AUSTIN, TX — AJ Allmendinger had been close all season. He was the only driver that had a top 10 finish in literally all five races run during the early portions of the 2022 Xfinity Series slate. The thing was, he only had a pair of top fives to show for it.
Now, he has a third. Even better, a win.
Allmendinger, inherited the lead in Saturday’s Pit Boss 250 at the Circuit of The Americas on Lap 33 and never looked back in scoring his 11th career series win, seven of which coming on road courses.
The Kaulig Racing driver finished runner-up here a year ago too and now looks like he could march back to Phoenix this November with another shot at his first NASCAR crown. He beat Daytona winner Austin Hill by 2-seconds for Hill’s second straight runner-up finish on the season. He came home second to Ty Gibbs last Saturday evening in Atlanta.
Cole Custer was making his second start in the series this season, the other was a victory in Fontana. This time, he brought his No. 07 Ford home in third, the same spot that he started from.
JR Motorsports teammates of Noah Gragson and Sam Mayer rounded out the top five with Gragson now having five top four finishes in six starts in his No. 9 Chevrolet this season while Mayer not only scored his first stage win of his career in Stage 2, but his first top five of the year too. His previous best was a sixth place finish in Fontana with the other four results being 21st or worse.
For Custer, he was caught speeding on pit road with five laps left of the second stage but rebounded for another top five. For a few others, they couldn’t have as good as fortune as him.
Ross Chastain had a top two car all race but was spun while restarting second from Landon Cassill on the restart with six to go in Turn 1. He’d only finish 17th as a result of that but led 14 laps prior.
Bubba Wallace went from 15th to the top five early but a failed transmission ended his race winning chances early and saw him finish 28th. Pole sitter Ty Gibbs also had an early race issue and could only get back up to 15th. You also had Justin Allgaier who was fifth in Stage 1 and third in Stage 2 have a problem and finish 33rd.
Saturday’s race served as the Dash 4 Cash qualifier, igniting a string of four races in which eligible drivers will be able to race their way into a field competing for $100,000. Based on finishing order, Allmendinger, Hill, Gragson, and Mayer made the initial cut and will compete for the first prize in the ToyotaCare 250 on April 2 at Richmond Raceway (1:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Battle To Championship 4 Will Be Intense
Allmendinger is showing that he’s going to be a factor in things. So is Gragson who now has a top 5 in all but one race. You can’t count out Ty Gibbs who is the only one this season with more than one win to go along with 3 top 6’s in his last 4 starts. That’s 3 drivers.
But, you also have Justin Allgaier who had 4 straight top 10’s prior to his 34th and 33rd place respective finishes. Neither of those last 2 are indicative on how good of a car he actually had. Allgaier, was in the top five in both races.
Josh Berry was in the same boat with being 33rd and 27th. Prior to that, he had 3 straight top four finishes.
Daniel Hemric is the defending series champion and while he has 3 finishes outside the top 10, he also has 2 finishes inside the top 10 too.
Brandon Jones has 3 top 10’s in his last 4 races and in a JGR car is always a threat. Austin Hill has two straight runner-ups to go along with a win. His rookie teammate of Sheldon Creed has 4 top 10’s in six races.
That’s 9 drivers and only four spots in Phoenix to settle a title. Playoff points are going to be huge.
Seat Time For Cup Regulars
This was a rare weekend where we had both Trucks and Xfinity races on the same day. As a result of that and this being just the second time that NASCAR has ever been to COTA, you get more drivers coming down from Cup to race in either series.
Alex Bowman ran the Truck race earlier in the day. He was running second before a late race incident with Stewart Friesen. Kyle Busch was too and was also in that incident with Bowman and Friesen while all three ran in the top three.
Ross Chastain (DGM), Cole Custer (SS Green Light) and Bubba Wallace (JGR) each ran the Xfinity Series race after to get more seat time too. They all did so to learn this 3.41-mile track better. While Chastain (17th) and Wallace (28th) didn’t get the finishes they’d like to have gotten, they each did get valuable time behind the wheel as each had solid days prior to issues.
Chastain was spun with six laps remaining on the restart. He was second at the time and had ran in the top two for much of the day. Wallace, improved his way up to the top five early and had a top five car before his transmission kept going in and out.
Custer, finished third.
Does this day translate well over to Sunday? They hope so.
Trucks-NXS Same Day Doubleheaders
This was the second straight week that we’ve seen the Truck Series and Xfinity Series race on the same day. There’s only 3 more left at Pocono (July 23), Talladega (Oct. 1) and Homestead (Oct. 22). With 5 total on the docket in 2022, is this a better way to handle race weekend’s or is it too much?
I’d say they have served their purpose so far. While it doesn’t give each series their own standalone day and all the attention on that day in terms of racing, it does help NASCAR in the sense that you decrease a track day.
You can settle in on a new normal with the Truck and Xfinity drivers getting practice and qualifying in on Friday, the Cup Series doing the same on Saturday prior to the Trucks-NXS twin bill, then the Cup race on Sunday.
It’s more action and more bang for your buck. It also helps the sanction fee with both on the same day in the sense they can split it. For Fox Sports, these first two help them in the sense they can air both on the same day. The final 3 races will be on NBC Sports for the Xfinity Series while the duration of the Truck Series is on Fox Sports.