AUSTIN, TX — AJ Allmendinger and Ross Chastain are friends. At least they were. Both were teammates with Kaulig Racing during the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series season. Now, there may be some friction from the former teammates that could be big enough to last a while.
Chastain, scored his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory on Sunday at the Circuit of The Americas. The Trackhouse Racing driver though, really had to earn this one – coming out on the right end of a frantic, four lead-change, two-lap final overtime. And he did – moving veteran Allmendinger and Alex Bowman in the final series of turns on the 3.41-mile, 20-turn circuit to take not only his first victory in NASCAR’s premier series but also give his Trackhouse Racing’s Justin Marks his first win as a new owner in stock car’s big leagues.
After grabbing the position in the final corner, Chastain raced off to a 1.331-second victory over Hendrick Motorsports driver Bowman, who unlike Allmendinger was able to recover from the last lap contact and continue to the checkered flag.
Allmendinger wasn’t too thrilled though.
“At the end of the day, we all have to look ourselves in the mirror,” he said. “If you are okay with it, you’re okay with it. Each person is different.
“More than anything, proud of Kaulig Racing. Action Industry Chevy was so fast. If we had a long run, nobody was going to touch us. So pit stops are great.
“Everybody at Kaulig Racing, all the men and women, it’s just a lot of sleepless nights for them right now trying to just get these cars to the next race. So, I was doing everything I could do to try to sweep the weekend for them. We were that close.
“So like I said, at the end of the day each person has to make the move that they’re comfortable with, and that’s fine. So we’ll — at the end of the day it’s — we know we had a shot to win the race. It’s tough to win a Cup race, so when you put yourself in a position to legitimately run up front all day and have a shot to win it, it’s a pretty great day. Unfortunately, just we needed about two more corners.”
Chastain, admitted that this could strain their relationship because of it.
However, this wasn’t the first time he says that he cost Allmendinger a win but in the case of this one, it could put some distance between the two with how the final few corners transpired.
“I’ve cost AJ a win at Daytona in the Xfinity Series, and he was obviously a quarter mile away from winning here,” Chastain said.. “He has taught me a lot, and I’m sure that our friendship will hurt for this. I feel like I had started to win some of his friendship back, and just being nice to each other when you see each other. It took a while.”
As far as making the last move, it’s not like Allmendinger didn’t get into Chastain first.
Did the fact that Allmendinger did that initial move on him and the onus that Allmendinger’s team isn’t going for points make Chastain get a “payback” and take the win now and apologize later?
“No, it’s just a race car,” he said. “I know who I’m racing around. I’m aware of my surroundings. And honestly, through the carousel I thought with Alex to my right and AJ ahead of me, I didn’t think there was a way to win. When we got to 19, everything happened, and it was not the plan.
“The plan was stay out front when we took the white, and I just babied it. I eased it into 12 too much, and he got to me. It only took a small little bump in 15. I was so loose through there all day. You saw it in qualifying. It’s where I slipped up and missed the fast five and was managing that all day, and it only took a small little bit.
“No, I don’t race anybody any different.
“I hate that because I’ve lived through that in my career for 12th place in Xfinity. I’ve fought, and I’ve roughed people up and gotten into people. I’ve wrecked Justin Marks. He was going to win Road America in 2016, 2017. I wrecked him and James Davidson for no reason. It’s not lost on me that I make some of the same mistakes. It’s just staring down a Cup Series win. I just couldn’t let that go.
“I mean, I know he is going to be upset with me, but we raced hard, both of us, and he owes me one.
“But when it comes to a Cup win, man, I can’t let that go down without a fight.”