Allmendinger capitalizes late to win at Atlanta

A.J. Allmendinger seized the opportunity following a late-race pit stop and held off Noah Gragson in the final 34 laps to win the EchoPark 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The victory was Allmendinger’s fourth of his NASCAR Xfinity Series career in his 18th series start, first of the season and his first on an oval-shaped track. Ironically, Allmendinger’s first Xfinity win at Atlanta came in his first series start at the track.

The starting lineup was based on a random draw and three competitors from JR Motorsports drew the first three starting positions. Noah Gragson, coming off his thrilling win at Bristol Motor Speedway, started on pole position followed by teammates Daniel Hemric and Justin Allgaier. Following the pre-race inspection, the following teams with drivers Hemric, Harrison Burton, Austin Cindric, Myatt Snider, Jeremy Clements, Tommy Joe Martins and Stephen Leicht lost their pit stall selection for next week’s event at Homestead-Miami Speedway for failing the inspection station twice. Martins started at the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments along with Timmy Hill, who pitted under the pace laps. 

When the race started, Gragson paced ahead to lead the opening six laps, but Austin Cindric, who started eighth and was eliminated early in the previous race at Bristol due to a multi-car wreck, used the high lane to move all the way up to second by the second lap and settle behind Gragson. By Lap 6, Cindric, again, used the high lane to his advantage and took the lead in Turn 3 as Gragson slipped. A lap later, Justin Haley moved into second as Gragson battled early loose-handling conditions in his No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet. By the 10th lap, he had fallen back to fifth as teammates Hemric and Allgaier passed him. Up front, Cindric extended his advantage to over a second over Haley.


American Muscle

In the midst of the battle up front, Ryan Sieg, who started seventh, experienced early mechanical issues as smoke was billowing out of his No. 39 RSS Racing Chevrolet. He would eventually take his car to the garage for repairs.

The first caution of the race flew on Lap 16 when Tommy Joe Martins spun on the backstretch. With the competition caution originally planned for Lap 20, NASCAR deemed the caution for Martins’ spin as the competition caution since the field would pass Lap 20 under yellow. At the time of caution, Chastain, who started 11th, moved up to sixth while Burton, who started fifth, fell back to 10th. Under caution, only a handful of competitors like Cindric and Chase Briscoe pitted. Haley remained on track to inherit the lead followed by Hemric, Allgaier, Gragson and Ross Chastain.

When the race restarted on Lap 21, Haley used the bottom lane to take off with the lead followed by Allgaier and Chastain. Cindric restarted 21st, but bolted his way to fourth in three laps on four fresh tires. By Lap 25, Cindric was in third behind Kaulig Racing’s Haley and Chastain. A lap later, Cindric reassumed the lead. 

By Lap 30, Cindric extended his advantage to over three seconds over Chastain and four seconds over Haley. During this time, Briscoe, who pitted with Cindric under competition caution only for adjustments, had made his way only up to 11th. Allmendinger, who started 30th, was in 12th, Anthony Alfredo, who started 24th, was in 14th and Jeremy Clements, who started 20th, was in 11th. Brandon Brown, coming off back-to-back top-10 results at Charlotte and Bristol, was in ninth.

Up front, Cindric remained uncontested and was able to cruise to the Stage 1 win on Lap 40 by over nine seconds over Chastain. With his strong start to the race, Cindric claimed his first stage first victory of the year. Haley finished third followed by Allgaier and Hemric while Gragson, Riley Herbst, Briscoe, Allmendinger and Burton finished in top 10.

Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Colby Howard inherited the lead after pitting without changing tires. Cindric was the first to exit with four fresh tires followed by Chastain, Briscoe, Haley and Gragson. Following the pit stops, Haley was sent to the rear of the field due to his crew members jumping over the pit wall too soon. A lap later, Howard returned to pit road, giving the lead back to Cindric.

When the second stage started on Lap 47, Cindric received a push from Briscoe to maintain the lead. Chastain retained second as Briscoe battled Gragson for third. By Lap 60, Cindric extended his advantage to three seconds over Chastain. In addition, Haley, who restarted outside the top 25 following his penalty, worked his way back to 15th.

On Lap 65, Hemric, who was running fourth, made contact with a lapped car entering Turn 4, but both cars continued without spinning or drawing out a caution. Behind him, Allmendinger and Allgaier made their way past Gragson for position.

Three laps later, the caution returned when Riley Herbst, who was running in the top 10, spun in Turn 2. Under caution, the leaders remained on track except for Clements, Josh Williams and Jeffrey Earnhardt.

When the race restarted with seven laps remaining in the second stage, Cindric received another bump from Briscoe to retain the lead. This time, Briscoe moved to second and Chastain battled Hemric for third as the competitors behind the leaders started duking for positions and battled three wide through the turns and the straightaways. 

When the second stage concluded on Lap 80, Cindric was the leader as he claimed the stage by half a second over Briscoe and over a second over Chastain. Hemric finished fourth over Allmendinger. Gragson, Haley, Allgaier, Annett and Burton finished in the top 10.

Under the stage break, the leaders pitted. Briscoe exited first followed by Cindric, Chastain, Allgaier and Allmendinger. Following pit stops, Haley was penalized and sent to the rear of the field a second time, this time due to speeding on pit road.

The final stage commenced with 76 laps remaining. On the restart, Briscoe and Cindric engaged in a heated battle for the lead while Allgaier and Chastain battled for third. Behind, Gragson made contact with Burton, which loosened Burton’s No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota up the track as Gragson moved up to eighth. Five laps later, Briscoe extended his lead of over a second over Cindric. Chastain, meanwhile, slipped to fourth.

With 65 to go, caution returned when Josh Williams went for a long slide in Turn 3. He was able to nurse his car back below the apron without receiving any further contact from the field and pit. By then, Haley moved back to 16th following his penalty and Briscoe extended the lead to nearly two seconds over Cindric.

Under caution, the leaders pitted. Briscoe exited first followed by Allgaier, Cindric, Chastain and Brandon Jones. During the pit stops, Gragson was penalized and sent to the rear for driving through too many pit boxes on pit road. His teammate, Michael Annett, remained on track and inherited the lead.

On a restart with 61 to go, Briscoe took off on the inside lane while Annett raced four wide with Chastain, Allgaier and Cindric through Turn 1 before Chastain moved to second followed by Cindric, Allgaier, Jones and Hemric. Annett, who struggled on old tires, fell back like an anchor outside the top 10.  

With 40 to go, Briscoe extended his lead to over a second ahead of Cindric and more than three seconds over Chastain and Allgaier. A lap later, the caution returned when Vinnie Miller spun in Turn 2. Under caution, the leaders pitted. Following pit stops, disaster struck for Briscoe, Allgaier and Cindric as all three were penalized for speeding on pit road. When all three were sent to restart outside the top 20, Allmendinger emerged with the lead alongside Gragson. 

The race restarted with 34 to go and Allmendinger took off with the lead followed by Gragson, Haley, Jones and Burton. While Allmendinger retained a steady lead over the field, Gragson and Haley battled for second as Gragson would gain the upper hand. With 20 to go, Allmendinger settled in to lead over a second over Gragson followed by Haley, Burton and Chastain. Allgaier was eighth, Briscoe was 10th and Cindric was 17th as all three were running out of time and laps to make up for their late mistakes on pit road.

With 10 to go, Allmendinger started to approach lapped traffic, which gave Gragson a slim, but brewing opportunity to challenge for the lead. Allmendinger, however, was able to navigate his way through the lapped traffic and maintain his advantage around a second over Gragson. 

For the final laps, Gragson tried to narrow the gap between himself and Allmendinger, but Allmendinger maintained his ground and his one-second advantage, which was enough for him to cruise to the checkered flag and grab an upset win by 1.858 seconds over Gragson. With the victory, Allmendinger has finished in the top 10 in four of his seven starts with Kaulig Racing as the team recorded its third NASCAR Xfinity Series career victory.

“Oh, my god! I won on an oval! You like that?!” Allmendinger said on FOX. “Matt Kaulig, I really love you. Chris Rice, these cars were awesome. It’s Atlanta. You’re trying to figure out how much tire to use early. The car was awesome on long runs. Once I got to the lead, I was just trying to hit my marks, which is hard to do. I can’t thank everybody at Kaulig Racing, LeafFilter Gutter Protection, everybody that’s associated with this team. We got C2 Freight Resources on the car…Thank you ECR [Engines], Chevrolet, everybody for giving me the opportunity. Let’s party.”

In addition, Allmendinger, who was originally not scheduled to compete in next weekend’s second Dash 4 Cash event at Homestead-Miami Speedway on June 14, will enter the event with the opportunity to win $100,000.

Despite finishing second, Gragson claimed the first Dash 4 Cash $100,000 bonus of the 2020 season. 

“First off, I wanna say congrats to the 16 team,” Gragson said on FOX. “They did a heck of a job today. We fought a lot of adversity out there. I drove through too many pit boxes on one of the pit stops and had to go to the back. This Axalta, EchoPark team, they never gave up. [Crew chief] Dave Elenz did a great job making changes. We were wrecking loose there at the beginning of the race. We just kept working on it, working on it. We were able to come home second. I wanted to be doing burnouts on the front straightaway. Our car looked really good. That’s alright. We’re gonna move on to Miami. That’s my bread and butter track. Just super fortunate to be running here in the Xfinity Series.”

Haley rebounded from his two pit-road penalties to finish third for his third top-five result of this season followed by Hemric as both competitors will compete for the second Dash 4 Cash bonus at Homestead alongside Allmendinger and Gragson. Burton finished fifth as he remains the only competitor to finish in the top 10 in all Xfinity events through Atlanta. Allgaier, Chastain, Jones, Briscoe and Alfredo rounded out the top 10.

There were 10 lead changes for seven different leaders. The race featured six cautions for 28 laps.

Briscoe continues to lead the Xfinity Series regular-season standings by four points over Gragson and 32 over Burton.

Results:

1. A.J. Allmendinger, 37 laps led

2. Noah Gragson, six laps led

3. Justin Haley, eight laps led

4. Daniel Hemric

5. Harrison Burton

6. Justin Allgaier, one lap led

7. Ross Chastain

8. Brandon Jones

9. Chase Briscoe, 40 laps led

10. Anthony Alfredo

11. Michael Annett, three laps led

12. Brandon Brown

13. Jeremy Clements

14. Brett Moffitt

15. Colby Howard

16. Austin Cindric, 68 laps led, Stage 1 & 2 winner

17. Riley Herbst

18. Bayley Currey

19. Ronnie Bassett Jr., one lap down

20. Jesse Little, one lap down

21. Jeffrey Earnhardt, one lap down

22. Tommy Joe Martins, one lap down

23. Mason Massey, one lap down

24. Garrett Smithley, one lap down

25. B.J. McLeod, one lap down

26. Joe Graf Jr., one lap down

27. Alex Labbe, one lap down

28. Josh Williams, one lap down

29. Myatt Snider, two laps down

30. Matt Mills, two laps down

31. Vinnie Miller, seven laps down

32. Joe Nemechek – OUT, Suspension

33. Timmy Hill – OUT, Alternator

34. Chad Finchum – OUT, Suspension

35. Ryan Sieg – OUT, Engine

36. Stephen Leicht – OUT, Clutch

37. Kody Vanderwal – OUT, Engine

Next on the NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule is a doubleheader series weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the first on June 13 and the second on June 14. The June 13 race at Homestead will air at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX and the June 14 race will air at noon ET on FS1.


Get 2 FREE stocks valued between $2.50-$1,400 when you open and fund a Webull brokerage account or earn 5% annual interest rate at Worthy.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here