Allmendinger grabs a dominant Xfinity victory at COTA

After finishing in the top 10 through the first six scheduled NASCAR Xfinity Series events, AJ Allmendinger broke through the win column for the first time in 2022 after claiming a dominant victory in the Pit Boss 250 at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, March 26.

The 40-year-old veteran from Los Gatos, California, led for the first time on the fourth lap and went on to lead twice for a race-high 27 of 46-scheduled laps, including the final 14, to muscle away from rookie Austin Hill and the field to become the fifth different winner of this year’s Xfinity Series season and the fourth Xfinity regular through the first six scheduled events.

With on-track qualifying occurring on Friday, Ty Gibbs, winner of last weekend’s Xfinity event at Atlanta Motor Speedway, started on pole position after posting a pole-winning lap at 91.258 mph. Joining him on the front row was Ross Chastain, who was piloting the No. 92 TicketSmarter Chevrolet Camaro for DGM Racing.

Prior to the event, Brett Moffitt, Landon Cassill, Brandon Jones, Will Rodgers, Ryan Sieg, Josh Bilicki, JJ Yeley and Brandon Brown dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments to their respective machines.

When the green flag waved and the race started, Gibbs launched ahead briefly until Chastain assumed the top spot entering a series of left and right-hand turns (Turns 3 through Turn 10) while the field scrambled and fanned out behind. In the midst of the early racing, driver Patrick Gallagher was penalized for a restart violation. 

Through the 3.41-mile, 20-turn circuit, Chastain led the first lap ahead of Gibbs while AJ Allmendinger, Cole Custer and Alex Labbe were in the top five. Rookie Sheldon Creed was in sixth ahead of Justin Allgaier, Noah Gragson, Bubba Wallace and Daniel Hemric. Behind, teammates Josh Berry and Miguel Paludo made contact in Turn 14, which resulted with Paludo spinning with Sage Karam and Berry sustaining front nose damage to his No. 8 PUGB Mobile Chevrolet Camaro.

By the second lap, Chastain was ahead by nearly a second over Gibbs follows by Allmendinger, Custer and Labbe. Meanwhile, Stefan Parsons spun in Turn 6, but proceeded as the race remained under green.

On the third lap, Allmendinger overtook Gibbs and Chastain through Turns 13 and 14 to assume the lead for the first time. Not long after, trouble ensued in Turn 12 when Justin Allgaier spun following contact with teammate Gragson.

Through the first five scheduled laps, Allmendinger was leading by nearly half a second over Gibbs followed by Chastain, Custer and Labbe while Creed, Wallace, Hemric, rookie Austin Hill and Gragson were in the top 10. Sam Mayer was in 11th ahead of Jade Buford, Preston Padres, Parker Kligerman and Allgaier while Jeb Burton, Anthony Alfredo, Parker Chase, Myatt Snider and Jeremy Clements were in the top 20. Brandon Jones was in 21st, Riley Herbst was in 23rd ahead of Landon Cassill and Brett Moffitt. Following his early incident, Miguel Paludo was in 32nd ahead of Brandon Brown while Josh Berry was mired in 38th, dead last.

A few laps later, an early battle for the lead ensued as Gibbs pressured Allmendinger to take the lead while Chastain and Custer settled in third and fourth. By the seventh lap, Gibbs rocketed his No. 54 Interstate Batteries Toyota Supra to the lead in Turn 1, but Allmendinger was quick to reassume the lead in his No. 16 Nutrien Ag Solutions Chevrolet Camaro while Chastain and Custer started to gain ground on the two leaders.

By Lap 10, Allmendinger continued to lead by nearly nine-tenths of a second over Gibbs while third-place Custer trailed by more than a second. Chastain trailed in fourth place by four seconds while Labbe and Wallace trailed by more than 10 seconds.

A few laps later and with pit stops under green flag ensuing, Gibbs pitted along with Custer and Chastain while Allmendinger remained on the track and retained the lead. By then, Wallace, Hill, Mayer, Brandon Jones, Cassill, Jeb Burton and Creed had pitted.

When the first stage concluded on Lap 14, Allmendinger collected his second stage victory of the season. Labbe was scored in second ahead of Hemric, Kligerman, Allgaier, Preston Padres, Jade Buford, Parker Chase, Clements and Gibbs. By then, NASCAR reported possible fluid in Turn 12 that was coming off of Bayley Currey’s car.

Under the stage break, a majority of the field led by Allmendinger pitted while the rest led by Gibbs remained on the track.

The second stage started on Lap 17. At the start, Chastain battled and bumped Gibbs through the first turn, forcing Gibbs wide, to take the lead followed by Sam Mayer and Bubba Wallace while Gibbs fell back to fourth ahead of Custer. 

When the field returned to the start/finish line, Chastain was out in front by nearly a second over Wallace while Gibbs and Custer battled for third. Mayer, who was running towards the front, slipped back to fifth place after missing a gear ahead of teammate Gragson, Hill, Jeb Burton, Creed and Cassill while Allmendinger was in 11th. 

Through the first 20 laps of the event, Chastain continued to lead by more than two seconds over Wallace follows by Custer, Mayer and Gragson. Allmendinger was up in sixth followed by Creed, Hill, Cassill and Hemric while Jeb Burton, Labbe, Brandon Jones, Allgaier, Buford, Kligerman, Brett Moffitt, Anthony Alfredo, Brandon Brown and Clements were in the top 20. By then, Gibbs, who had fallen back to sixth place, pitted under green due to a flat right-front tire and a broken valve stem on his No. 54 Toyota. Paludo was in 21st, Berry was in 25th, Herbst was mired in 27th and Snider was in 29th behind Ryan Sieg.

At the halfway mark on Lap 23, Chastain was leading by more than three seconds over Custer while Wallace trailed in third place by more than four seconds. Mayer was back in fourth ahead of Allmendinger while Gragson, Hill, Creed, Hemric and Labbe were in the top 10. Way behind the leaders, Karam spun in Turns 15 and 16.

Nearing the Lap 30 mark, another round of pit stops under green struck as Allmendinger pitted along with Wallace, Hill, Hemric, Labbe, Jeb Burton, Cassill, Brandon Jones, Clements, Kligerman, Paludo, Preston Pardus, Parker Chase, Sieg, Parsons, Snider, Alfredo, Brown, Gibbs and Creed while Chastain continued to lead ahead of Custer. By then, Gragson and Josh Bilicki also pitted while Patrick Gallagher spun in Turn 9. Not long after, Chastain pitted along with Custer while Sam Mayer cycled into the lead. Following the pit stops, Preston Pardus, Parker Chase and Custer were penalized for speeding on pit road.

When the second stage concluded on Lap 30, Mayer captured his first stage victory of this year’s Xfinity season. Buford settled in second followed by Allgaier, Berry, Herbst, Custer, Sage Karam, Chastain, Allmendinger, Gragson and Scott Heckert.

Under the stage break, some led by Mayer pitted while the rest led by Chastain remained on the track. During the pit stops, Wallace pitted again to address a shifter issue to his No. 18 Dr. Pepper Toyota Supra.

With 14 laps remaining, the final stage started. At the start, Chastain squeaked ahead entering the first turn, but Allmendinger was able to keep his car alongside Chastain’s before Allmendinger moved into the lead entering a series of left and right-hand turns (Turns 3 through Turn 10). As the field scrambled and fanned out behind, Chastain and Allmendinger battled hard for the lead entering Turn 12 while Gragson started to close in on the two leaders. 

Not long after, however, the caution returned due to debris reported in Turn 9. In addition, Berry and Josh Bilicki spun in Turn 20. 

Down to the final 11 laps of the event, the race proceeded under green. At the start and going up the include prior to the first turn, Allmendinger retained the lead while Gragson muscled his No. 9 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Camaro alongside Chastain in a brief battle for second before the latter prevailed. 

Through the series of turns from Turns 3 to 10, the left-hand turn in Turn 11 and the long straightaway prior to Turn 12, Allmendinger continued to lead ahead of Chastain. Behind, Austin Hill overtook Gragson for third place in Turn 16 as Allmendinger continued to lead through a series of turns from Turn 17 to 20 and back to the start/finish line with 10 laps remaining. 

Then with nine laps remaining, the caution flew due to debris on the backstretch. By then, Brandon Jones sustained right-rear damage to his No. 19 Menards Toyota Supra while Stefan Parsons also sustained damage to the right side of his car. Under caution, some like Gibbs, Hemric and Wallace pitted while the rest led by Allmendinger remained on the track.

With six laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, Allmendinger maintained the lead following a push by Austin Hill while Chastain got bumped and turned by Cassill in Turn 1. With the field scattering to avoid Chastain, Allmendinger was clear out in front followed by Hill, Gragson, Clements, Jeb Burton and Custer.

When the field returned to the start/finish line for the final five laps, Allmendinger continued to lead by more than a second over Hill while Clements challenged Gragson for third place. Jeb Burton settled in fifth ahead of Custer, Mayer, Ryan Sieg, Snider and Buford. Chastain, meanwhile, was all the way back in 31st place.

Then with three laps remaining, both Jeb Burton and Clements were penalized for having their respective cars running off the course with all four tires near the esses. With both Burton and Clements having to drive through pit road to serve their penalty, Allmendinger continued to lead by a stable margin over Hill while Custer moved up to third place followed by Gragson and Snider.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Allmendinger remained in the lead by nearly three seconds over Hill and more than 10 seconds over Custer. With no close competition lurking behind, Allmendinger was able to smoothly navigate his No. 16 Chevrolet through the 20-turn circuit for a final time as he made his way through the final straightaway and streaked across the finish line to claim his first checkered flag of the 2022 season.

With his first victory at Circuit of the Americas, Allmendinger notched his seventh win on a road course and his 11th overall in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. In addition, he recorded the first victory of the season for Kaulig Racing.

“Man, I was hard on myself yesterday,” Allmendinger said on FS1. “I was not happy with where I put ourselves, the setup that I made for us. This Nutrien Ag Chevy was really good. It was hard to drive. I had to drive it a certain way. Honestly, it’s all these men and women here at Kaulig Racing between the Cup side of it and the Xfinity side to it. They don’t sleep during the week. They’re busting their tails and that’s why I’m so frickin hard on myself sometimes ‘cause they deserve to win more than anybody here, and I just wanna do it for them. So thankfully, we got one done today.”

Austin Hill finished in second place for the second consecutive week followed by Cole Custer while teammates Gragson and Mayer finished in the top five. 

“All in all, it was a solid effort for our Global [Industrial] Chevy Camaro,” Hill said. “[Crew chief] Andy [Street] and all the guys at the shop, they did a heck of a job building this piece and bringing it here. I’ve always felt like I could get around road courses. I felt like I proved it last year in the Trucks [Series], winning at Watkins Glen. It just kind of built the confidence, the momentum going forward to this year when we come to road courses that we could get the job done. I guess AJ was just a little bit better than I was ‘cause I felt like we had a really good car. There was certain spots that I thought he was a little better than us, but it just shows that we can run with AJ. Maybe just make the car a little bit better and I think personally as a driver, I need to work on a few things ‘cause he was just doing some things a little bit better than I was inside the cockpit, so we’ll go back, debrief and look it over and just see where I can be better as a driver on these road courses…We’ll go get the job done next time.”

With their top-five results, Allmendinger, Hill, Gragson and Mayer have qualified for the first Dash 4 Cash event at Richmond Raceway scheduled for next Saturday.

Myatt Snider, Brett Moffitt, Jade Buford, Miguel Paludo and Sheldon Creed finished in the top 10. Notably, Ty Gibbs finished 15th, Chastain settled in 17th following his late spin, Jeb Burton and Clements fell back to 23rd and 24th, Hemric ended up 25th ahead of Herbst and Berry, Wallace came home in 28th and Allgaier finished 33rd.

There were eight lead changes for five different leaders. The race featured four cautions for eight laps. In addition, 35 of the 38 starters finished on the lead lap.

With his top-five result, Noah Gragson continues to lead the regular season standings by a single point over AJ Allmendinger, 31 over Ty Gibbs, 68 over Justin Allgaier and 77 over Josh Berry.

Results.

1. AJ Allmendinger, 27 laps led, Stage 1 winner

2. Austin Hill

3. Cole Custer

4. Noah Gragson

5. Sam Mayer, three laps led, Stage 2 winner

6. Myatt Snider

7. Brett Moffitt

8. Jade Buford

9. Miguel Paludo

10. Sheldon Creed

11. Ryan Sieg

12. Parker Kligerman

13. Anthony Alfredo

14. Preston Pardus

15. Ty Gibbs, one lap led

16. Sage Karam

17. Ross Chastain, 14 laps led

18. Brandon Jones

19. Parker Chase

20. Brandon Brown

21. Stefan Parsons

22. Patrick Gallagher

23. Jeb Burton

24. Jeremy Clements

25. Daniel Hemric

26. Riley Herbst

27. Josh Berry

28. Bubba Wallace

29. JJ Yeley

30. Ryan Vargas

31. Landon Cassill

32. Scott Heckert

33. Justin Allgaier, one lap led

34. Joe Graf Jr.

35. Josh Bilicki

36. Alex Labbe – OUT, Rear gear

37. Will Rodgers, 12 laps down

38. Bayley Currey – OUT, Engine

Next on the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule is the series’ lone annual visit of this season to Richmond Raceway, where the first of four Dash 4 Cash events will occur. The event is scheduled to occur on Saturday, April 2, at 1:30 p.m. ET on FS1.



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.

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