Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver AJ Allmendinger enters Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 hoping for a problem-free restrictor-plate race. Saturday’s battle under the lights at Daytona International Speedway marks the third plate race of the 2012 season and Dinger has seen strength in his team’s plate racing program.
“We’ve had some incredibly fast race cars in the plate races this season, but we just don’t have the good finishes to match the strength we’ve shown,” said Allmendinger, who’ll be making his ninth career Daytona Cup start this weekend. “If we can just get through the whole race without the problems, there’s no reason we can’t come out of there with a great finish and have a legitimate shot at the win.
“We started off Speed Weeks at Daytona with a bang in winning the Rolex 24 with Michael Shank Racing and hoped to kick off our new Sprint Cup deal with a lot of success,” Dinger said. “We had a good run going in the Shootout, got caught up in the last big crash and still finished 12th. We were like 18th in qualifying and pretty solid with an eighth in our qualifying race.
“In the Daytona 500, we started 15th and had a really strong Shell-Pennzoil Dodge, but never had the opportunity to show it,” Dinger said. “We were only 15 laps into the race and hit pit road for what was supposed to be a fuel-only pit stop. Here comes the 39 car (Ryan Newman) out of his pit, loses a wheel and stops right in front of me. I had nowhere to go and hit him from the rear.
“So we’re only 15 laps into the Daytona 500 and our day was pretty much done. We had to hit the garage and get the radiator replaced. It was just a matter of getting back out there and logging laps after that.
For the record, Dinger was listed as finishing 34th in the season-opening Daytona 500, completing 177 of the 202 laps. In the most recent plate race, the May Aaron’s 499 at Talladega, Allmendinger started from the outside pole and was credited with a 15th-place finish.
“We had a heck of a qualifying run at Talladega with our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge,” said Allmendinger. “We ran in the top 10 all race long and had a good shot at winning until a restart with only a few laps to go. We were going for the same space as the 11 car was and it caused the final caution of the race. My guys did just an unbelievable job in patching our car up. It was quite incredible that we were able to come out of there with a 15th-place finish.”
“I am really looking forward to this weekend’s race at Daytona,” said crew chief Todd Gordon. “Like Talladega, this will be another impound race and I think that helps us. We just need to finally have an incident-free race day at the track.
“Sure, there’s a lot of difference between the two tracks – Talladega is bigger and wider and it’s more about the sheer speed,” said Gordon. “But it’s still all about putting a whole race together. All the plate races are big crap shoots. First, you have to have a day with no mechanical issues. Then, you have to be able to steer clear of the wrecks and be around for the finish.
“If you can accomplish that, you have a chance to win a race on the plate tracks,” Gordon said. “That’s what we are looking for this weekend at Daytona. AJ has shown tremendous focus and a great level of patience that has been really impressive. If we can have a problem-free race there on Saturday, we have as good of shot at winning as any team out there.”
Allmendinger’s third-place finish in the 2009 Daytona 500 rates as his best result to date in eight career points races on the 2.5-mile track (four starts in the Daytona 500 and four starts in the July Coke Zero 400). Overall, Dinger has one top-five finish and two top-10s at Daytona. He has a 17.2 average start and a 23.1 average finish and has been running at the finish in every race. He has a 91.1 percent (1,301 of 1,428) lap completion average.
In 16 career plate races, Dinger has one top-five finish and two top-10s. He has a 19.1 average start and a 24.5 average finish. He has a 95.5 percent (2,789 of 2,951) lap completion average in plate racing, even with two DNFs.
Dinger started ninth and drove to a 10th-place finish in last year’s Coke Zero 400. “It was a pretty solid run for us there last July,” Allmendinger said. “We had a good run going with my teammate (Marcos Ambrose), but we lost the draft at the end of the race. By the time we got hooked back up, everybody was already gone. We were able to bull our way through the crash at the end and came out with a 10th for the night.”