Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver AJ Allmendinger was relegated to a 33rd-place finish in tonight’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 after a late-race incident forced him to the garage area for necessary repairs. With the 11th race of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season in the record books, Allmendinger leaves Darlington Raceway 22nd in the series’ points.
“We just struggled all night going from one extreme to the other, from so tight to just wicked loose and could never find a happy medium,” Allmendinger said. “The car was just a handful all night but I thought we'd be able to hang on for a top 15.
“We had a caution fall when we needed it after taking the wave around to get back on the lead lap, but got together with the 1 (Jamie McMurray) after that and ended up in the garage. The guys worked as hard and as fast as they could to get us back out there but there just weren't enough laps left at that point. Todd (Gordon, crew chief) and I, along with the team, are going to have to try and figure out what we need to do to stop going back and forth to these extremes during these races and bring home the finishes we all want for the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge.”
Allmendinger started tonight’s race from the 16th position and struggled with a loose car from the drop of the green flag. With the first 171 laps of the race run caution-free, the crew threw wedge, track bar and air pressure adjustments at their machine during green-flag stops that offered minimum relief. Dinger’s Dodge went from loose to tight as the chassis mood swings set in.
Jimmie Johnson got around AJ to put him a lap down after 126 circuits. Dinger held the lucky dog-eligible spot on three different occasions, but never got the caution he needed to return to the lead lap. When Bobby Labonte spun on the frontstretch on Lap 297 to bring out the fourth caution of the race, Dinger stayed out and took the wave-around to return to the lead lap.
AJ was 17th on the Lap 302 restart and got the break he needed only four laps later when Regan Smith spun in Turn 4 to bring out the fifth yellow period of the night. That allowed Dinger to pit on Lap 308 for fresh tires and ample fuel to go the distance.
Allmendinger lined up 19th for the Lap 311 restart as 21 cars were running on the lead lap. He had climbed to 16th in the running order when Jamie McMurray pinned him into the Turn 4 wall to bring out the sixth caution of the race. Dinger sustained suspension damage and was forced to go to the garage for repairs.
The Shell-Pennzoil Dodge returned to action 11 laps down and Allmendinger rode it out the remainder of the race to finish 33rd.
“David Hoots (NASCAR Managing Event Director) said at the driver’s meeting that you’ve just got to race the racetrack,” crew chief Gordon offered after the race. “We had a long green flag run there to start with and didn’t quite have the balance we wanted to and got down a lap and just seemed like we were always the one car off of getting back on the lead lap. I felt like we had a decent race car and felt like we could run in the top 15. We didn’t have a top five car by any means but felt like we could run 10th to 15th. Just racing back by the 1 car there at the end and I think he got loose underneath us. It bent the track bar and we had to go to the garage area and make some repairs. Even after that we rolled back out with some decent speed.”
Up front, it was Johnson going 66 laps on his last tank of fuel and taking the checkers by 0.781 seconds over Denny Hamlin. The victory marked the 200th win for Hendrick Motorsports. Johnson’s 56th career win broke a tie with racing legend Rusty
Wallace on the All-Time Wins list.
Tony Stewart finished third, with Kyle Busch fourth and Martin Truex Jr. fifth. Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Marcos Ambrose and Joey Logano rounded out tonight’s top-10 finishers.
Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski had another gutsy performance here tonight as he bounced back from running three laps down at one time during the race to post a 15th-place finish. The Miller Lite Dodge driver is now up to 12th in the standings, trailing leader Greg Biffle by 79 points.
With 253 points, Dinger is 22nd in the standings. He trails 10th-place Edwards by 87 points and is 40 points behind 15th-place Logano.
The Sprint Cup tour now heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the next two weeks of racing. Up first in next weekend’s non-points Sprint All-Star Race, followed by the May 27 Coca-Cola 600.
Credit - Penske Racing PR