Shell-Pennzoil/AAA Dodge driver AJ Allmendinger is quick to say that the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway is nowhere near the top on his list of favorite race tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit. On the verge of starting his eighth race on the mammoth Alabama track, Dinger is taking a realistic approach to this weekend’s Aaron’s 499.
Last Friday at Richmond International Raceway, Allmendinger was asked about this weekend’s return to Talladega for the second restrictor-plate race of the 2012 season:
DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO RACING AT TALLADEGA? "I look forward to hanging out in the infield at Talladega,” Allmendinger said with a smile. “You know, when you flip down the front straightaway it kind of takes the excitement level away. I think for me, I’m excited to get back and hopefully have that big pack racing again. Hopefully, that kind of stays the same as Daytona. To me, to get back in the big packs and getting back to that will be a lot better than over the last couple of years. Hopefully, it continues the same way it was at Daytona. Daytona, to me, was great racing throughout the whole race. I wouldn’t say that I’m ever excited to go to Talladega, but I look forward to getting back to how big pack racing used to be there."
DO YOU THINK ALL THE RULE CHANGES COMING FROM DAYTONA WILL BE A GOOD FIT FOR TALLADEGA? "Man I hope so,” Dinger said. “To me, I think it’s only going to help it more because, although it’s not, it seems like it’s so much bigger. The cars heat up so much quicker at Talladega. Obviously, the weather is a lot warmer than when we’re at Daytona in the beginning of the year. I’d be surprised if we go there and all of sudden we’re back to tandem racing for whatever reason. But the good thing about these race teams is they’re always finding advantages. I think it’ll be big pack racing for the most part. At the end, it’ll be still the same thing: you’re going to try to hook up with whoever you’re working with and try to push each other to the win. Hopefully, it’s back to big pack racing. I think that’s what the fans wanted. I think the drivers, for the most part, enjoyed it back in Daytona. So hopefully it’s the same way."
In seven career starts at Talladega Superspeedway, Allmendinger is still looking to make his mark in the win, top-five and top-10 columns. He has an average start of 23.7 and an average finish of 27.3. The amazing thing is that Allmendinger has an impressive 97.2 lap completion average in spite of two DNFs. Dinger was involved in last-lap accidents in the April 2008 and October 2010 races that saw him officially not running at the finish.
Crew chief Todd Gordon enters the Talladega race weekend thinking that the “flip-flop scenario” that has been so common for the No. 22 Penske Racing team could be the case once again.
“Talladega is another one of the tracks that AJ doesn’t think is one of his strong points,” said Gordon. “There have been several races already this season where he’s said that and we have seen him get there and have a very competitive weekend.
“Really, it’s been a case that every place we’ve been so far this season that he doesn’t particularly care for, we’ve done really well at,” Gordon said with a chuckle. “Call it the ‘flip-flop’ or whatever, but we’re certainly looking for that to be the situation again for our team again at Talladega.
“I think we’ll be about where we were at in Daytona as far as qualifying goes,” Gordon said of his 18th-fastest lap of 46.603-seconds (193.121 mph). “We finished eighth in our qualifying race and will never know how strong we could have been in the 500 because of the run-in with the 39 (Ryan Newman pulled out in front of Allmendinger, lost a tire and abruptly stopped. Allmendinger ran into Newman, puncturing his radiator and relegating him to the garage area for a change).
“From what we saw at Daytona, AJ can run with the best of them in the huge pack-style of racing that’s apparently back in the plate races at Daytona and Talladega,” said Gordon. “We’re confident that he’ll come in there with the mindset knowing how strong we were at Daytona and what potential we had there. We can be that strong or stronger at Talladega this weekend.
“It’s the same as it has always been in the Talladega races,” Gordon added. “At the end, if you have air in the four tires and water in the motor, you’ve got a shot at winning the race. We’re hoping that’s the case for AJ and our team there on Sunday.”