SONOMA, Calif. – Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver AJ Allmendinger is looking forward to this weekend’s annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visit to California’s Bay Area for Sunday’s Save Mart 350 in Sonoma. For Dinger, it’s a homecoming in more ways than one.
“I grew up in the San Jose Area and my family still lives there,” said Allmendinger, a Los Gatos native. “I came from racing on the road courses earlier in my career and it’s always fun to get back out for the race in Sonoma. My mom and dad, family members and friends will all be there. It’s a fun race weekend altogether.
“The area is beautiful and there’s just a ton of different stuff to do and see,” Dinger added. “The Sonoma track has always drawn a great local crowd, but it also brings in people from all over the country when NASCAR comes to town. Everyone should see the area at least once in their lifetime. It’s always good to be close to home again for a couple of days, too.”
Sunday’s battle will mark Allmendinger’s fifth career Sprint Cup start on the scenic 1.99-mile road course. He knows how demanding that the winding stretch of asphalt can be.
“As always, the key for Sonoma is keeping all four wheels on the track,” Dinger said. “You need your car set up to be able to make your move underneath entering Turn 11 because that is the major passing point on the track. The biggest thing is that you have to have forward drive off all the way through the ‘esses’ and that’s certainly what we’ll be hoping to have working for us this weekend there.”
Shell-Pennzoil Dodge crew chief Todd Gordon is also looking forward to getting out to the West Coast for the first of two road course races this season.
“I thought we had two really good road course tests leading up to this week’s Sonoma race,” Gordon said of the team’s May 15 test at Road Atlanta and May 29 test at Virginia International Raceway. “We had decent speed in both tests. I think the big thing is that we found places to work on to make our car better for AJ when we take to the track on Friday.
“We’ll certainly have a great book of notes to go off of from last year’s race,” Gordon said, alluding to the No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge’s dominant performance in the 2011 visit to the winding Sonoma Valley Wine Country road course. In that race, the 22 team led four times for 76 of the 110 laps in an impressive victory. “That should definitely give us a great baseline and starting point to work with.
“AJ and our entire team are really looking forward to hitting the road course this weekend,” said Gordon. “He is really good on the road courses and we are optimistic about having a competitive weekend out there. Unlike the last few weeks where we practiced on Friday, qualified on Saturday and raced on Sunday, we’re back to a normal routine this week. We welcome getting back to where we practice and qualify on Friday and have two practices on Saturday to really get our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge dialed in.
In four career races on the Sonoma road course, Allmendinger has one top-10 finish, with an average start of 19.5 and an average finish of 17.5. He has only three unfinished laps (442 of 445=99.326 percent completion average). Add his stats from Watkins Glen International (four starts, one top-5 & two top-10s, with no uncompleted laps) and Dinger’s eight-race Cup road course career boasts one top-five finish and three top-10s. He has a 17.4 average start and 13.3 average finish on the road courses. He has a 99.628 percent lap completion average (804 of 807) on road courses entering this weekend.
In last year’s Sonoma battle, Allmendinger started seventh and finished 13th. He was able to charge up to fifth on the first lap, before getting loose and losing rear grip. Dinger still continued to be a fixture in the top-10 running order until contact from Brad Keselowski sent him spinning on Lap 65. He fell back as far as 23rd, but was able to mount an impressive charge back up to 13th when the laps ran out.
Allmendinger, Gordon and crew will be racing their “PRS-808″ Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Charger at Sonoma this weekend. This is the chassis that was raced at Richmond in the April 28 Capital City 400. Dinger started fourth and finished 16th in that race. The car was lightning fast on short runs, but with only five cautions during the entire race there was little time to make adjustments. The “PRS-807″ chassis will serve as the backup. It was in the transporter serving as the backup at Phoenix, Bristol and Martinsville, but has never seen any track time to date.
“We converted this car over to be our road course car and have a lot of faith in it being a strong piece for Sonoma,” Gordon offered. “We don’t have a large car inventory and some of that is intentional because we will be racing the new cars next season. It is to be determined whether we also race this car at Watkins Glen in August.”
This weekend’s Sonoma 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.