A week after being eliminated in an early accident at Talladega Superspeedway, AJ Allmendinger raced his way into the Round of 8 in the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs after leading the final 21 laps and winning the Drive for the Cure 250 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course for a third consecutive season on Saturday, October 9.
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, Playoff contender Austin Cindric started on pole position and was joined on the front row with Justin Allgaier.
Prior to the event, Michael Annett, who returned as driver of the No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro for the first time since Richmond Raceway in September, started at the rear of the field due to replacing Josh Berry, who was originally on the entry list.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Cindric and Allgaier battled dead even for the lead entering the first turn while Jeb Burton and Noah Gragson made a four-wide move on Harrison Burton and Justin Haley to move up towards the top five.
From Turn 1, the six additional infield turns of the Roval and entering Turn 8, Cindric managed to remain with the lead ahead of Allgaier, Daniel Hemric and the field. Behind, Tommy Joe Martins spun entering Turn 8, but the race remained under green as the field scattered to avoid Martins. Shortly after, Kris Wright, who sustained a flat tire, spun entering the backstretch chicane.
When the field returned to the start/finish line, Cindric was able to lead the first lap ahead of Allgaier, Hemric, Brandon Jones and Gragson, who was being challenged by Haley.
As the field made their way out of the infield turns in Turn 8, the first caution flew when Sage Karam spun in Turn 6 following on-track contact. At the same time, Jade Buford, who was trying to dodge Karam, pinned his car against Brett Moffitt and the wall as the field behind was forced to scatter.
By the fifth lap, the race restarted on the frontstretch. At the start, Allgaier challenged Cindric side-by-side through the infield turns before Cindric prevailed entering Turn 7. While battling Hemric for the runner-up spot, Allgaier locked up his tires entering the backstretch chicane, but managed to keep his No. 7 BRANDT Chevrolet Camaro straight and through the chicane clean, though he lost the spot to Hemric.
Three laps later, Allgaier slipped and made contact with the wall in Turn 2, damaging the right side of his Camaro. The incident forced Allgaier to pit under green and fall below the running order. At the same time, Cindric, who was leading, missed the backstretch chicane and served his penalty by stopping on the frontsretch chicane, thus surrendering the lead to Daniel Hemric.
Another three laps later, the second caution of the event flew due to Gray Gaulding stalling in the backstretch. Under caution, some like Michael Annett, Brandon Brown and Allgaier pitted while the rest led by Hemric remained on the track.
When the race restarted on Lap 14, Hemric retained the lead over Cindric entering the infield turns as the field fanned out to multiple lanes and jostled for positions. Through the infield turns, the oval turns and the chicanes in the backstretch and frontstretch, Hemric was able to remain ahead of Cindric, Gragson, AJ Allmendinger, Brandon Jones and Justin Haley while the field battled in a single-file line.
With five laps remaining in the first stage, Hemric was leading by nearly a second over Cindric while Allmendinger, Gragson and Haley were in the top five. Brandon Jones was in sixth ahead of Gibbs, Herbst, Harrison Burton and Jeb Burton. Meanwhile, Josh Williams spun in the backstretch chicane, but the race remained under green.
Just as the pit road closed with two laps remaining in the second stage, Cindric peeled his No. 22 Richmond/Menards Ford Mustang to pit road for service and in preparation for the second stage. Meanwhile, Hemric continued to lead by more than three seconds over runner-up Allmendinger and nearly second seconds over third-place Gragson. By then, Gibbs overtook Haley to move into fourth place.
On the final lap of the first stage, the third caution of the event flew due to possible fluid on the course and when No. 15 Toyota driven by Kris Wright, who was smoking through the backstretch, came to a stop in Turn 12 due to a broken track bar. The caution was enough for the first stage scheduled on Lap 20 to conclude under a cautious pace as Hemric claimed his eighth stage victory of the season. AJ Allmendinger settled in second followed by Gragson, rookie Ty Gibbs, Haley, Brandon Jones, Riley Herbst, Harrison Burton, Jeb Burton and Jeremy Clements.
Under the stage break, nearly the entire field led by Hemric pitted while few led by Cindric, who pitted prior to the first stage’s conclusion, remained on the track.
The second stage started on Lap 22 as Cindric and rookie Sam Mayer filled the front row. At the start, Cindric retained the lead over Mayer entering the first turn while the field fanned out to three and four lanes. Behind, Hemric muscled his pink No. 18 Poppy Bank Toyota Supra to third followed by Gragson, who made a four-wide move prior to the first turn to move up into the top five.
When the field returned to the start/finish line, Cindric was the leader of a four-car breakaway stretched out by less than a second. Meanwhile, Allmendinger was in fifth, trailing by three seconds, while Austin Hill, Haley, Preston Pardus, Brandon Jones and Gibbs were in the top 10.
By Lap 25, Cindric continued to lead by seven-tenths of a second over Mayer while Hemric, Gragson and Allmendinger remained in the top five. Meanwhile, Allgaier was mired in 29th in between Loris Hezemans and Stefan Parsons.
Three laps later, the fourth caution of the event flew when Josh Bilicki ran over the curbs through the backstretch chicane and destroyed the front spitter of his car, where the front of his car went airborne before he limped to pit road in a cloud of smoke and ended up in the garage. The debris and damage towards the backstretch was enough for the event to be red-flagged for approximately five minutes.
When the red flag was lifted following the cleanup and repairs to the chicane, names like Herbst pitted under caution while the rest led by Cindric remained on the track.
Down to the final laps of the second stage, the race restarted under green. At the start, Cindric powered ahead on the inside lane while Mayer struggled to launch on the outside lane. Through the infield turns and the circuit turns while the field jostled for positions, Cindric was leading ahead of Hemric, Haley, Gibbs and Mayer.
A lap later, Jeb Burton made contact with the wall entering Turn 2, but he proceeded under green and just outside of the top 15.
When the field surpassed the halfway mark on Lap 35, Cindric stabilized his advantage to eight-tenths of a second over Hemric. Meanwhile, Gibbs moved his No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota Supra up to third place while Haley and Mayer remained in the top five.
Just then, the caution returned due to debris reported on the frontstretch. Under caution, some led by Cindric pitted while the rest led by Hemric remained on the track.
With three laps remaining in the second stage, the race resumed under green. At the start, Hemric fended off Haley to maintain the lead entering and exiting the infield turns. He also continued to stabilize his lead through the backstretch chicane, the oval turns and the frontstretch chicane.
On the final lap of the second stage, Haley started to close in and challenge Hemric for the top spot. Despite getting close to Hemric’s rear bumper through the infield, Hemric continued to lead over Haley. Haley issued a final challenge on Hemric entering the frontstretch chicane, but the latter managed to hold him off to win the second stage on Lap 40 and record his ninth stage victory of the season. Haley settled in second followed by Myatt Snider, Gragson, Clements, Brandon Jones, Harrison Burton, Gibbs, Jeb Burton and Mayer. By then, Hemric and Allgaier secured their spots for the Round of 8 in the 2021 Xfinity Series Playoffs based on points.
Under the stage break, some led by Hemric pitted while the rest led by Gibbs and Mayer remained on the track.
With 25 laps remaining, the final stage commenced. At the start, Gibbs jumped ahead from the field following a strong start while the rest of the field jostled for positions through multiple lanes.
The following lap, Gibbs was out in front by one-and-a-half seconds over Mayer, who had Allmendinger and Cindric challenging behind. Herbst, who was now placed in a “must win” situation to keep his title hopes alive, was in fifth ahead of Sage Karam, Allgaier, Ty Dillon, Alex Labbe and Haley while Hemric was mired in 13th. Meanwhile, cousins Harrison and Jeb Burton, both of whom were battling one another for a Playoff spot, were in 16th and 18th.
Down to the final 20 laps of the event, Gibbs continued to lead by eight-tenths of a second over Allmendinger, who was methodically closing in for the lead. Behind, Cindric moved up to third while Mayer fell back to fourth. Karam was in fifth ahead of Haley, Allgaier, Hemric, Herbst and Labbe. By then, cousins Harrison and Jeb Burton were in 15th and 16th.
Just then, Gibbs, who was battling brake issues, missed the backstretch chicane and was forced to come to a complete stop on the backstretch before proceeding. Gibbs’ misfortune allowed Allmendinger to take the lead as Cindric and Mayer moved up to second and third, thus dropping Gibbs to fourth ahead of Karam.
Five laps later, Allmendinger was leading by nearly four seconds over Cindric while Mayer, Haley and Hemric were in the top five. Karam was in sixth ahead of Gibbs while Allgaier and Herbst battled for eighth in front of Labbe. Harrison Burton was mired in 15th ahead of teammate Brandon Jones, Jeb Burton, Clements and Gragson while Michael Annett was in 21st.
Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Allmendinger stabilized his advantage to more than four seconds over Cindric and Mayer. Haley, who was in fourth, trailed by nearly nine seconds while Hemric, who was mired in fifth, trailed by more than 13 seconds.
Not long after, Cindric got loose approaching Turn 7, which allowed Mayer to briefly move into second before Cindric fought back through the oval turns. While both Cindric and Mayer battled, Allmendinger extended his advantage to more than six seconds. In addition, Haley started to close in on Cindric and Mayer for the runner-up spot.
With five laps remaining, Allmendinger remained as the leader by nearly nine seconds over Cindric, who was under fire by Mayer, Haley, Hemric and Gibbs for the runner-up spot. By then, Herbst took his No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang to the garage due to a rear end issue. The late misfortune ended Herbst’s hopes of advancing to the Round of 8.
A lap later, the caution flew due to an incident involving Tommy Joe Martins in Turn 14. The caution all but evaporated Allmendinger’s advantage of nearly nine seconds.
Under caution, names like Hemric, Labbe, Allgaier, Gragson, Snider, Michael Annett and Ryan Sieg pitted while the rest led by Allmendinger remained on the track.
With two laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, Allmendinger launched ahead on the inside lane while Cindric spun the tires on the outside lane. Through the infield turns and the chicanes while the field battled for late positions, Allmendinger maintained the lead ahead of Mayer while Gibbs and Cindric battled for third.
When the final lap started, Allmendinger continued to lead by nearly two seconds over Gibbs and Mayer, both of whom battled for second ahead of Cindric and Hemric. Then entering Turn 5, Mayer sent Gibbs in a spin, dropping Gibbs back to sixth as Cindric, Mayer, Haley and Hemric moved up the leaderboard. Soon after, Mayer missed the backstretch chicane and came to a stop before proceeding. By then, Mayer dropped out of the top 10.
In the midst of the late spins and battles, Allmendinger was long gone as he made his way through the frontstretch chicane and cruised his No. 16 Hyperice Chevrolet Camaro across the finish line for the win.
With the victory, Allmendinger captured his sixth road course win, which was the most all-time for an Xfinity competitor. In addition, he captured his fifth victory of the season and his 10th triumph in the Xfinity circuit as he took another step closer in capturing his first NASCAR national touring series championship.
“I knew [the final caution] was coming out,” Allmendinger said on NBC. “It wasn’t gonna go simple like that. That was a fight today. We had to be kind of on defense early, worried about the points. This place was tough to pass. The track was really slick to begin with, obviously with all the rain. [I] Can’t thank all the men and women at Kaulig Racing enough, [team owner] Matt Kaulig, [team president] Chris Rice. This Hyperice Chevy, once it got into the lead, it was stupid fast. The big picture’s the championship, but getting another win, three in a row here at the Roval, that means the world to me…What an awesome day.”
As the cars were approaching the finish line, a multi-car melee struck that involved Gibbs, Josh Williams, Brandon Brown and Ty Dillon.
Cindric, who secured his spot for the Playoffs based on points a week ago at Talladega Superspeedway, finished in second place after leading a race-high 22 laps while Hemric, who won both stages and led 17 laps, made his way up to third place on fresh tires.
“Pretty solid round,” Cindric said. “I feel like today’s a bit of a missed opportunity. I feel like I was able to drive as hard as I wanted to today. I made some mistakes because of it, but learned some things. [I] Thought we were gonna be a bit better today, but it should set us up for Texas. I know we put in a fast lap early. Finishing second and good in points. I had fun today.”
Haley, Brandon Jones and Gragson secured their spots for the Round of 8 after finishing fourth, fifth and sixth while Preston Pardus, Snider, Allgaier and Mayer ended up in the top 10 on the track.
“I think me and AJ probably had the best cars there,” Haley said. “His points gap coming into today just allowed him to short-pit and get the lead, and I had to go through traffic through that second stage. I think we had a pretty good LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet. A second-place car. I don’t know. We never really got towards AJ, but awesome day. Locked into the Round of 8.”
“Pretty much, all the road courses this year haven’t been too bad to us,” Jones said. “Lot of time, lot of effort into trying to make something of this. There’s been a lot of additions at road courses, so it’s a big part of our schedule now. Today paid off for us, I think, having a lot of preparation to come into this weekend and have a run like we did. [I] Did exactly what I really needed to do. I know when when we step into a race track, we wanna win. That’s our main goal, but we sat down as a team and said, ‘Hey, we’re gonna make it to the next round.’ It’s all about being smart…All that went perfect.”
“[Today] was alright,” Gragson said. “I didn’t really feel like we had the speed we did here in the rain or the dry in the past. [I] Salvaged a fourth- or fifth-place car. To come home sixth from starting at the back there at the end, we’re just focused on points the whole time. Pretty much, just race the race at 80 percent, 85 percent. There’s a lot at risk, but there’s a lot of reward here at this race track for speed and it’s a big penalty when you go off…Came back, did our job, collected points in all three stages and came home a sixth-place finish. We’ll keep on pushing. On to the next round in the Playoffs.”
In the midst of the late chaos and battles, Harrison Burton coasted his No. 20 Dex Imaging Toyota Supra across the finish line in 15th and secured the eighth and final transfer spot to the Round of 8 over his cousin Jeb Burton, who had his title hopes come to an end.
“Yeah, it was a boring race for us ’cause it was just pins and needles,” Harrison Burton said. “We had two decent first stages where we ran about seventh or eighth or wherever. Then we come into this race, the last stage, and it’s like, ‘OK, just stay wherever [Jeb] is.’ It wasn’t the most fun. I wasn’t able to be aggressive, be like myself, just kind of cruising, so that was boring. Glad it worked out. Now we can go and we’ll go win and get into Phoenix. That’s all that matters is getting to Phoenix with a chance. These next three races, [we] might have to win one. These are all great tracks for us, so I’m excited to go try.”
“I made a couple of mistakes,” Jeb Burton said. “I got in the wall and I was side by side with Harrison. Luckily, it didn’t end our day, but I just need some more laps here. I hadn’t raced here before. I was getting better and better. [I] Appreciate Kaulig [Racing] and everything they’re doing for me. Congrats to AJ. He helped me a lot. Just needed a little bit more.”
AJ Allmendinger, Austin Cindric, Daniel Hemric, Justin Allgaier, Noah Gragson, Justin Haley, Brandon Jones and Harrison Burton have transferred into the Round of 8 in the Playoffs. Jeb Burton, Myatt Snider, Riley Herbst and Jeremy Clements have been eliminated from title contention.
“I made a rookie mistake there,” Snider said. “I pulled out too soon on the restart, knowing there were a couple of slow cars in front of me. I was just trying to get all I could and misunderstood the rule that I follow. That’s on me. [Crew chief] Andy Street made a great call to get us tires there at the end, help us get back up there to eighth and get ourselves a fight for it, but finished eighth and we’re still 15 points out, we’re gonna need a lot more than that. Really proud of everybody on the TaxSlayer crew for slaying it. That’s what I gotta learn for next year’s ride. It’s just to not make those rookie mistakes…Something to build on.”
“We just got in a wreck the first [Playoff] race we couldn’t avoid, broke a rocker arm at Talladega, lost a cylinder and rode around, and battled hard here today with our pink All South Electric Chevrolet,” Clements said. “We weren’t as fast as Xfinity internet this round, but we’re gonna keep digging deep and give it all we got. We got four more races to learn and try to get better for next year. I’m proud of our effort. This is how we should’ve ran the last two races, so it is what it is. We were dealt the cards we had and we were in a big whole, but just proud of our group. I’m proud we made the Playoffs and we’re gonna keep trying to get faster.”
There were six lead changes for five different leaders. The race featured seven cautions for 13 laps.
1. AJ Allmendinger, 21 laps led
2. Austin Cindric, 22 laps led
3. Daniel Hemric, 17 laps led, Stage 1 & 2 winner
4. Justin Haley
5. Brandon Jones
6. Noah Gragson, one lap led
7. Preston Pardus
8. Myatt Snider
9. Justin Allgaier
10. Sam Mayer
11. Josh Williams
12. Jeremy Clements
13. Jeb Burton
14. Alex Labbe
15. Harrison Burton
16. Jade Buford
17. Landon Cassill
18. Austin Hill
19. JJ Yeley
20. Jeffrey Earnhardt
21. Ty Gibbs, seven laps led
22. Brandon Brown
23. Kyle Weatherman
24. Stefan Parsons
25. Sage Karam
26. Ty Dillon
27. Michael Annett
28. Joe Graf Jr., one lap down
29. Will Rodgers, one lap down
30. Matt Mills, one lap down
31. Spencer Boyd, one lap down
32. Ryan Sieg, two laps down
33. Tommy Joe Martins – OUT, Accident
34. Riley Herbst – OUT, Suspension
35. Loris Hezemans – OUT, Electrical
36. Ryan Vargas – OUT, Axle
37. Brett Moffitt – OUT, Accident
38. Josh Bilicki – OUT, Accident
39. Kris Wright – OUT, Suspension
40. Gray Gaulding – OUT, Rear gear
Bold indicates Playoff contenders.
1. AJ Allmendinger – Advanced
2. Austin Cindric – Advanced
3. Justin Allgaier – Advanced
4. Noah Gragson – Advanced
5. Daniel Hemric – Advanced
6. Justin Haley – Advanced
7. Harrison Burton – Advanced
8. Brandon Jones – Advanced
9. Jeb Burton – Eliminated
10. Myatt Snider – Eliminated
11. Riley Herbst – Eliminated
12. Jeremy Clements – Eliminated
The Round of 8 in the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs will commence next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway for a 300-mile feature. The event will occur on Saturday, October 16, at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.