,” Dinger said. “We ran out of fuel coming to pit road on our first stop, but managed to get back out in seventh. But it went downhill quickly from there. It felt like the engine was blowing, them I have to give Todd (Gordon) and all the guys a lot of credit for rolling up their sleeves and figuring out the cause of the problem. I thought for sure that the motor was gone because how flat it got, but that wasn’t the case. Todd told me over the radio that it was a secondary throttle linkage and I just couldn’t believe it. That’s about as rare as it gets. Like I said, ‘Ground Hogs Day.’”
Allmendinger came across the finish line in the 32nd position, completing 257 of the 267 laps.
Up front, it was Denny Hamlin passing Truex (very dominant until then, leading 173 laps) for the lead after the final pitting sequence. Hamlin led the final 31 circuit to score the victory by 0.700 seconds over Truex. Jimmie Johnson finished third, with Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle rounding out the top five. Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch completed the top-10 finishers. Brad Keselowski (finished 11th), Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Stewart were the final three of the 13 drivers who completed all 267 laps. Penske Racing teammate Sam Hornish Jr. finished 19th, running one lap down to the leaders.
Allmendinger fell to 23rd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings. With 185 points, he trails leader Biffle by 127 and is 65 behind 10th-place Ryan Newman. Dinger trails 15th-place Keselowski (217 points) by 32 points and is two points out of 20th (three-way tie between Marcos Ambrose, Aric Almirola and Regan Smith).
The NASCAR Sprint Cup tour now heads to Richmond International Raceway for another short-track battle. This weekend’s action at RIR gets under way on Friday with the first practice scheduled from 12:00 noon till 2:00 p.m. The final practice is scheduled for Friday from 2:45 p.m. till 3:30 p.m (live on SPEED-TV). Friday’s 5:35 p.m. single round of qualifying (live on SPEED-TV) will establish Saturday’s 43-car starting field. Saturday’s Richmond 400 (400 laps, 300 miles) has a 7:30 p.m. EDT 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