Allmendinger ready for next intermediate track challange
AJ Allmendinger and his Todd Gordon-led Penske Racing No. 22 Dodge team enter this weekend’s race in Fontana, Calif., looking to make the team sponsor, race sponsor and facility sponsor proud. After all, Dinger will be driving the AAA Dodge Charger in this weekend’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.
“We certainly are coming in there hoping to have a really strong performance,” said Allmendinger, who will be making his eighth career start at the 2.0-mile Fontana, Calif., low-banked, D-shaped oval this weekend. “It’s our first time out in the AAA colors and we’d love to be able to make it a memorable race weekend for all the right reasons.”
This weekend’s race comes on the heels of the Automobile Club of Southern California announcing this week a multi-year sponsorship extension with Penske Racing that will go through the 2016 season.
“I’m really looking forward to this weekend’s race in Fontana,” offered crew chief Gordon. “With the sponsorship extension being announced, we know it’s important for us to go in there and have a good showing. We’re confident we can do that.
“It’ll be a return to the intermediate tracks and we have a lot to build off of,” Gordon said. “The Penske teams admittedly struggled in last year’s Auto Club 400, but our intermediate track strength has grown by leaps and bounds since then.
“We are looking to draw quite a bit from our race weekend at Las Vegas. I know that may sound strange when you look at the stats and see that we finished 37th in that race. The fact is that we had a really strong Dodge Charger until we had the issue with the fuel pump. We started 14th and had a top-10 or at worst a top-15 run going until that bit us. We are confident that problem is behind us now.
“I think we’re coming into Fontana with some positive momentum going after last weekend’s race at Bristol,” said Gordon. “We were fast all weekend long. We qualified well (started second) and led for most of the first quarter of the race. AJ was able to pass Jeff Gordon and just drive away from the field. But again we had problems and could get only a 17th-place finish out of it.
“As it turned out, we did have a mechanical issue that we discovered when we got the car back to the shop. It definitely would make the car a lot looser in the corner and that was what bit us. The bottom line is that it was another learning experience and we will continue to get better from it.
“AJ went into last weekend saying that Bristol was one of his worst tracks and we made so much progress there from Friday’s opening practice on through the race,” said Gordon. “We really are gelling well as a team overall and our communication level gets better and better every day we’re at the track. I honestly think he is already really looking forward to going back to Bristol in August for the night race.
“AJ is quick to say that Auto Club Speedway is another one of his most challenging tracks. So, it’s like the third time we have faced that this year. Las Vegas was a very similar situation. The two tracks actually have a lot in common. Both of them are really rough-surfaced, high-speed tracks.
“The biggest challenge for this weekend in Fontana is the same as it was in Vegas – tire management,” said Gordon. “The tires fall off two to three seconds per lap during a run and you have to maximize what you can get out of them during a fuel run.
“With the way our season has gone, we’re coming in there looking for a solid performance without any issues during the race. We need to be able to run well all weekend, complete all the laps and come out of there with a top-12 finish. We need to get a solid race like that under our belts and progress to where we can accomplish that every week out there.”
In his seven career races to date at Auto Club Speedway, Allmendinger is still looking for his first top-10 finish. He has a 17.0 average start and a 21.7 average finish. He has a 99.4 percent lap completion average, finish all by 10 possible laps (1,640 of 1,650).
Dinger started 20th and finished 14th in last year’s Auto Club 400. “It was a case of being loose in and tight off most of the race there last year,” Dinger recalled. “We had a final yellow with about 15 laps to go and came in for four fresh tires. We were 22nd on the final restart with eight laps to go. We wound up passing a car every lap and got up to 14th when the time ran out.”
Allmendinger, Gordon and crew will be racing their “PRS-817” AAA Dodge Charger this weekend at Fontana. It is a brand new race car and Friday’s opening practice will mark the first time it has taken to a race track. The “PRS-814” Dodge Charger will serve as the backup race car this weekend. It is a brand new car, also. It served as the backup for the Las Vegas battle.