Pennzoil Dodge driver AJ Allmendinger may have provided the most excitement during the entire night here for the 2012 Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Dinger’s impressive run to a runner-up finish in the preliminary Sprint Showdown saw him advance into the “big show” and will likely be what many fans remember most of the evening.
Allmendinger won the pole for tonight’s Showdown in yesterday’s qualifying and was at the point with one lap before the green flag was displayed. However, a flat left-front tire forced him to hit pit road as the field came down the frontstretch to start the first of two 20-lap segments. He was able to take on two left-side tires and emerge from the pits four seconds in front of the leaders.
AJ maintained his composure and rode out the first 20-lap segment running just three seconds in front of leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. Still in the lead lap, he was able to scamper on back around the track and join the rear of the field. Crew chief Todd Gordon made the call for Dinger to hit pit road for four tires and a wedge adjustment.
The top-seven cars did not pit before the start of the final 20-lap segment and Allmendinger lined up 10th in the running order. The Pennzoil Dodge driver put on an amazing display of his driving talent during the run to the finish. Dinger was up to sixth with 17 laps remaining and fourth with 15 to go.
Earnhardt had jumped to a huge lead at the beginning of the segment and Jamie McMurray had distanced himself from the pack and was running second. Dinger took the third spot from Martin Truex Jr. with nine laps remaining and managed to chase McMurray down. He cleared the No. 1 car with a lap remaining and closed to within 2.3 seconds of Earnhardt at the finish.
Earnhardt and Allmendinger earned the transfer spots into the All-Star Race, but either could have gained entry if needed by the special fan vote. Earnhardt gathered the most votes and Dinger was second. With both drivers racing into the show, Bobby Labonte was able to advance due to getting the third most votes.
The All-Star Race format featured four 20-lap segments, followed by a 10-lap dash for the $1 million winner’s prize. The winners of each 20-lap segment lined up first through fourth for a mandatory trip to pit road prior to the final 10-lap run to the checkers.
Jimmie Johnson won the first segment, Matt Kenseth claimed the second, Brad Keselowski won the third and Earnhardt took the fourth. Johnson, Kenseth and Keselowski took advantage of a caution late in the fourth segment to pit for fresh tires. That eliminated their need for doing anything other than a stop-and-go during the mandatory trip down pit road.
Allmendinger started 22nd in the first segment and finished 12th. He would pit for four tires after every segment. He started 14th and finished fifth in the second segment. Dinger started 11th and finished fourth in the third segment. He started fourth and finished third in the fourth segment.
Knowing they didn’t have a shot at winning unless they rolled the dice and went with four tires, that’s the option Allmendinger, Gordon and team took during the final trip to pit road.
Johnson was first on the final restart, with Kenseth second, Keselowski third and Earnhardt fourth. Dinger lined up 15th in the order.
The expected fireworks during the final 10-lap dash never materialized and was run caution-free. At the checkers, it was Johnson picking up his third career All-Star Race win by 0.841 seconds over Keselowski. Kenseth finished third, with Kyle Busch fourth and Earnhardt fifth. Allmendinger was able to advance four positions during the final segment to finish 11th.
“Winning those first three segments was everything because you could just ride around from there and focus on the final 10 laps,” Allmendinger offered after his long night on the track. “Our Pennzoil Dodge was fast. We tried to get the win in that fourth segment. We didn’t have a chance in the final segment against those teams with fresh tires. So, on the mandatory stop before the final 10 laps, we decided to take four tires and if something happened up front, it would give us a chance. It didn’t happen.
“Overall, the Pennzoil Dodge was fast all night. I can honestly say, by far, that’s the most fun I’ve ever had in a Cup car. It was fun. We showed that we were fast and have some good notes for next week.
“I’m proud of everybody and feel like I drove really well. The pit stops were awesome. Our team was really good tonight. Look on the stat sheet and it says 11th, but more importantly, we were fast and we showed we can come back next week and win this thing.”
“We needed to win that fourth segment or finish second so we could be behind the four segment winners coming to pit road for the mandatory pit stop,” crew chief Gordon said. “We ended up third and would have rolled off fifth in the final segment, but everybody in front of us had fresher tires. This race is about winning. So, the opportunity to take four tires was the decision. If a caution had happened like it normally does in these All-Star races, we would have been in good positions because now we had better tires than the rest of the field.
“I thought it was an awesome job by A.J. and the entire Pennzoil Dodge pit crew,” Gordon added. “We showed up and didn’t think we were that good. Our guys worked on the car through practice and tonight, we ended up passing a lot of race cars. That flat tire in the Showdown, it speaks to where our luck has been this year. We just dug back. A.J. dug in and we came from the back to the front. I’m proud of everyone for what we accomplished tonight.”
The NASCAR Sprint Cup tour heads back to Charlotte Motor Speedway next weekend for the longest race on the circuit, the 600-mile Coca-Cola 600. Action gets under way on Thursday with practice set from 3:30 p.m. till 5:00 p.m. (live on Speed-TV). Qualifying for all 43 starting positions is set for Thursday at 7:10 p.m. (live on Speed-TV & PRN Radio). There is no action scheduled at the track on Friday. Saturday’s schedule calls for practice from 10:00 a.m. till 10:55 a.m. (live on Speed-TV) and from 1:00 p.m. till 2:0 p.m. (live on Speed-TV). Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 (400 laps, 600 miles) on the 1.5-mile quad-oval track is scheduled to get the green flag just after 6:00 p.m. The Coca-Cola 600 will feature live coverage by FOX-TV and PRN Radio beginning at 5:00 p.m. EDT.
Credit - Penske Racing PR