The conclusion of the Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway on Friday, September 17, left a bevy of race cars wrecked and tempers flaring amongst a number of competitors, including the top-two finishers fighting for both the win and the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series regular season championship.
In a late overtime shootout between two potential championship favorites, AJ Allmendinger bumped and rubbed Austin Cindric for the lead before overtaking him on the final lap and just had enough to stay ahead of Cindric, who sent both competitors spinning and wrecking across the finish line, to win both the race and claim the regular season title. The finish of the event also provided a possible preview of this year’s Xfinity Series championship battle between two dominating competitors throughout this year’s Xfinity regular-season stretch.
The starting lineup was based on a performance metric formula, weighing the driver’s and owner’s results from a previous Xfinity event, the owner points position and the fastest lap recorded from a previous Xfinity race. With that, Noah Gragson, winner of last weekend’s event at Richmond Raceway, started on pole position and was joined on the front row with teammate Justin Allgaier.
Prior to the event, Josh Berry dropped to the rear of the field for filling in for veteran Michael Annett, who re-injured his right leg while working out. The move eliminated Annett in making the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs for the first time since 2018.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Gragson powered ahead with the lead on the outside lane followed by Daniel Hemric and the field. As Gragson led the first lap, Hemric retained second while Allgaier was trying to fend off Harrison Burton, rookie Ty Gibbs and Justin Haley in third.
On the fifth lap and while the field battled competitively early, Hemric emerged with the lead after passing Gragson, who led the first four laps, on the inside lane through Turns 4 and 1. Behind, Gibbs muscled his way into fourth behind Allgaier while Harrison Burton was left battling with Kaulig Racing’s Haley and Jeb Burton near the top five.
On the ninth lap, the first caution of the race flew when Brett Moffitt made contact with the outside wall in Turn 2, an incident that ended his hopes to make the Playoffs. By then, Harrison Burton fell back to eighth behind Austin Cindric while Josh Berry was up in 27th behind Spencer Boyd.
Seven laps later, the race restarted under green. At the start, Hemric retained the lead while Allgaier overtook teammate Gragson to move into second. Behind, Gibbs and Haley battled for fourth while Cindric and Jeb Burton battled for sixth.
By Lap 20, Hemric was leading by seven-tenths of a second over Allgaier while Gragson, Haley and Jeb Burton were in the top five. Cindric, Harrison Burton, Gibbs, Jeremy Clements and Brandon Jones were in the top 10 while AJ Allmendinger was in 12th behind Ryan Sieg.
Ten laps later, Hemric, who was approaching lapped traffic, continued to lead by a narrow margin over Allgaier while Haley was in third. Meanwhile, Cindric was up in fourth followed by Gragson. Behind, Gibbs was up in sixth followed by cousins Jeb and Harrison Burton. In addition, Allmendinger cracked the top 10.
On Lap 36, Allgaier made a move on Hemric, who was trapped behind the lapped car of Jade Buford, to move into the lead. Shortly after, Haley moved into second while Hemric got shuffled back to third.
When the competition caution flew on Lap 40, Allgaier was leading by three-tenths of a second over Haley while Hemric, Cindric and Gragson were in the top five. Gibbs, Jeb Burton, Harrison Burton, Allmendinger and Brandon Jones were in the top 10. By then, Ryan Sieg, Riley Herbst and Brandon Brown, all of whom were battling for spots in the Xfinity Series Playoffs, were in 11th, 12th and 13th, Myatt Snider was in 15th and Berry was in 19th.
Under the competition caution, some like Sieg and Jeremy Clements pitted while the rest led by Allgaier remained on the track. Following the pit stops, Spencer Boyd, who also pitted, dragged a gas can out of his pit box and on the track. When the gas can came off of Boyd’s machine, fuel spilled out on the racing surface, which required safety crews to remove the can.
When the race restarted on Lap 51, Allgaier continued to lead over the field.
By Lap 60, Allgaier was ahead by four-tenths of a second over Hemric and nearly seven-tenths of a second over teammate Gragson. Mayer was in fourth followed by Allmendinger, Cindric, Brandon Jones, Jeb Burton and Harrison Burton. Meanwhile, Gibbs was back in 11th, but locked in a battle with teammate Harrison Burton and Riley Herbst.
Fifteen laps later, Allgaier remained in the lead by nearly half a second over Hemric while third-place Gragson trailed by nearly a second. Meanwhile, light smoke and possible fluid was billowing out of the No. 1 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet Camaro driven by Berry.
When the first stage concluded on Lap 85, Allgaier, who led 50 laps, was able to capture his second stage victory of the season. Hemric settled in second followed by Gragson, Haley, Mayer, Allmendinger, Cindric, Brandon Jones, Gibbs and Harrison Burton. By then, Berry, who pitted for fresh tires and to have the smoke assessed, took his car behind the wall.
Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Allgaier retained the lead ahead of the field following his pit service. Meanwhile, Jeremy Clements moved up to third after opting for no fresh tires during his pit service.
The second stage started on Lap 93 as teammates Allgaier and Gragson occupied the front row. At the start, Allgaier muscled into the lead on the outside lane while Hemric overtook Gragson for the runner-up spot. Behind, a pair of side-by-side battles occurred between Clements, Haley, Allmendinger and Cindric.
Two laps later, Haley, who was in fourth, slipped in Turn 1, which nearly placed him in a four-wide battle with teammate Allmendinger, Cindric and Clements entering Turn 2. With the field jumbled up, Allgaier continued to lead.
At the Lap 100 mark, Allgaier was leading by two-tenths of a second over Hemric followed by Gragson, Haley and Allmendinger. Cindric was in sixth ahead of Ty Gibbs while Jeb Burton, Mayer and Brandon Jones were in the top 10.
Three laps later, the caution flew when BJ McLeod bumped and turned Tommy Joe Martins in the backstretch.
Another five laps later, the race restarted under green. At the start, Allgaier jumped ahead with a slight advantage over Hemric, who fought back on the inside lane. A lap later, Hemric muscled his way back into the lead. Not long after, the caution returned when Matt Mills wrecked on the frontstretch following contact from Boyd. After exiting his car, Mills expressed his displease to Boyd with an obscene gesture.
On Lap 116, the race restarted under green. At the start, Hemric retained the lead following another strong start while JR Motorsports’ teammates Gragson and Allgaier battled for second. Behind, Cindric was in fourth followed by Haley and Allmendinger.
By Lap 125, Hemric was out in front by six-tenths for a second over Allgaier while Gragson, Cindric and Haley remained in the top five ahead of Allmendinger, Gibbs and the field.
On Lap 136, Allgaier seized an opportunity to retake the lead after Hemric was mired behind lapped traffic.
At the halfway mark on Lap 150, Allgaier continued to lead by eight-tenths of a second over Hemric while Gragson, Cindric and Haley remained in the top five. Behind, Brandon Jones and Allmendinger battled for sixth while Gibbs, Maayer and Jeb Burton were in the top 10. Harrison Burton was in 12th behind Myatt Snider, Sieg was in 13th ahead of Herbst and Brandon Brown was in 17th area of Jeremy Clements and Sage Karam.
A few laps later, the caution flew when Allgaier, the leader who was trying to navigate his way through lapped traffic, made contact with the lapped car of Joe Graf Jr., wiggled and got sideways in Turn 1. Despite sliding sideways in the first turn, Allgaier managed to straighten his car and continue without sustaining any damage.
Under caution, some led by Mayer pitted while the rest led by Hemric remained on the track. Under caution, Snider was busted for speeding on pit road.
With nine laps remaining in the second stage, the race resumed under green. At the start, Hemric fended off Allgaier on the outside lane to retain the lead while Gragson, Cindric and Haley battled in the top five.
When the second stage concluded on Lap 170, Hemric secured his seventh stage victory of the season. Allgaier settled in second followed by Gragson, Haley, Cindric, Allmendinger, Gibbs, Brandon Jones, Sieg and Jeb Burton.
Under the stage break, some led by Allgaier pitted while others led by Jeb Burton, including those who pitted under the previous caution prior to the second stage’s conclusion, remained on the track. Following the pit stops, teammates Allgaier and Gragson were penalized for speeding on pit road.
With 121 laps remaining, the final stage commenced. At the start, Jeb Burton moved and cleared Herbst for the lead in Turn 2. A lap later, though, Mayer used the outside lane to overtake Burton and move into the lead.
Eleven laps later, Mayer was leading by a second over Jeb Burton while Herbst, Hemric and Cindric were in the top five.
Nearing the final 100 laps of the event, the caution flew when Carson Ware cut a left-front tire in Turn 1 and went up the racetrack, though he managed to keep the car off the wall.
With 96 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, Mayer retained the lead on the outside lane while Jeb Burton and Hemric battled for second. Soon after, Hemric and Cindric overtook Jeb Burton for second and third before Cindric muscled into the runner-up spot.
Down to the final 90 laps of the event, Mayer was leading by nearly four-tenths of a second over Cindric while Hemric, Herbst and Allmendinger were in the top five. Jeb Burton was back in sixth ahead of Brandon Jones, Haley, Gibbs and Snider.
With 75 laps remaining, Mayer continued to lead by two-tenths of a second over Cindric while third-place Hemric trailed by more than two seconds. Herbst and Allmendinger remained in the top five followed by Jeb Burton, Brandon Jones and Allgaier, who rallied from his late pit road penalty. Gibbs and Snider were in the top 10 while Haley slipped back to 11th ahead of Sieg, Brandon Brown, Harrison Burton, Gragson and Jeremy Clements.
Four laps later, Cindric took advantage of Mayer getting stuck behind the lapped car of Tommy Joe Martins to challenge Mayer for the lead. After drawing himself alongside Mayer for a full lap, Cindric then made contact with Mayer and the outside wall in Turn 4 while trying to clear himself for the lead. Despite the contact, Cindric and Mayer continued to run in first and second
With 62 laps remaining, the caution flew for a two-car spin involving David Starr and Tommy Joe Martins on the frontstretch.
Under caution, the leaders pitted and Cindric remained as the leader ahead of Mayer and the field following his pit service.
With 53 laps remaining, the race restarted. At the start, Cindric jumped ahead with a strong start while Allgaier challenged teammate Mayer for the runner-up spot. Behind, Brandon Jones moved up to fourth ahead of Herbst and Allmendinger.
With less than 50 laps remaining, Cindric was out in front by more than a second over Mayer while Allgaier, Brandon Jones and Allmendinger battled for third. Herbst was back in sixth ahead of Hemric, who had a slow pit stop under the previous caution.
Soon after, Jeb Burton made contact with the wall after racing hard with Snider, which dropped him off the pace and eventually livid with Snider. After spending a lap below the apron, Burton then pitted under green to have the damaged right side of his car addressed.
Down to the final 30 laps of the event, Cindric, who was mired behind lapped traffic, was leading by three-tenths of a second over Mayer while Allgaier kept the two leaders in his sight. Allmendinger was in fourth while Hemric moved back up to fifth.
Seven laps later, Mayer drew himself towards Cindric, who was mired in lapped traffic, and attempted to take the lead, but Cindric fought back on the outside lane. By the time Cindric retained the lead to a reasonable margin, Mayer was left to battle with teammate Allgaier for the runner-up spot.
With 15 laps remaining, Cindric extended his advantage to more than a second over Mayer and Allgaier while fourth-place Allmendinger trailed by more than three seconds and fifth-place Hemric trailed by four seconds.
Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Cindric continued to lead by a second over Mayer, who was able to place a half-a-second gap over teammate Allgaier.
With five laps remaining, Cindric, who continued to deal with lapped traffic, retained the lead by nearly a second over Mayer, who had teammate Allgaier reeling back in.
Just then, the caution flew coming to the final four laps when Allgaier, who was trying to navigate his way to the front through lapped traffic, made contact with teammate Mayer and sent him spinning along with Josh Williams entering Turn 2. The contact and the incident between the two JR Motorsports competitors erased a comfortable advantage for Cindric and sent the race into overtime.
When the race restarted in overtime, Cindric held a narrow lead over Allmendinger, who fought back on the inside lane through the first two turns. Then in Turn 3, Allmendinger bolted his way alongside Cindric and rubbed Cindric’s No. 22 Menards Ford Mustang through Turn 4. As both competitors got sideways, Allgaier drew his No. 7 BRANDT Chevrolet Camaro beneath both as the final lap started.
Just as Cindric and Allgaier were locked in a dead heat for the win, Allgaier made contact with Cindric in Turn 1, which opened the door for Allmendinger to overtake both competitors in a bold three-wide move entering Turn 2. As Cindric pursued Allmendinger for the win, Allgaier rubbed with Riley Herbt for third.
Then, entering the final turn, Cindric, knowing he was battling Allmendinger for the regular season title, made his way beneath Allmendinger and made contact with the Californian as both competitors veered sideways and headed for the inside wall. In the process, Allmendinger managed to edge Cindric by 0.082 seconds to claim the win. Moments after both slid across the finish line, though, Allmendinger and Cindric then made contact into the inside wall as Allmendinger veered back across the racetrack and was hit by teammate Haley and Snider.
Despite the accident, Allmendinger managed to claim his ninth career win in the Xfinity Series, fourth of the season and first at Bristol. In addition, he became the fifth different competitor to claim the Xfinity Series regular season title.
Moments after climbing out of his wrecked race car, Allmendinger, who was livid towards Cindric over being wrecked, saluted the fans before hopping into the ambulance and making the trip to the infield care center while Cindric was welcomed with mixed reaction from the crowd. While both competitors expressed no ill feelings towards one another, their on-track battle left both setting their sights for the series’ title.
“That was crazy at the end,” Allmendinger, who was released from the infield care center, said on NBCSN. “We had about a fourth-place car. My team did a great job. We just kept trying to work on it. You got a chance on the bottom [lane] and got in there. I slid into Austin trying to throttle up and stay on the bottom. Then into [Turn] 1, Allgaier had a run and there was contact there. [I] Went down into the last corner, I expected to get run into. It happened in the previous corner. It’s frustrating to get hit that hard coming to the checkered, but we’re battling for the win. It’s Bristol, baby. It’s what it’s all about. I haven’t had a lot of chances to ever in my life win at Bristol, so you know what, you get a chance to go do it, you got to do it. If I don’t take that chance, I don’t belong in a race car because my team deserves to win. Not the way you want to finish the race like that, destroying a lot of race cars. It’s a dream come true for this year. Thank you so much. Whether you love me or hate me for that, you know what, just keep being you guys [fans] because this is what makes this sport bad ass.”
“I thought we had a really great battle all season long up to this point,” Cindric said. “Congratulations to Kaulig [Racing] and AJ. Those guys didn’t want us to win really bad and I hate it completely destroyed our Menards/Richmond Ford Mustang. That’s all I got, man. I know what happened. I got drove into the door…AJ just drove straight through us. You’ll have that green-white-checkered racing. Man, what a hell of a race. I tried. That’s a big bummer. Sorry to everybody else that got involved in that wreck as well. That was really unfortunate…I just got booed and just got cheered. I don’t know what’s going on. Welcome to Bristol.”
Meanwhile, Riley Herbst came home in third place and secured his spot in the Playoffs along with fifth-place finisher Brandon Jones and 13th-place finisher Jeremy Clements. Names like Brandon Brown, Ryan Sieg and Josh Williams failed to qualify for the postseason battle for the title.
Allgaier and Jones finished in the top five on the track followed by Haley, Harrison Burton, Snider, Mayer and Hemric.
AJ Allmendinger, Austin Cindric, Justin Allgaier, Noah Gragson, Justin Haley, Daniel Hemric, Jeb Burton, Harrison Burton, Myatt Snider, Brandon Jones, Riley Herbst and Jeremy Clements have made the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs, and will compete for this year’s series title.
There were 11 lead changes for seven different leaders. The race featured 10 cautions for 72 laps. Only 14 of 40 starters finished on the lead lap.
1. AJ Allmendinger, one lap led
2. Austin Cindric, 75 laps led
3. Riley Herbst
4. Justin Allgaier, 92 laps led, Stage 1 winner
5. Brandon Jones
6. Justin Haley
7. Harrison Burton
8. Myatt Snider
9. Sam Mayer, 49 laps led
10. Daniel Hemric, 78 laps led, Stage 2 winner
11. Ty Gibbs
12. Noah Gragson, four laps led
13. Jeremy Clements
14. Brandon Brown
15. Ty Dillon, one lap down
16. Sage Karam, one lap down
17. Joe Graf Jr., one lap down
18. Gray Gaulding, one lap down
19. Alex Labbe, one lap down
20. Josh Williams, one lap down
21. Brandon Gdovic, one lap down
22. Stefan Parsons, two laps down
23. Tommy Joe Maartins, two laps down
24. Jeb Burton, three laps down
25. Jeffrey Earnhardt, three laps down
26. BJ McLeod, three laps down
27. Jade Buford, four laps down
28. Jesse Little, four laps down
29. Kyle Weatherman, five laps down
30. David Starr, six laps down
31. Spencer Boyd, eight laps down
32. Carson Ware, nine laps down
33. Chad Finchum, 24 laps down
34. Ryan Sieg – OUT, Fuel pump
35. Josh Berry, 91 laps down
36. Matt Mills – OUT, Accident
37. Ryan Vargas – OUT, Brakes
38. Bayley Currey – OUT, Brakes
39. Landon Cassill – OUT, Electrical
40. Brett Moffitt – OUT, Accident
The 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs is set to commence next Saturday, September 25, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, with the event scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.