CONCORD, NC — AJ Allmendinger is a perfect 3-for-3 on the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. He won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race here in 2019. He followed that up with a victory in the rain a year ago. Now, he’s back in a familiar place – victory lane.
Allmendinger, led the final 20 laps en route to the win in Saturday’s Drive For The Cure 250. He took over the lead when Ty Gibbs overshot the backstretch chicane on Lap 47 and never looked back in scoring his 10th career NXS victory tying Jason Keller, Bobby Labonte and Robert Pressley for 39th all-time.
It almost didn’t come easy though. Tommy Joe Martins brought out a late race caution with four laps remaining which negated Allmendinger’s nine second lead. It didn’t end up mattering though.
The Kaulig Racing driver jumped out to a big lead off the overtime restart and would cruise to a 3.192-second win keeping his championship hopes alive. He pretty much already had a spot to the Round of 8 locked up but by virtue of his victory, but now he’s onto the second round of the playoffs.
This was his sixth win on a road course in the Xfinity Series which not only is most among any series that he’s raced in during his career (IndyCar 5, Cup 2, IMSA 1) but also the most ever in the history of this series breaking a tie with Marcus Ambrose and Austin Cindric for tops.
Kyle Busch, Ron Fellows and Terry Labonte have four each.
He’s now had six top two finishes in his No. 16 Chevrolet over the last 10 races run on the season but also only had one top five over the last five races run entering the weekend too including three of his last five being 18th or worse.
Austin Cindric had to settle for second in his No. 22 Ford in what was a chaotic final lap. Cindric, spun his tires on the final restart and slid back to fourth. Sam Mayer moved into third while Ty Gibbs got by and into third. Gibbs, passed Mayer for the runner-up spot only to be spun by Mayer on purpose on the final lap.
Then, Mayer overshot the chicane on the backstretch which allowed Cindric to take his spot back for his fourth top six on the ROVAL including three of which in the top three. He’s had 11 top 10’s in his last 14 races on the season including playoff results of 4th, 8th and 2nd.
These aren’t the only two with a ton of momentum going into the second of three rounds. In fact, the top finishers on Saturday have been regulars to the top five or six over the last several weeks at that.
Daniel Hemric swept both stages and would come back to finish third in his No. 18 Toyota. It was Hemric’s second straight third place finish here as he was also in the top five in the other two playoff races as well. He enters the Round of 8 on the heels of five top six finishes in his last seven starts on the year.
Justin Haley kept his momentum rolling with a fourth place run in his No. 11 Chevrolet for his 12th top 10 in his last 13 starts on the season including six top sixes in his last seven. He had five in his previous 22 starts prior.
Brandon Jones rounded out the top five in his No. 19 Toyota for his fourth consecutive top six result on the season. Noah Gragson was sixth for his eighth top seven in the last 10.
These are six of the eight drivers marching onto the next round and all eight have been finishing up front a lot over the last couple of months. I didn’t even mention Justin Allgaier who finished ninth after having early race brake issues. His seven race top six finish streak came to an end as did his 10 finishes of seventh or better in the previous 11 races.
Good luck coming out of the next round with a shot at a championship in Phoenix.
Pit Strategy Key
Road course racing has really changed since the inception of stage racing. Now, with guaranteed yellows, it’s changed the way you race them. With points on the line at the end of each stage, decision are to be made.
Do you pit for track position to start the next stage or elect for points?
The ones that gave up points at the end of the second stage greatly benefited. On Lap 35, AJ Allmendinger, Austin Cindric, Justin Allgaier, Ty Gibbs, Sam Mayer, Sage Karam and others pit. Daniel Hemric stayed out to win his the stage which produced a clean sweep of the day. It also helped clinch him a spot into the Round of 8 as well. So, why not just punt the win away and live to fight another race.
Justin Haley, Myatt Snider, Brandon Jones, Jeb and Harrison Burton, Jeremy Clements, Noah Gragson and others stayed out and got some much needed points. Hemric, Haley, Jones, Gragson and both Burton’s are points racing. That’s why they remained out.
But, it’s also why they didn’t win either.
By them having to pit on Lap 40, they would now be behind the ones that pit on Lap 35 and with only one caution in the final stage, they didn’t get a chance to leap frog them.
Coming to the white flag, the top four cars on track had all pit on Lap 35.
Quiet Cut Off Race With Top 8 In Points Entering Moving On
The ROVAL has created some wild moments, but Saturday’s race didn’t provide a lot of spark in terms of the Xfinity Series playoffs. Harrison Burton led his cousin Jeb Burton by eight points coming into the weekend and they leave eight points apart after the drop of the checkered flag.
The eight that came in above the cutline move onto the Round of 8 with Allmendinger taking the automatic spot by virtue of his win to go along with Austin Cindric, Justin Allgaier, Daniel Hemric, Justin Haley, Brandon Jones, Noah Gragson and Harrison Burton moving on.
It was a pretty straightforward race for a change but by doing so, this lacked some punch for playoff implications.
Jeb Burton just didn’t have a car capable of beating his cousin. He struggled from the get go and finished ninth in Stage 1 while Harrison was eighth. In Stage 2, it was Harrison in seventh and Jeb in ninth. At this point, Jeb had to beat Harrison by 11 spots in the end. He only outlasted him by two positions.
Myatt Snider, Riley Herbst and Jeremy Clements each had to win Saturday’s race and neither of them did.
Snider, got a top 10 but he’s not had a top five since he won back in February at Homestead (26 races). Herbst, was 33rd, 27th and 34th respectively in the postseason after having a pair of top fives entering the playoffs. Clements, finished 12th as he only had four top 10’s over his last 24 starts on the year. That comes after scoring three top 10’s in the first five races run this season.
Kaulig Racing Best At Specialty Tracks
AJ Allmendinger has now won three straight times on the Charlotte ROVAL. That comes with him also winning earlier this season in Mid-Ohio as well as Saturday too. Combined, he’s won four of the last 11 races on road courses to go along with three runner-ups as well this year.
Kaulig has certainly become a specialty team on road courses. They’re also there on superspeedway’s too. They went 1-2-3 in both stages run at Daytona back at the end of August to go along with finishing 1-2-4 that day. It was their sixth win in their last eight superspeedway starts and five of the last six in general.
There’s no doubt, with seven road course races and four on superspeedway’s, Kaulig is the team to beat at each.
The best on road courses this season were right there up front at the end. Allmendinger has won twice to go along with three runner-ups and a fourth place run in seven starts. Cindric was second as he’s had five top fives in the same seven races. Gibbs, was third with having two wins and a third in his five prior road course starts.
Combined, that’s five of the seven road course races this season having been won by these three and they were 1-2-3 coming to the final restart.
It’s not a ROVAL here or Indy without major track problems. We saw a huge crash towards the middle of the second stage which created major damage to Josh Bilicki’s car. For some reason, those curbs are really facing the wrong direction and is what a big reason to why the damage was so severe to it.
Same deal at Indy in August with the curbing there too. Something needs to be done with these.