Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver AJ Allmendinger bounced back from a pit road incident on Lap 80 to finish 19th in today’s Quicken Loans 400 here at Michigan International Speedway. The effort that saw him come from two laps down allowed Allmendinger to gain a spot in the NASCAR Sprint Cup points after 15 races have been put in the 2012 record books.
“We just had a tough day,” Allmendinger said. “I’m driving my butt off and there always seems to be a glimmer of hope during the race and we just can’t capitalize on it. We were really strong in the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge on the first run but never could take advantage of good track position. We’re running on such a razors edge that it’s tough to describe what’s going on with the car. One run we get loose, the next we’re tight. It’s confusing as heck to describe.”
Allmendinger started 20th in today’s weather-delayed (scheduled for 1:17 p.m. green flag, but did not start until 3:04 p.m.) 200-lap, 400-mile battle on the freshly repaved 2.0-mile MIS oval. He charged all the way up to ninth when a competition yellow brought out the fourth caution flag of the race on Lap 50. Dinger fell to 14th for the Lap 55 restart after taking on a second can of fuel during a two-tire pit stop.
Dinger had fallen to 15th when a round of green-flag pit stops was the order. He pitted on Lap 80 and sustained significant damage to the right-rear quarter-panel area of his Dodge after getting major contact from Kyle Busch’s Toyota.
The fifth caution of the race flew on the very next lap for debris. In just a matter of two laps, Dinger had fallen to 34th in the running order and was running a lap down. The team patched up their Dodge with several visits to pit road and had moved back up through the pack when another round of green-flag stops began on Lap 115.
Allmendinger hit pit road on Lap 119 for four tires and fuel (and wedge & air pressure adjustments) and was exiting the pits when Kurt Busch spun for the second time of the race to bring out the sixth caution flag of the race.
Now running two laps down, crew chief Todd Gordon called for Allmendinger to stay out and take the wave-around, moving the 22 car from two laps down to only one lap down. Dinger was 32nd on the Lap 125 restart and caught the break the team needed when Joey Logano went for a wild ride on Lap 126. Scoring the “lucky dog” free pass back onto the lead lap, Dinger was up to 25th for the Lap 140 restart.
The Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Team could not capitalize on the lucky break, however, as they struggled with a loose race car. After their final visit to pit road on Lap 167 for right-side tires and track bar and air pressure adjustments, Dinger was 21st when the pit stops cycled around.
In spite of fighting the handling woes, Allmendinger, Gordon and crew were still able to soldier on to a 19th-place finish.
“It’s a tough day but we’ll just go on next week to Sonoma and road race ‘em because that’s what we do,” Gordon offered. “This one is over; you can’t do anything about it. We’ll look at notes, look at the chassis setups and go back and talk to all the different departments at the shop about how we can get a little smarter.”
Much to a huge amount of the fans’ delight, Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended a four-year victory drought here this afternoon, taking his first victory in 143 races (dating back to the June 2008 race here at MIS). He crossed the finish line 5.393 seconds ahead of runner-up Tony Stewart.
Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top-five finishers here today. Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya, Marcos Ambrose and Kevin Harvick completed the top-10 finishers.
Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski drove his Miller Lite Dodge from a 25th-place start to a 13th-place finish here today.
With 15 races completed for the 2012 season, Allmendinger is 24th in the Sprint Cup points. With 330 points, he is now 128 points behind 10th-place Keselowski, 77 behind 15th-place Joey Logano and 45 behind 20th-place Jeff Gordon.
The Sprint Cup tour now heads out to California for the first of two road course races of the season. This weekend’s Infineon Raceway action gets under way on Friday with practice set from noon till 1:30 p.m. (live on Speed-TV). Qualifying for all 43 starting positions is set for Friday at 3:40 p.m. (live on Speed-TV & PRN Radio). Saturday’s schedule calls for practice from 9:30 a.m. till 10:15 a.m. (live on Speed-TV) and from 10:45 a.m. till 12 noon (live on Speed-TV). Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 (110 laps) on the 1.99-mile scenic road course is scheduled to get the green just after 12:00 noon PDT. The race will feature live coverage by TNT-TV and PRN Radio.
Credit - Penske Racing PR