AJ Allmendinger saved his absolute best for the last and kept his championship hopes for this season alive after beating Sam Mayer in a photo finish to win the Sparks 300 at Talladega Superspeedway on Saturday, October 1.
The 40-year-old Allmendinger from Los Gatos, California, led three times for a total of three of 113-scheduled laps. Prior to the finish, he was running in second place behind pole-sitter Austin Hill under the final 10 laps. Following a shuffle amongst the front-runners, he made his way to the front of the field with two laps remaining before being overtaken by Sam Mayer prior to the final lap as he was shuffled back to third. Allmendinger then overtook Sieg through the backstretch and tucked in behind Mayer for the following two turns until he seized an opportunity entering the frontstretch to pull a slingshot move on Mayer with drafting help from teammate Landon Cassill. From there, Allmendinger was able to surge ahead and edge Mayer by a nose to claim his fourth checkered flag of the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series and a spot to the Playoff’s Round of 8.
With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Friday, Playoff contender Austin Hill claimed his first career pole position after posting a pole-winning lap at 182.036 mph in 52.605 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Playoff contender Ty Gibbs, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 181.981 mph in 52.621 seconds.
Prior to the event, names like Jesse Iwuji, Caesar Bacarella, Jeremy Clements, BJ McLeod, Mason Massey and Noah Gragson dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments to their respective cars. Joey Gase also dropped to the rear of the field due to an engine change along with Bayley Currey, Timmy Hill and Howie Disavino III, all of whom missed driver introductions.
When the green flag waved and the race started, Hill battled Allmendinger dead even for the lead, but managed to retain the top spot and pull away from the field entering Turns 3 and 4 as he proceeded to lead the first lap with drafting help from teammate Sheldon Creed.
During the third lap, the first caution of the event flew when Ty Gibbs got bumped off the front nose of Justin Allgaier’s No. 7 BRANDT Chevrolet Camaro as his No. 54 Sport Clips Toyota Supra slipped sideways before spinning across the backstretch. Despite making light contact with the outside wall, Gibbs managed to continue as he was dodged by the field. Under the caution period, names like Gragson, Sam Mayer, Ryan Vargas, Clements and Caesar Bacarella pitted while the rest led by Hill remained on the track.
When the race restarted under green on the sixth lap, Hill retained the lead followed by teammate Creed, Allgaier, Brandon Jones and the field. Not long after, Allgaier launched a bid for the lead on the outside lane before rocketing to the top on the eighth lap. By then, he had drafting help from AJ Allmendinger and a number of competitors running on the outside lane while Hill attempted to fight back on the inside lane.
Through the first 10 scheduled laps, Allgaier was leading ahead of Allmendinger, Hill, Daniel Hemric and Trevor Bayne while the field behind fanned out to three tight-packed lanes.
By Lap 15, Hill, who reassumed the lead a lap prior, was out in front followed by teammate Creed and Bayne while Anthony Alfredo, Myatt Snider, Brandon Jones, Allmendinger, Gragson, Riley Herbst and Hemric were in the top 10. In addition, 10 of the 12 Playoff contenders were running within the top 20 with Sam Mayer running in 21st and Jeremy Clements mired back in 25th.
Nearing the first stage’s conclusion on Lap 20, Hill continued to lead as he was out in front of a long line of competitors running towards the outside lane. Creed settled in second followed by Alfredo, Allmendinger, Hemric, Allgaier, Brandon Brown, JJ Yeley, Brandon Jones and Ryan Sieg while Bayne, Snider, Derek Griffith, Gibbs, Gragson, Jeb Burton, Parker Kligerman, Herbst, Berry and Mayer were in the top 20.
Then with two laps remaining in the first stage, a number of competitors led by Allmendinger dipped to the bottom lane in an attempt to overthrow Hill, but Hill also moved below the bottom lane as he retained the lead.
When the first stage concluded on Lap 25, Hill captured his second stage victory of the 2022 season. Teammate Creed settled in second followed by Hemric, Brandon Jones, Bayne, Allmendinger, Allgaier, Gibbs, Brown and Mayer. By then, seven of 12 Playoff contenders were scored in the top 10 while Herbst, Ryan Sieg, Josh Berry, Gragson and Clements were running within the top 22.
Under the stage break, some led by Hill pitted while others that included Currey, Timmy Hill, Howie Disavino III, Joey Gase, Ryan Vargas, David Starr, Joe Graaf Jr., Iwuji, McLod and Caesar Bacarella remained on the track. All the competitors who remained on the track under caution eventually pitted prior to the restart, giving Hill back the lead.
The second stage started on Lap 30 as Hill and Bayne occupied the front row. At the start, Hill retained the lead on the inside lane before Bayne assumed the top spot on the outside lane with drafting help from teammate Brandon Jones, Mayer and a bevy of competitors. As Bayne continued to lead on the outside lane, Hill remained as the lead competitor on the inside lane followed by teammate Creed.
Ten laps later, Bayne retained the lead followed by teammate Brandon Jones while Creed emerged as the first competitor on the inside lane while launching his bid for the lead followed by Brown. By then, the field started to fan out to three tight-packed lanes.
Another five laps later, Hill, who made a bold move beneath Bayne through the frontstretch to reassume the lead three laps earlier, was out in front followed by Alfredo and Brown while Bayne, Mayer and Sieg were running three wide while battling for fourth in front of the pack.
When the second stage concluded on Lap 50, Hill, who navigated his way through both lanes while also fending off a late surge from Allgaier, captured his third stage victory of the 2022 season and second of the day. Allgaier settled in second followed by Allmendinger, Bayne, Jeb Burton, Mayer, Brown, Brandon Jones, Sieg and Berry. By then, seven of 12 Playoff were scored in the top 10 while Gibbs, Herbst, Gragson, Hemric and Clements were running in 11th, 12th, 14t, 23rd and 31st, respectively.
Under the stage break, the leaders led by Hill returned to pit road for service while names like Currey, Joey Gaase, Jeffrey Earnhardt, David Starr, Joe Graf Jr., Iwuji, Caesar Bacarella, Disavino, Timmy Hill, Ryan Vargas, McLeod and Mike Harmon remained on the track. All eventually pitted prior to the restart, giving Bayne the lead followed by Mayer, Gragson, Brandon Jones and Gibbs.
With 58 laps remaining, the final stage started. At the start, Bayne and Gragson dueled for the lead before Gragson muscled his way into the lead while Bayne settled in second in front of teammates Brandon Jones and Gibbs. A lap later and with the field fanning out to three tight-packed lanes, Ryan Sieg emerged with the lead followed by a fast-charging Allmendinger and Hill.
With 50 laps remaining, Sieg was the leader of the race and ahead of a long line of competitors running towards the outside wall followed by Allmendinger, Hill, Brandon Jones and Gragson while Gibbs, Herbst, Landon Cassill, Snider and Jeb Burton were in the top 10.
Nearing the final 45 laps of the event, green flag pit stops commenced as teammates Jeb Burton and Anthony Alfredo pitted before another wave of competitors, including Gragson, pitted, mainly for fuel. During the pit stops, Myatt Snider turned across the front nose of Blaine Perkins while trying to enter his pit stall as Snider ended up looping his car backwards inside his pit stall.
With 40 laps remaining, Currey, who was one of 11 competitors who had yet to pit, was leading while Hill, the first competitor who pitted, led a bevy competitors in 12th place as he tried to close in on the lead group.
Eight laps later, Hill reassumed the lead when the rest of the competitors who had yet to pit led by Currey pitted. By then, Hill led a 14-car breakaway at the front followed by Allmendinger, Gragson, Cassill, Mayer, Kligerman, Creed, Sieg, Herbst, Berry, Gibbs, Bayne, Brandon Jones and Hemric. Behind, the next six competitors trailed by more than four seconds with Jeb Burton in 15th ahead of Allgaier, Alfredo, Derek Griffith, Yeley and Brandon Brown. With all but one of 12 Playoff competitors running within the top 20, Clements was the lone Playoff contender running outside of the top 20 in 25th.
With 25 laps remaining, Hill retained the lead ahead of Allmendinger, Gragson, Cassill and Mayer while the top-14 competitors remained four seconds ahead of the 15th-place competitor Jeb Burton. In addition, the top-19 competitors were ahead by nearly 23 seconds over the 20th-place competitor Blaine Perkins.
Five laps later and down to the final 20 laps of the event, Hill continued to lead ahead of Allmendinger, Gragson, Cassill and Mayer while Kligerman, Creed, Sieg, Herbst, Berry, Gibbs, Bayne, Brandon Jones and Hemric remained within the 14-car lead pack.
With 10 laps remaining, Hill remained as the leader ahead of the 14-car lead pack followed by Allmendinger, Gragson, Cassill, Mayer, Kligerman, Creed, Sieg, Herbst, Berry, Gibbs, Bayne, Brandon Jones and Hemric.
Then with six laps remaining, Mayer was the first competitor to fan out and start a second lane followed by Sieg and others as they launched a bid for the lead on Hill, who remained on the inside lane. During the following lap, Gragson made a move on the outside lane before he was blocked by Hill through the frontstretch. This then caused the field to fan out to three lanes as Hill was shoved out of the lead draft while Mayer and Allmendinger moved up and battled dead even for the lead ahead of the pack.
With two laps remaining, Allmendinger was out in front with drafting help from teammate Cassill while Mayer fought back on the outside lane with drafting help from Sieg. Through the backstretch, Mayer gained a strong run as he cleared the field and assume the lead with both lanes to his control. While Snider spun behind the leaders in the backstretch, the race remainder under green flag conditions.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Mayer remained as the leader ahead of Sieg, Allmendinger, Cassill and the pack. He continued to lead through three turns until he started to pull away from the pack. This allowed the pack led by Allmendinger and Sieg to gain a momentum and close back in on Mayer entering the frontstretch. Then, Allmendinger, who had teammate Cassill behind him, made his move to the outside of Mayer. With the momentum on his side, Allmendinger was able to beat Mayer by 0.015 seconds to steal the victory.
As a result, Allmendinger achieved his fourth Xfinity Series victory of the season, the 14th of his career and his first on a superspeedway venue. The victory awarded Allmendinger and his No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet Camaro team a one-way ticket to the Round of 8 in the 2022 Xfinity Series Playoffs, where he joins Noah Gragson as the only competitors to be guaranteed a spot for the next Playoff round. It also marks the seventh Xfinity victory for Kaulig Racing on a superspeedway venue (Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway).
“I still hate [restrictor plate racing]!” Allmendinger exclaimed on USA Network. “Gosh, we’ve been so close to winning one and I feel like I keep giving them away. I’m still learning, trying to know what too big of a lead is, but honestly, all the credit to [teammate] Landon Cassill. He kept shoving me. He stuck with me. That’s what’s great about Kaulig Racing. When you got teammates like Landon and Daniel [Hemric], that you know no matter where you go, they’re gonna go with you. [It] Makes it a little bit easier. [Cassill]’s gonna share [the win] with me, but I wish we could both be the winner because he deserves it more than I do. Man, I just wanted to win a superspeedway [event]. Finally got it.”
Mayer, who came within inches of claiming his first Xfinity career victory, settled in a career-best second place for his 10th top-five finish of the season. With the result, Mayer, who came into Talladega a single point above the top-eight cutline, leaves Talladega with a 13-point advantage above the cutline as he is in seventh place in the Playoff standings.
“This is my first time getting to the end of a speedway race, coming to the checkered [flag],” Mayer said. “It was a good first experience, I guess. [I will] Take a top five [finish] at a place like this any day. Going into today, we were just like get some stage points and hopefully, survive to the end. Obviously, we survived at the end and we did everything right. We were just three feet shy…I’m looking forward to [the Charlotte Roval]. I’m just happy to get through this one, but our Accelerate Chevrolet Camaro probably should be in Victory Lane right now.”
Cassill came home in third place followed by Ryan Sieg and Josh Berry. Kligerman, Gibbs, Hemric, Brandon Jones and Gragson completed the top 10 on the track. Notably, eight of 12 Playoff competitors finished in the top 10 on the track while Herbst, Hill, Allgaier and Clements finished 11th, 14th, 15th and 20th, respectively.
There were 20 lead changes for 11 different leaders. The race featured three cautions for 11 laps. All 38 starters finished the event while 23 finished on the lead lap.
The 2022 Sparks 300 event marks the third and final time the fall Xfinity Talladega event will occur, with the series’ scaling back to competing at Talladega once annually in 2023.
1. AJ Allmendinger, three laps led
2. Sam Mayer, three laps led
3. Landon Cassill
4. Ryan Sieg, 11 laps led
5. Josh Berry
6. Parker Kligerman
7. Ty Gibbs
8. Daniel Hemric
9. Brandon Jones, one lap led
10. Noah Gragson, one lap led
11. Riley Herbst
12. Sheldon Creed, two laps led
13. Trevor Bayne, 13 laps led
14. Austin Hill, 60 laps led, Stage 1 & 2 winner
15. Justin Allgaier, six laps led
16. Anthony Alfredo
17. Jeb Burton
18. JJ Yeley
19. Josh Williams
20. Jeremy Clements
21. Joey Gase
22. Joe Garaf Jr.
23. Derek Griffith
24. Bayley Currey, one lap down, 12 laps led
25. David Starr, one lap down
26. BJ McLeod, one lap down
27. Timmy Hill, one lap down, one lap led
28. Jesse Iwuji, one lap down
29. CJ McLaughlin, one lap down
30. Ryan Vargas, one lap down
31. Caesar Bacarella, one lap down
32. Howie Disavino III, one lap down
33. Brandon Brown, one lap down
34. Mike Harmon, two laps down
35. Myatt Snider, two laps down
36. Blaine Perkins, three laps down
37. Jeffrey Earnhardt, four laps down
38. Mason Massey, 18 laps down
*Bold indicates Playoff contenders
1. Noah Gragson – Advanced
2. AJ Allmendinger – Advanced
3. Ty Gibbs +49
4. Austin Hill +43
5. Josh Berry +27
6. Justin Allgaier +25
7. Sam Mayer +12
8. Ryan Sieg +6
9. Daniel Hemric -6
10. Riley Herbst -10
11. Brandon Jones -10
12. Jeremy Clements -47
The 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs will continue next weekend at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course for a 250-mile feature and where the first round of eliminations will occur. The event is scheduled to occur on Saturday, October 8, at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.