Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver AJ Allmendinger enters this weekend’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway looking for a solid weekend on the 1.5 mile D-shaped tri-oval track. Saturday’s 400-mile, 267-lap battle will mark only the second visit by NASCAR’s premier series to the facility located some 35 miles south of Cincinnati.
“Kentucky is another one of the tough mile-and-a-half tracks,” offered Allmendinger, who started 17th on the Sonoma Raceway road course last Sunday and was relentless in coming through with a ninth-place finish. “The Sprint Cup Series had never raced there until last year, but I had tested on the track about three years before.
“We saw just how tough Kentucky Speedway can be last season during our inaugural race there,” Dinger continued. “With qualifying getting rained out last year, we started way back in 23rd. We fought a loose condition just about all race long and never could get a handle on it. We wound up finishing 28th. It certainly wasn’t what we were hoping to put into the record book for the first-ever Cup race there.
“Our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Team has shown a lot of strength on the intermediate tracks this season,” Allmendinger offered. “We’ve had some fast race cars and have been able to qualify really well. But we’ve had all kinds of problems – like the fuel system issues and mechanical trouble – that have prevented us getting the good finishes.”
In the races on 1.5-mile tracks to date this season, Allmendinger and his Todd Gordon-led No. 22 Penske Racing unit have a 9.5 average start (including a Coors Light Pole Award at Kansas Speedway). The various issues that Dinger refers to have worked to produce a 29.3 average finish in those races.
“We’re just hoping to be able to go in there this weekend and have a solid performance that starts with practice and qualifying on Friday and continues on through Saturday’s race,” Dinger said. “It’s a Saturday night race and I really enjoy the night races.”
“I’m really looking forward to getting back to Kentucky Speedway this weekend,” offered crew chief Gordon. “It’s a tough old 1.5-mile track that has the bumps and a lot of character. With the low banking, the layout and the track surface like it is, it’s definitely not a ‘cookie-cutter’ track.
“Our Penske Racing Teams have had a very competitive history on that track and we’re hoping we can add to the record this weekend,” said Gordon. “Last year we showed some good strength all the way around at Kentucky Speedway. Over on the Nationwide Series side, we dominated with Brad in winning the Friday night race.
“The Sprint Cup Series guys had a really good night there on Saturday night, too,” Gordon said. “Both cars had really good speed and performed very well. The 2 car and the 22 car both finished in the top-10 on that Saturday night.”
A quick look at the record book certainly substantiates Gordon’s claim as to the Penske Racing Teams flexing some muscle at Kentucky Speedway last season. In the Friday Nationwide Series race, Brad Keselowski led three times for 132 of the 200 laps in taking his Discount Tire Dodge to Victory Lane. In Saturday’s Sprint Cup race, Keselowski led 79 laps and finished seventh in the Miller Lite Dodge, while teammate Kurt Busch led 41 laps and finished ninth in the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge. Penske cars led 45 percent (120 of 267) of the laps in the Cup race and 66 percent of the laps in the Nationwide race. Overall, the Penske cars led 54 percent of all the laps during last year’s NASCAR weekend at Kentucky.
“Penske Racing as a whole has been strong on the flat mile-and-a-half tracks and it will be a fun challenge there at Kentucky this weekend,” Gordon added. “After a solid top-10 run at Sonoma last weekend, we’re hoping we can get the consistency that we need going there and continue it on down the line.”
Allmendinger, Gordon and crew will be racing their “PRS-823” Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Charger this weekend at Kentucky. This car made its debut for the team in Kansas back in April. Dinger won the Coors Light Pole Award and led 44 laps before secondary linkage woes put him 10 laps down and relegated him to a 32nd-place finish. The “PRS-819” chassis will serve as the backup Shell-Pennzoil Dodge for this weekend. This was the car Dinger drove to a second-place finish in the April Martinsville race.