AJ Allmendinger says anything less than a top-10 finish in this weekend’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway will be a disappointment. After posting solid top-10 finishes in both NASCAR Sprint Cup races there last season, the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver is looking to even better that level of competitiveness this time around.
“Phoenix International Raceway has been a really good track for us and I really think we’re going to run well there,” said Allmendinger, who will be making his eighth career start at Phoenix this weekend. “Even with the reconfiguration they did before last November’s race, we adapted quickly and recorded our best overall performance there in that race. We qualified outside pole, ran up toward the front all race long and finished sixth.
“I really like racing there and I think we’ll continue to make progress,” said Dinger, who claimed the Coors Light Pole Award for the 2010 edition of this race. “The Penske Dodges have run very strong at Phoenix. The 22 team looked to have last November’s race won there before they ran out of fuel. It’s a situation of the driver having a history of liking the track and running well there and the team having a strong competitive record there. I’m going back into Phoenix this weekend thinking that anything less than a top-10 finish will be a disappointment.
“With all the plate racing and craziness associated with Daytona Speed Weeks behind us now, it’s like the real season kicks in at Phoenix,” said Dinger. “It’s back-to-back weeks from Phoenix to Vegas, then to Bristol and Fontana. We look to get settled in and start clicking off some solid runs and getting some great finishes.”
Allmendinger started 15th and finished ninth in last February’s Subway Fresh Fit 500. “We were really strong in practice,” Dinger recalled. “It was one of the first races that we practiced on Friday and did nothing but qualify on Saturday. We brushed the wall and qualified 15th. We were loose early in the race and fell back, but made some adjustments and got the car pretty good. We did a two-tire stop under the yellow and jumped up to just outside the top-10. We got some minor damage when some guys got together, but hung on to stay in the lead lap. We went from tight to loose, but adjustments made the car the best it was all day with 50 laps to go. We’d climbed to 10th with a few laps to go and climbed to ninth before the end. We were the highest-finishing blue oval car.”
Between last year’s February and November races at PIR, track crews went to work reconfiguring the track where the late Alan Kulwicki claimed the first big league victory on Nov. 6, 1988. After 30 races were held on the old layout, construction workers made tweaks to the track’s banking and a major adjustment to the “dogleg” on the backstretch. Progressive banking was added to the turns. Turns 1 and 2, which previously had 11 degrees of banking, now have 10 degrees on the bottom and 11 on the top. Turns 3 and 4, which previously had nine degrees of banking, now have eight degrees on the bottom and nine at the top. The backstretch “dogleg” that was more of a flat “jut” than an actual turn was transformed into more of a distinct turn with the same 10 to 11 degrees of progressive banking as is in Turns 1 and 2. The frontstretch was widened by 10 feet.
Allmendinger had no problem adapting to the “new PIR” when the Sprint Cup tour returned to the “Desert Mile” for last November’s Kobalt Tools 500. “After testing there, so many drivers criticized the track, calling it a wild card race and predicting all kinds of problems,” Allmendinger said. “There was already a groove-and-a-half that built up by the end of the test. I thought the layout was a lot of fun. There was a lot more room and a lot more grip off Turn 2.
“We had one of our most solid weekends out there last November,” Dinger said of the Nov. 13 Kobalt Tools 500 weekend. “We were good in practice – quick in qualifying trim and ran like 100 laps in the final practice. We qualified second (lap of 26.384 seconds/136.446 mph compared to pole-winner Matt Kenseth’s 26.258 second/137.101 mph lap). We had the fastest car on the track for quite a bit of the race. The track got slick and we were tight for a lot of the laps. We fell to seventh after a slow stop under the yellow, but had a car strong enough to charge back up to second. We kept on losing so much ground every time we pitted. The car got loose toward the end of the race, but we made good adjustments. The slow stops were such a problem that we wound up using the 6 crew (David Ragan’s team). That really helped and we were able to get a sixth out of it.
“I am really looking forward to getting out to Phoenix,” Dinger said. “I like racing there and always have. I enjoy going to the West Coast because I’m close to home, my family and friends. I’ve been fast there in the past, so I’m looking for good things this weekend.”
Allmendinger and his Todd Gordon-led No. 22 Penske Racing Team will be racing their “PRS-808” Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Charger in this weekend’s action at Phoenix. This is a brand new addition to the “Double Deuce” fleet. The “PRS-807” is the backup Dodge Charger. It is a new car, also.
In his seven career starts at PIR, Dinger is still looking for his first win and first top-five finish. He has recorded two top-10 finishes and has won one pole position. His sixth-place finish last November is his best finish to date. Dinger’s average start at PIR is 10.6 and his average finish is 16.0. He has an amazing 99.9 percent lap completion average (2,248 of 2,251) and has led a total of 17 laps.