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Behind the Wheel: Big picture key for Allmendinger

February 23, 2012, A.J. Allmendinger, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com



Behind the Wheel: Big picture key for Allmendinger
Call it 'Dinger-ology': new Penske driver taking analytical approach to season

First of all, I want to thank our friends at NASCAR.COM for letting me have the opportunity to contribute a blog every month during the 2012 Sprint Cup season. Also, thank you to all of you that have supported me and welcomed me to the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Dodge.

They've given me pretty much free rein to talk about whatever is on my mind and I appreciate that. I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing!

"We can talk about goals and expectations, but reality is that you just have to get out there and get the job done."

--A.J. ALLMENDINGER

That said, I thought I would use my first blog to talk about my overall thoughts of the upcoming season. Our team is already looking at the big picture. Todd Gordon and I are meshing from the driver and crew chief relationship and all the guys seem to be jelling. I think we have bonded really well given the short time we've had. From our first Daytona test on, we've gotten tighter and tighter. We've had the chance to get together away from the track too, and that's always good for getting to know everyone.

Speaking of testing, we've already been on the road for six or seven different tests and have more on the schedule coming up. I think that shows the commitment we have to reaching our potential this season.

I've been asked a lot the past week about my goals and expectations for the 2012 season. Honestly, it'll take winning races and making the Chase for me to consider this year a success.

Since I think you guys have probably heard and read that a bunch already, I figured you might want to know how I am going to approach meeting those goals. We can talk about goals and expectations, but reality is that you just have to get out there and get the job done.

I've said that we have to get out there and hit the singles before we can hit home runs. So when I head into a new season, I break it down into what I view as "singles."

For me, that first single is to finish better than 13th. If we can average a finish in that window through the first 26 races, that will be solid enough to make the Chase. That's what I'm shooting for; to have the strong finishes and the consistency strong enough to have that kind of average finish.

The first four races will be a huge test for us. It'll be four different races on four different kinds of tracks. Daytona is Daytona. If you can stay out of trouble and be in a position to go when you need to go, anyone in the field can win that one. Then we head to Phoenix, where we expect to run well. I've always been competitive there and look for more of the same this time around. Then we go to Vegas. It's a real test and I can't really pinpoint a reason why. We didn't make the race the first two times there and maybe that has something to do with it. It'll be a challenge as usual. Then we hit Fontana. It's another tough track for me in a way.

When it comes to grading our success, I look at it maybe a little differently than others. At Daytona, a top-10 would be a good finish. A top-five would be a really good finish. A win ... that would be a great finish.

At Phoenix, anything less than a top-10 will be a disappointment. There, a win is a win. The real season begins there and we know that. Each race is different and is its own challenge. At Vegas, an eighth [-place finish] would be a win. It's just a hump that I haven't been able to get over yet. Same for Fontana.

Naturally, we're looking at Dover and the road courses as really good opportunities to win races. But, there are many more on our radar screen. Tracks like Martinsville. I've always run well there. You also have to take in consideration the tracks where the Penske teams have always run well. Tracks like Pocono where it seems like they have always shown so much strength. I think you could put Michigan and Loudon on that list, too. Charlotte could be good for us. I've done well there and the Penske cars have traditionally been strong there, too.

I really look at the schedule being like doing nine racing weekends four times -- like splitting the season into quarters. We look to get through the first quarter without getting into trouble -- crashing cars or blowing engines -- and see where we stack up.

Through the years, it's been like the guys on up there in the point standings after 12 races have been able to stay there for the remainder of the year. It's like you have the top eight guys who just continue to switch around spots for the remainder of the season. Then you have another group of five to seven drivers who are battling it out to get one of the final spots in the Chase.

I really look at it being the same guys running up front in the points. Jimmie [Johnson], Kyle [Busch], [Matt] Kenseth -- guys like that. Kevin [Harvick] has been solid. Jeff [Gordon] ... you've come to expect him to be up there. Then, there's like the next group like [Greg] Biffle, Brad [Keselowski] and Tony [Stewart]. Finally, there are the guys on the bubble; guys like [Martin] Truex, [Clint] Bowyer. Denny [Hamlin] should fit into one of those groups. That's where I was last year.

I want to move up from one of the "bubble" guys to one of the drivers that are consistently up there. I also don't want to "luck" my way into making the Chase, like make it because of somebody else having a DNF or something. I want to make it solidly, because we ran that well. That's what I'm expecting from myself and I think I'm in the best place I've ever been to do that.

We're definitely optimistic heading into the season. The Daytona 500 is the biggest race of the year and there's nothing more we'd like than to put our Dodge into Victory Lane and give the boss [Roger Penske] a great belated birthday present. That's what we'll be giving 100 percent to do here this weekend. But like I said, we're shooting for singles before home runs.

Thanks for spending the time with me here. Till next month ... Dinger out!

Behind the Wheel with A.J. Allmendinger runs once a month on NASCAR.COM as he shares his experiences throughout the season, both at and away from the track. The opinions expressed are solely those of Allmendinger.