Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver AJ Allmendinger finished ninth in tonight’s Quaker State 400 here at Kentucky Speedway, marking his second top-10 finish in as many weeks. The Todd Gordon-led Penske Racing No. 22 team is hoping they have turned the corner in finding the consistency they have lacked so far during the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
“I was happy with the way most of the day went, especially around here because I haven’t been good around here,” Allmendinger said after the race. “A lot of the credit goes to Brad (teammate Brad Keselowski) in helping me out. He’s obviously really good (smiles). It’s good for the team to get another win.
“We’ve got to learn how to keep up with the race track,” Dinger added. “Obviously we show we got speed. We just got to be able to keep up better, whether that’s better info or whatever we need to do. We just kind of lack that in that area right now. We get better at that we got the speed obviously. We’ll hopefully keep getting better.”
Allmendinger started tonight’s race from the 16th position and immediately charged forward. He moved up to 13th on the first lap and was into the top-10 on Lap 4. Saying that his car was “just a little tight,” AJ powered around Kevin Harvick for ninth on Lap 15 and he passed Ryan Newman for eighth on Lap 25.
The first caution of the race came out on Lap 42 for Scott Riggs’ blown engine. Dinger was called down pit road for four tires and fuel, with no adjustments. He maintained the eighth position for the Lap 48 restart.
Allmendinger cleared Greg Biffle for seventh and continued a consistent pace through the first round of green-flag pit stops, which began on Lap 91. The Shell-Pennzoil Dodge hit pit road on Lap 95. The crew went with four tires, fuel and a half-round wedge adjustment.
When the stops had cycled around on Lap 100, AJ held the sixth spot. Kyle Busch was the leader, with Keselowski second, Jimmie Johnson third, Denny Hamlin fourth and Clint Bowyer fifth. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth and Biffle rounded out the top-10 drivers at that point in the race.
Allmendinger reported that his Dodge continued to be a little tight as the second caution of the night flew on Lap 124, this one for debris on the frontstretch. Under the yellow, all of the top-10 cars hit pit road for right-side tires and fuel.
The “Double Deuce” lined up fifth for the Lap 129 restart, but the two-tire stop made the “Dinger Dodge” tighter than ever. AJ had fallen to eighth when Dave Blaney spun in Turn 4 to bring out the third yellow flag of the race. Kasey Kahne had gone a lap down earlier in his Quaker State Chevrolet after pitting under the green for a flat tire and got the free pass back onto the lead lap.
The leaders pitted again on Lap 150, with most going for right-side tires only once again. Allmendinger was seventh on the Lap 154 restart, but immediately started falling back. He had fallen to 11th on Lap 187 and reported that his car was now “in a four-wheel drift with no grip.” The team knew they had to go with four fresh Goodyears during their next trip to pit road.
With the handling becoming unbearable and the lap times slowing, the team “short-pitted” and hit pit road almost 10 laps earlier than planned on Lap 192. The call was for four tires, fuel and air pressure adjustments.
The other lead lap cars began their green-flag stops on Lap 200, with Keselowski leading on Lap 206 before hitting pit road. The stops cycled around on Lap 208, a lap before Newman blew an engine to bring out the fourth caution period of the race. Newman got into the outside wall hard. Regan Smith was an innocent victim as he got caught up in the oil behind Newman and also impacted the wall.
The yellow was a break for the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge crew as they were now able to get back in sequence with the other leaders as far as the fuel window went. They pitted on Lap 211 for four tires and fuel, with crew chief Gordon saying that the tire setup now offered a little needed “stagger.” The stop allowed Dinger to get the fuel he needed to go the distance.
The front four drivers – Keselowski, Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Kenseth – all chose to stay out during the yellow, thinking they had enough fuel to complete the race. Johnson lined up fifth, with Earnhardt sixth, Truex seventh, Jeff Gordon eighth, Harvick ninth and Biffle 10th. Kahne was back up to 11th, with Allmendinger 12th, Jamie McMurray 13th, Marcos Ambrose 14th and Paul Menard 15th as they lined up for the Lap 219 restart.
On the restart, Keselowski took off and spread it out to a three-second advantage over second-place Hamlin. Johnson had issues on the restart and fell back as far as 11th before gathering it up and moving back up through the field. Allmendinger moved around Harvick for 10th on Lap 238. When Edwards was forced to pit for fuel on Lap 262, Dinger climbed to ninth.
Kyle Busch had hit the wall earlier and damaged the rear end of his Toyota, pitting lap after lap during the prior caution for repairs. He charged back up through the pack and was 10th heading into the final lap. AJ ran out of fuel as he rounded Turns 3 and 4 on coming to the checkers, but was able to hold Busch off by inches at the line.
Keselowski took the victory, his third of the 2012 season, by 4.399 seconds over runner-up Kahne. Hamlin finished third, with Earnhardt fourth and Gordon fifth. Johnson, Kenseth, Truex, Allmendinger (ninth) and Busch rounded out the top-10 finishers.
Tonight’s finish marked Dinger’s third top-10 finish of the season and he looked at it as a potential momentum-builder.
“Martinsville was probably pretty good and I was happy with that,” Dinger said of his career-best second-place finish back in April this season. “But for a track that I’m not very good at, that I really struggle at and tough conditions, running inside the top 10 for pretty much all of the day and getting a ninth out of it which I’d like to have been a little bit better, but it’s something to build on.”
After 17 races have been put into the 2012 Sprint Cup Series record book, Allmendinger is 23rd in driver points. With 400 points, he currently trails 10th-place Keselowski by 137 points. He is 63 points behind 15th-place Newman and 28 behind 20th-place Jeff Burton.
The Sprint Cup Series now returns to Daytona International Speedway for the third of four restrictor-plate races during the 2012 season. This weekend’s Daytona action gets under way on Thursday with practice set from 4:00 p.m. till 5:20 p.m. (live on Speed-TV) and from 6:35 p.m. till 8:00 p.m. (live on Speed-TV). Qualifying for all 43 starting positions is set for Friday at 4:10 p.m. (live on Speed-TV & MRN Radio). Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 (160 Laps, 200 Miles) is scheduled to get the green flag just after 7:30 p.m. EDT. Race No. 18 of 36 points-paying events on the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule will feature live coverage by TNT-TV and MRN Radio.
Credit - Penske Racing PR