Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver AJ Allmendinger started 17th and finished ninth in today’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 on the 1.99-mile Sonoma Raceway road course. It was the best points-paying result for the Todd Gordon-led No. 22 Penske Racing crew since finishing second at Martinsville in April.
“It was a pretty good day for the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge team,” Allmendinger said back in the garage after the race. “I was happy with the way we drove. I didn’t make a lot of mistakes and cost us anything.
“The car was really amazing in some spots and then there were spots where it just didn’t react,” Dinger added. “The car was really good in Turns 9 and 10. After 10 I could just kill the field in the hairpin, but I couldn’t get off the hairpin worth a darn. We weren’t a race-winning car today. We had solid weekend. We knew what our weaknesses were coming into the weekend and it showed on race day. We got everything out of the car that we could.”
After starting 17th here today, Allmendinger began a patient charge toward the front. He had passed Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski for 12th on Lap 12 and had cleared Greg Biffle to move into the top-10 on Lap 16.
Allmendinger, Gordon and crew were the first to show that they adopted a three-pit-stop strategy when they hit pit road for the first time after 19 laps. Following a stop for four tires and fuel, they returned to the battle back in the 33rd position. But when the remainder of the field finally went through their pitting sequence on Lap 36, Dinger was up to third behind leader Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer.
Fresher tires prevailed and Dinger fell to seventh on Lap 43. The “Double-Deuce” team hit pit road again under the green on Lap 49 for four tires and fuel. By Lap 65 the second round of stops had cycled and Allmendinger was running in the 19th spot.
Only five laps later, Kevin Harvick slowed almost to a stop as he was running out of gas. Thinking there would be a yellow, Gordon told his driver to hit pit road again for four tires and fuel. The strategy lifted the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Team back to the same situation as those teams planning on completing the race with only two pit stops. However, Dinger, Gordon and crew figured to be two laps shy of fuel in making the distance.
Allmendinger immediately went into the fuel-conserving mode, but caught the break the team needed on Lap 81 when Tom Drissi spun and stalled to bring out the first caution flag of the day. After hitting pit road under the yellow on Lap 83 for four tires, fuel and air pressure adjustments, Dinger was shown running in the 15th spot for the Lap 87 restart.
The Bay Area native launched another impressive run toward the front, getting around Kasey Kahne for 10th on Lap 92 and was running ninth on Lap 106 when an incident involving Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and Juan Pablo Montoya brought out the second caution flag of the race.
There were 22 cars running on the lead lap when the yellow flag flew and the cars running from 11th on back chose to hit road for fresh tires. The caution sent the race into overtime as the race would return to a green-white-checkered finish after the scheduled 110 laps.
Allmendinger did a splendid job in holding off the drivers running behind him with the fresh rubber. He was actually able to climb to seventh when he took the white flag and held on to finish ninth when the checkered flag waved.
Up front, it was Clint Bowyer taking a 0.829-second victory over Tony Stewart. Bowyer became the eighth different winner in the last eight races here today. Kurt Busch finished third, with Brian Vickers fourth and Jimmie Johnson fifth. Jeff Gordon, Biffle, pole-sitter Marcos Ambrose, Allmendinger and Joey Logano rounded out today’s top-10 finishers. Teammate Keselowski brought the Miller Lite Dodge home in the 12th finishing position.
“A solid day for us,” said crew chief Gordon. “Based off of practice we decided that we needed to go with a three-stop pit strategy. I felt like we saw a lot of drop-off in tires and we were questionable on fuel mileage. Once we got in the race we thought we might have been able to make it on two stops. Rear tires fall-off so much here.
“I shorted our last stop and with when the 29 (Kevin Harvick) was running out of fuel and I wanted to stay out in front of the caution. The caution with 20 to go was a good opportunity to reset the field and felt like we had decent race car from there. If the last caution doesn’t come maybe we gain another few spots. We were right on the cusp of having to pit and not pit at all. I didn’t want to restart 15th with new tires. It gets awful hectic here and I thought there were too many cars that we needed to pass to get back inside the top 10.”
After 16 races have been placed into the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup record book, Allmendinger stands 23rd in points. He trails 10th-place Keselowski by 125 points and is 76 points behind 15th-place Logano. Dinger trails 20th-place Jamie McMurray by 37 points.
The Sprint Cup Series tour now returns to intermediate track action this weekend as it heads to Kentucky Speedway. This weekend’s schedule calls for Friday practice sessions from 11:30 a.m. till 12:30 p.m. and from 1:30 p.m. till 3:00 p.m. The 5:10 p.m. Friday qualifying session will establish the 43-car starting field for Saturday’s race. Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 is a 267-lap, 400.5-mile battle around the 1.5-mile D-shaped oval, with the green flag expected to fall just after 7:30 p.m. EDT. Race No. 17 of 36 points-paying events on the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule will feature live coverage by TNT-TV and PRN Radio.
Credit - Penske Racing PR