Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver AJ Allmendinger is looking forward to this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The 600-mile, 400-lap battle at CMS is the longest race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule. Some consider it NASCAR version of an endurance race.
One thing is for sure and that’s if any driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage knows about endurance racing, it’s Allmendinger. After all, the Dinger was extremely impressive during his final stint at the wheel in winning February’s 50th anniversary Rolex 24 at Daytona for Michael Shank Racing.
“It’s the toughest race we run in NASCAR and you really want to give it your very best lap after lap,” Allmendinger said of the Coca-Cola 600. “The race is 400 laps around a mile-and-a-half track and it’s a challenge to stay on top of the changing track conditions. The crew has to be on their game, making the right adjustments and giving you great pit stops. It’s definitely a case of putting a complete race together.
"Obviously running 600 miles is a lot different than last weekend’s 40-lap Sprint Showdown and the segments that made up 90 laps in the All Star Race. But based on the way we ran last weekend, I think it’s safe to say that we are very capable of having success at Charlotte this weekend and in our 1.5-mile program in general. I really think we learned a lot of things about the car last weekend that we can apply to this weekend’s race.”
Allmendinger has enjoyed recent success on the 1.5-mile CMS quad-oval track and hopes to keep it going in this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600. He was quite impressive there last weekend, claiming the pole for the Sprint Showdown and charging back to finish second after having a flat tire just as the field was coming to the green.
Dinger started second and finished fifth in last year’s Coca-Cola 600 and returned to start fourth and finish seventh in last October’s Bank of America 500.
AJ had the third-best average finish in the two 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Charlotte Motor Speedway (a 6.0 average finish). Only Kevin Harvick (3.5) and then-teammate Marcos Ambrose (5.5) had better average finishes.
No driver had a better average starting spot. Dinger had a 3.0 average starting position in 2011 CMS Sprint Cup action. Carl Edwards also had a 3.0 average start, while Jimmie Johnson was third (7.5).
Allmendinger started on the outside pole for last year’s edition of the Coca-Cola 600, clocking in with a lap of 28.170 seconds (191.693 mph). That was just shy of current Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski’s Coors Light Pole Award-winning lap of 28.112 seconds (192.089 mph). Dinger was even faster in claiming the pole for last Saturday night’s Sprint Showdown with his lap of 28.057 seconds (192.465 mph).
Dinger recalled his run to the fifth-place finish in last year’s Coca-Cola 600. Harvick came home the winner in the race after Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of fuel in the fourth turn on the final lap. Jimmie Johnson’s blown engine in the waning laps forced a green-white-checkered finish and extended the distance to 402 laps (603 miles).
“Our fuel mileage wasn’t that good, so that whole last run we were saving,” AJ recalled. “It was funny because the fuel numbers kept changing because we were 10 laps short, then we were two laps short, and then we were gonna run out coming to the checkered. At that point, I was happy when it stayed green and we made it on fuel. On that last restart we came in and were just hanging out that point. We just hoped we didn’t get into guys that were running out of fuel. I had a great restart and split the middle. The 31 (Jeff Burton) just completely ran out and the 99 (Carl Edwards) got into him. I checked up and it was pretty insane.”
Crew chief Todd Gordon said that last weekend’s performance by his team in the non-points racing provided valuable information that can be used in Sunday’s battle when the precious points are on the line.
“Racing in the Showdown and in the All-Star Race gave us an idea of what to expect as for the track conditions and the mood swings it goes through as it gets later into the night,” Gordon offered. “We’ll be racing from just after 6 p.m. till well after 11 o’clock and we understand better about what kind of adjustability we’ll need. Last weekend was great all around for AJ and our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Team. We are all pumped up and ready to see how competitive we can be in the Coca-Cola 600.”
In 10 career Sprint Cup starts at Charlotte, Allmendinger has one top-five finish, two top-10s and one DNF. He has completed 89.263 percent of possible laps (3,126 of 3,502) and has led a total of 11 laps. Overall, he has a 21.5 average start and an identical 21.5 average finish.
Allmendinger, Gordon and crew will be racing their “PRS-825” Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Charger in this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 action at Charlotte. This is a brand new car in the No. 22 Penske Racing Team stable of Dodge Chargers. The “PRS-814” chassis will serve as the backup. It is a new Dodge Charger and has yet to make it onto a race track.