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Allmendinger: Stats not indicative of 22's potential

March 22, 2012, AJ Allmendinger, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com

The first four races of the 2012 Sprint Cup season are in the record book now. We thought we'd use this month's blog to bring you up to speed with what went down in the races so far and look at what's coming up.

Like I said, our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge team has had four races working together as I am writing this. I think it's appropriate to say we've had only four races working together. My crew chief, Todd Gordon, and I continue to learn each other better every day and our entire team is gelling every week we're at the race track.

"I know we're headed in the right direction. The good finishes and consistency are right around the corner."

--AJ ALLMENDINGER

It'd be easy to just look at our finishes and where we are in the points and say that we haven't performed that well. But, you have to look deeper than that. There are the statistics versus the facts.

Our team has gotten stronger and stronger, especially over the last couple of races. We are starting to turn the corner, I think. I told someone last week at Bristol that I felt like we'd had half a season's worth of bad luck in just the first three races.

We started out Daytona Speedweeks looking really strong. We ran in the top 10 during the entire race in our qualifying race and finished eighth. The Daytona 500 was a heartbreaker. I've seen some strange things happen there before and there definitely were unusual things that occurred in that race.

With the weather delays turning it into a prime-time night race, it'll be remembered most for Juan [Montoya] crashing into the jet dryer. I was so glad that nobody was hurt in that weird situation. I later joked that the chances of something like that happening were like 'Juan in a million.'

What happened to us there that night was very unlikely, too. We had a strong run going and were coming down pit road under the caution. The 39 car [Ryan Newman] had brought out the yellow. He went ahead and hit pit road early. As we were headed to our pits, he pulled out directly in front of us. Now what are the chances of his left-rear tire coming off and him stopping right in front of us?

The impact broke the radiator and we were forced to go to the garage and change it. We lost so many laps, all we could do was get back out there and ride it out the remainder of the race. So we left Daytona with a 34th-place finish ... not our control.

We were really looking forward to the Phoenix race. It has become a pretty good track for me and we ran well there last fall in the first race with the reconfiguration. I came in there looking for a top-five or at least a top-10 finish.

It was a situation of just not getting the car dialed in from the start. It was one of the weeks where we practiced on Friday and did nothing but run qualifying laps on Saturday. So if you had a tough day on Friday, it just kinda snowballed from there on.

We got together Friday evening and took a stab at it for our setup. I felt like we made some gains for qualifying and heading into the race. We started 15th and ran from 10th to 15th. It kept getting tighter and tighter. We made adjustments during a pit stop and we did over-adjust a bit over, but it wasn't like we had lost it. We were also learning each other better and better each lap.

Anyhow, the 27 [Paul Menard] got into me and I bounced between him and the wall (watch). That popped the rear deck lid off and we lost all the track position making repairs. We just had to dig in and get all we could out of it and that was 18th there at Phoenix.

The Las Vegas race was a big disappointment, not just for our team but for Penske Racing overall. We started 14th and ran up into the top five before I overshot the pits. We were able to get refocused and rebound from that. We had a strong enough car to drive back up through the field toward the top 10.

Just when we thought we could make something solid out of the day, the problems with the fuel pressure hit us. It was sporadic at first, but then took its toll. We went to the garage twice; once to change the pump and the second time to change out the entire fuel cell. It was another case of losing so many laps behind the wall that you just have to ride it out and make the best of it.

Brad [Keselowski] had a great run going, but the same problem hit him late in the race. His day was spoiled by having to go to the garage and make changes.

Our Penske team went to work immediately to make sure the fuel pump problem never hits us again. After diagnosing what the issue was and addressing it, they took Parker Kligerman to Nashville early last week and ran close to a thousand miles over a couple of days to make sure they had it all figured out.

I think things really started turning around for us last weekend at Bristol. Sure, we didn't get the great finish we were looking for, but we did show a lot of overall strength. I told Todd that Bristol was never a place I had ever been any good at. But we missed the pole by only a thousandth of a second and led a bunch of laps early in the race.

The car handled really well at the beginning of the race. We were able to pass the 24 car [Jeff Gordon] and just pull away from the field. But after we made our pit stop, the car just got incredibly loose. I thought we might have had a right-rear wheel that was loose, but that wasn't the problem. I thought it might have been the tires but, after a while, I really was thinking that something broke.

With the way the right-rear felt and with us losing all rear grip, it was all I could do to hang on. We lost all our track position, but kept on trying to adjust on it. We just had to ride it out again to finish 17th.

As it turned out, Todd and the guys got our car back to the shop and took a look at it. Yep, just as I thought, we did have an issue with the right-rear suspension that worked against us and led to the car getting so loose like it did.

The great thing that came out of Bristol was the fact that Brad was able to get the win for Penske Racing. The success his team has will definitely pay dividends all the way around. The two Penske teams are getting along great and I am told that the communications between the teams is the best it's ever been.

Going into Fontana this weekend, you can look at our stats and see that we're 26th in points and still looking for our first top-10 finish of the year. Those may be the stats, but it certainly doesn't paint the real picture of what our full potential has been so far.

The finishes are not indicative of the speed of our race car or the true strength of our team. It's just been so much stuff that's been out of our own control.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, it's never been the same problem and none of them have been specific to like "oh the pit crew isn't great", or "the crew chief made the wrong call there." That has never been the case so far.

A lot of it has been bad luck and adjusting to new things like EFI. Obviously our race cars are fast. What's good about this race team is with Shell/Pennzoil and with all the sponsors and Mr. [Roger] Penske himself, everybody is patient. They're not jumping off the end of the ship and saying that if we don't win this week we're in trouble. It takes time and everyone knows that.

We've shown flashes of speed and that we can run up front. Even though we've only been together for four races now, our team has shown that we're all working very well and in sync and at a competitive level.

I think it's clear that I have better resources behind me. We qualified on the front row at Bristol and I had never been anywhere close to being that fast there before. We led legitimately at Bristol for the first time. I am convinced we are turning the corner. Brad and the 2 team showed that Penske is building very good race cars that are capable of winning.

Our 22 team will get there and I know we're headed in the right direction. The good finishes and consistency are right around the corner.

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

Behind the Wheel with AJ 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.

Watch Allmendinger's season highlights: