A.J. Allmendinger has been here before, leading the field to the green flag, but this is his first in his new ride with Penske in the number 22 AAA sponsored ride. This is the 97th all time pole for Penske racing and after waching almost the entire field qualify before him, Allmendinger edged Kevin Harvick (175.747 mph) by .043 seconds at the 1.5-mile intermediate speedway to take the poole position at Kansas Motor Speedway. How does Allmendinger deal with the pressure of being new to a team who us used to success on the race track?
“More than anything, I put so much pressure on my shoulders to go out there and perform,” Allmendinger said. “They [his Penske team] are used to winning, running up front, getting poles. It’s good just to build momentum.
“So, hopefully, we have a solid 400 miles. It’s good, but we know the bigger picture’s on Sunday, and I’m happy to be part of the team.”
Kevin Harvick will start beside him on the outside in position 2. Harvick had an excellent lap in the making but got “a little excited” as he entered the final 2 corners and lost a little bit of ground.
“That might have cost us the pole, but overall it’s been a great year for us qualifying-wise so far,” Harvick said. “The cars have been fast every week, and as soon as we put together a whole weekend without me making a mistake or things not going exactly right, I think everything’s going to come together nicely.
“So I’m pretty happy with the way everything’s gone so far this year.”
So what about the other big names in NASCAR? Teams that carry the big names in the sport, Roush and Hendrick have been the power houses in the sport for the past few seasons, and yet that strength hasn’t really been shown on the track so far this season.
Greg Biffle, the current points leader and last weeks winner in Texas, was asked about the pecking order of the team. After delivering his first win in 49 starts last weekened, who is the #1 driver in the Roush Stables? Carl Edwards did sign a multi million dollar contract to re-up with Roush for the next 4 season, and his team finished second in points in 2011 by being consistant, but only marked one win fo the season. So far this season Edwards has yet to lead a lap. But if he were to choose one racetrack this year to get that win and break his 40 race losing streak, Kansas would be where he wants it most.
“There would be no bigger win on the circuit,” Edwards said. “If I had to choose between winning one race throughout the year, that would be the one I would pick. The amount of pride that I would have — winning that close to home and in front of so many people that are friends of mine and people that have helped me — that would be huge.”
But who is the number one driver in the Roush stables as they see it? Who is getting the better deal when it comes to equipment? Both Edwards and Biffle were very coy with their response to that question.
“No, I still think the No. 99 [Edwards] is the number one team at Roush,” Biffle said Friday, allowing the smile to play at the corners of his mouth. “I’m the underdog.”
Edwards disagrees. Based on current performance, he says it’s easy to identify the top team at Roush.
“Right now, Greg is the No. 1 team — the No. 16 team is — because they’re leading the points and winning races,” Edwards said.
So what about the most consistant driver in the Hendrick stables ths season, Dale Earnhardt Jr.? Is there a pecking order at Hendrick Motorsports that decides who get the best equipment? How does he feel about his chances in the 2012 season?
Asked whether he thought Johnson was a better driver, Earnhardt was emphatic in his response.
“No, he’s a hell of a race car driver, but I feel like I’m the best,” Earnhardt said. “I think that’s the way you have to feel. I feel like I’m smarter than everybody, and I can drive better than everybody, and I know a lot of people ain’t going to agree with that, but I feel pretty strong about it.”
“There is a bit of a pecking order, and it really comes down to what you’ve done lately,” Earnhardt said Friday at Kansas. “I think that Jimmie and Jeff will always carry a certain role in that company that I will probably never achieve, just due to them being there that long and having that trust built up with Rick [Hendrick] and all the employees there — and their accomplishments, obviously.”
So on to the track we go in Kansas for the STP 400 to decide the winner, and who has done the most lately in the pecking order for both of these power house teams.