Perhaps no time in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history has there been a better example of a competitor’s steady and continuous progress opening a major door than is the case with AJ Allmendinger. The hard charger known as “Dinger” by the media and fans alike was named as the driver for Penske Racing’s No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Team last month. He is certainly deserving of the opportunity.
“We have spent most of our time in NASCAR just trying to survive,” said the affable California native. “Getting this opportunity to drive the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge for Penske Racing is truly like a double blessing. I am finally getting the stability I have needed to do my best, but I am also realizing a dream in driving for Mr. Penske. Coming from my open-wheel background, Roger Penske and his organization and race teams are just the best of the best. I am committed to representing Penske Racing, Shell-Pennzoil, Dodge and all the other great partners the best I can on and off the track.”
Unlike many short-lived, “flash-in-the-pan” careers on the ultra-competitive and demanding Sprint Cup tour, Allmendinger’s has been totally opposite. His rise to the top has been a true model of consistency.
Let “Dinger’s” career statistical information chronicle his impressive story:
In five years of competing on the Sprint Cup circuit (with three full seasons now under his belt), Allmendinger has started a total of 152 races. He has yet to visit Victory Lane, but has four top-five finishes, with all of them coming during the last three years. His top-fives are indicative of his capabilities on all kinds and sizes of race tracks. “Dinger” finished third in the 2009 Daytona 500 (2.5-mile superspeedway restrictor-plate race), fourth in the August 2010 Watkins Glen race (2.45-mile road course), fourth in November 2010 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (1.5-mile progressive-banked oval) and fifth in last year’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (1.5-mile quad-oval).
“Yes, we came close to winning several races and last year in particular, but the way Sprint Cup racing is now and just how competitive it is, it’s really about being consistent,” Allmendinger said. “To win one of these races, you need to consistently be there in the top five or ten at the end. You need to be ready to take the win, but you need to be consistently good enough to be right there to take the win. I feel like every year I’ve gotten better as a driver and the team around me got better at being more consistent. If you can be there every weekend, then the wins will come.”
Along the way, Allmendinger has posted 26 top-10 finishes, with 18 of them coming during the last two seasons. He recorded six top-10 finishes in 2009, eight in 2010 and 10 in 2011.
“Dinger” has recorded one career Coors Light Pole position, which came in the April 2010 race at Phoenix International Raceway. He has six career outside poles, with three of them coming last season.
Much of “Dinger’s” success so far can be traced to an impressive strengthening ability to finish races. While he had DNFs (did not finish) in five races during the 2008 season, he has become one of the most proficient competitors in the sport at being around at the finish. Last season saw Allmendinger running at the finish in 35 of the 36 races. It was an incredible feat, especially considering that only two drivers finishing ahead of him in points were running at the finish in more races. (Chase drivers Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman were running at the finish in all 36 races.) “Dinger” finished more races than seven of the 12 Chase drivers.
“It’s easy and obvious to say ‘I want to win this race’, but you really have to be there consistently in that top five pack to do it,” Allmendinger said. “So driving smarter, having patience to have the car come to you…those are things I’ve learned. Now I’m with a team that has proven they can be there when it matters. I just need to gel those two parts together.”
Along with Allmendinger’s growing ability to finish races has been significant improvement in his average starting position and average finish through the years. In his 2007 rookie season, “Dinger’s” average starting spot was 28.7 and his average finish was 31.6. Only two years later during the 2009 tour, he had improved to a 22.8 average start and 22.4 average finish. Last year’s record boasted an impressive 14.9 average start and 16.1 average finish.
The most obvious confirmation as for Allmendinger’s continuous rise to the top in NASCAR competition is reflected in his year-by-year finishing position in the final Sprint Cup point standings. In his three seasons as a full-time competitor, “Dinger” finished 24th in 2009, 19th in 2010 and was up to 15th last season. After the first 26 races had been put into the record book last year, he was 13th in the point standings, missing out on the Chase by a mere 13 points. In the final 2011 standings, he was only 34 points out of 13th and 28 out of 14th.
“This is a challenge that I welcome and look forward to,” Allmendinger said. “The two Penske teams were strong enough to both win races and make the Chase last year and we’re looking for that same level of success this season. It’ll be important to start off the season on a positive note. Testing proved to each of us that even though we haven’t had much time together, we all have the same goal and are really excited to get going. Testing also showed though, that the drafting and NASCAR making changes to try and put forth the best racing possible, makes the Daytona 500 just about anybody’s game. I think we’ve got one of the best shots out there, and definitely a team capable of winning at any of the 36 races.
“I think it is a very realistic goal to win races and make the Chase this season. I think Penske Racing proved last season that working with Dodge as only a two-car effort isn’t necessarily a bad situation. They proved that a smaller group with a strong common goal and clear way of doing things can be just as strong, maybe stronger. This is my second time around working with Dodge and I’ve seen how dedicated they are to our sport. We’re really looking forward to taking them to Victory Lane this season.
“I can honestly say this is the most excited I have been since coming to Cup,” said Allmendinger. “How can I come into the garage every day and not have a smile on my face? This is the best situation I’ve had and honestly, I just want to get going! Bring it on!”