Allmendinger scores best career cup finish at Martinsville

Penske Racing press release

MARTINSVILLE, Va. (April 1, 2012) – Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver AJ Allmendinger scored the best finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup career – a hard-earned second – in today's Goody's Fast Relief 500 here at Martinsville Speedway. The fifth top-five finish of his career shot Dinger up six positions to 20th in the series' point standings after six races have been placed into the 2012 record book.

A.J. Allmendinger, Penske Racing Dodge
A.J. Allmendinger, Penske Racing Dodge

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

"We're just getting better together," Allmendinger said of his weekend's effort here at Martinsville with the Todd Gordon-led No. 22 Penske Racing team. "I mean it's frustrating at times. I want to be up there every weekend, just like these guys do. They deserve to be up there every weekend. Hopefully this will give us an idea and we can keep working on it."

Allmendinger had been "under the weather" since the teams arrived here on Thursday night. Only 15 minutes prior to today's drivers' introductions, he could be found in the infield medical center getting needed attention. He was still able to make light of the situation after climbing from his car when the grueling race concluded and he was facing a throng of media members.

"Yeah, I think maybe I need to go to the nurse's office every week and take a shot," Dinger said with a chuckle. "I didn't feel very good this morning, but you know these guys work hard, everybody on the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge, they deserve to run up front, they're used to running up front. I'm trying my butt off, trying everything I can to get these guys up front. Todd Gordon and all these guys, the Penske organization, they're behind me. It feels good to have an organization behind you even when you feel like you're struggling a little bit. This is a great race. I don't know if we had a second-place car, but with the way these races play out, you know, I feel like you've got to put yourself in position.

"We weren't very good all weekend and Todd kept working hard and all the guys on the team and ultimately got the car better," AJ continued. "It was definitely a top-10 car. We were actually better in a really long run. We had good forward drive off and we'd struggle on new tires getting it to turn. Ryan (Newman), I knew it was going to be tough to get around him on the outside, but he ran me clean. He didn't run me up the racetrack. He ran me as clean as could be. I thank him for that and congratulate him on that. Hopefully, this gives us some confidence going into the off-weekend.

"I'm obviously excited about the second-place finish, but happy the way we ran all day," Dinger added. "We had a solid top-10 car all day. We had a really good car on the long run. In the short run, we were just too tight. Once we got going and everybody's rear tires started going off, we were actually pretty good. I knew on that restart to hang on the outside of Ryan but he ran me really clean and I thank him for that. Congrats on the win for him. These guys deserve to run up front. They're used to it and I'm going to do everything I can to get us there."

Allmendinger started 27th on the grid here this afternoon and was up to 18th when the first yellow flag of the race flew on Lap 97. The pit stop for four tires and fuel included air pressure adjustments and had Dinger 18th for the Lap 104 restart.

Dinger was fighting to get his Dodge to turn in the corner, but the team's setup seemed to work well on the long runs when the fuel load had burned off. He had climbed all the way up to 13th when green-flag stops started on Lap 220.

Gordon called AJ down pit road on Lap 229 for four tires, fuel and additional air pressure adjustments. The stops cycled around on Lap 240 with the No. 22 car running 12th. He had just been lapped by leader Jeff Gordon when Dave Blaney got into the wall to bring out the second caution of the race on Lap 244. Dinger was able to pick up the "lucky dog" free pass and returned to the lead lap.

Starting 12th on the Lap 254 return to green-flag action, Dinger was up to ninth on Lap 314, when Kasey Kahne blew an engine to bring out the fourth yellow flag of the race. Dinger was still ninth on the ensuing restart, but was still struggling. "I just can't finish off the corners," he said on the team radio as Ryan Newman got underneath for the ninth spot.

Dinger fell back as far as 12th on Lap 387, before making another charge toward the front. He passed Tony Stewart for 11th on Lap 396 and got around Greg Biffle for 10th on Lap 411. He cleared Martin Truex Jr. for ninth on Lap 470 and passed Denny Hamlin for eighth with 16 laps remaining.

Dinger later admitted that he was pretty pleased with being up to eighth with less than 20 laps remaining (his best Martinsville finish to date was ninth entering today's race). But he was ready to capitalize on an opportunity if it came his way.

When David Reutimann stalled on Lap 497, it interrupted an incredible battle between Hendrick Racing teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson for the lead as the sixth caution flag of the race flew. The Hendrick duo opted to stay out, while all the other lead lap teams hit pit road for fresh tires and a splash of fuel.

The ensuing first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish was a wild one as Gordon and Johnson both wound up spinning up on the high side of the track. Keen driving by Dinger (and coaching by spotter Chris Osborne) saw the No. 22 car hug the inside and advance all the way up to third when another yellow flag flew.

Ryan Newman, Dinger, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and Matt Kenseth lined up as the top-five for the final green-white-checkers restart after 513 laps. Dinger attempted to hang on and make the outside line work through the first few turns, but was wise and fell to the inside behind Newman as the cars came around to take the white flag.

At the finish line, it was Newman taking the win by 0.342 seconds over Dinger. Earnhardt finished third, with Kenseth fourth and Truex fifth. Hamlin, Stewart, Aric Almirola, Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer rounded out today's top-10 finishers.

"I think we persevered, had a decent race car and put him in a position," said crew chief Gordon. "AJ did a really good job there with the last two restarts, to take advantage of the situation. We just worked real hard on the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge all weekend and came out with something today. It's big. It's big for both AJ and myself. I mean obviously this 22 car is known for winning races. This kind of gives us a step in the right direction to having the success that we both know we can have."

After six races have been completed, Dinger is up to 20th in the point standings. With 143 points, he trails leader Biffle by 83 points. He is 46 points behind 10th-place Johnson and 32 points behind 12th-place Keselowski.

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Tags allmendinger, dodge, penske