Allmendinger dominates for back-to-back Xfinity Series victories at COTA

AJ Allmendinger was not to be denied in his first NASCAR Xfinity Series start of the season after he capped off a dominant run with a victory in the third annual running of the Pit Boss 250 at Circuit of The Americas on Saturday, March 25.

The 41-year-old Allmendinger from Los Gatos, California, led two times for a race-high 28 of 46-scheduled laps, including the final 14, on a day where he commenced by dominating the event’s early stages. Despite falling back towards the midfield after pitting at the start of the second stage, the Californian managed to methodically navigate his way back to the front amid a series of late caution periods. Then under the final stage with 14 laps remaining, Allmendinger made contact with Sheldon Creed to reassume the lead. From there, he fended off a late attack from William Byron to defend his winning title in Austin.

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Friday, AJ Allmendinger, the reigning Xfinity winner at COTA of the Americas, secured the pole position for the main event after posting a pole-winning lap at 92.173 mph in 133.184 seconds. Joining him on the front row was rookie Sammy Smith, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 91.827 mph in 133.686 seconds.

Prior to the event, a host of names that included Justin Allgaier, Cole Custer, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Sage Karam, Alex Labbe, rookie Chandler Smith, Kaz Grala, Bret Moffitt, Anthony Alfredo, Joe Graf Jr., Kyle Weatherman, Brennan Poole and Kyle Sieg dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to their respective cars.

When the green flag waved and the race commenced, the field fanned out through the uphill climb to the first turn as Sammy Smith and Sheldon Creed launched ahead to Allmendinger’s outside with the lead while Ty Gibbs tried to sneak his way beneath Allmendinger’s No. 10 Celsius Chevrolet Camaro. Then entering the series of right and left turns from Turns 2 to 10, Creed cleared Sammy Smith and assumed the lead in his No. 2 Whelen Chevrolet Camaro with Allmendinger and Gibbs moving back up to second and third.

After tracking Creed for the following four turns, Allmendinger made his move beneath Creed entering Turn 15 and re-assumed the lead. From there, Allmendinger navigated his way through the final series of turns from Turns 15 to 20 as he returned to the frontstretch and led the first lap. Meanwhile, Aric Almirola plummeted in the leaderboard after spinning his No. 08 Rush Truck Centers Ford Mustang in Turn 12 while the field remained under green flag conditions.

Through the second lap, Allmendinger was leading by more than two seconds over Creed followed by Gibbs, Sammy Smith and Austin Hill while John Hunter Nemechek, Parker Kligerman, William Byron, Daniel Hemric and Riley Herbst were running in the top 10. Behind, Jeb Burton was in 11th ahead of Miguel Paludo, Sam Mayer, Carson Hocevar and Connor Mosack while Jeremy Clements, Josh Bilicki, Cole Custer, Justin Allgaier and Alex Labbe occupied the top 20 in front of Josh Berry and Brandon Jones.

By the fifth lap, Allmendinger extended his advantage to more than three seconds over Gibbs while Creed dropped back to third and trailed by more than five seconds. Sammy Smith and Hill were running in the top five in front of Kligerman and Byron while Nemechek fell back to eighth. By then, all 38 starters were scored on the lead lap. With Brad Perez spinning in Turn 8, the event remained under green flag conditions.

Two laps later, the first caution of the event flew when Carson Hocevar, who was making his Xfinity Series debut for SS-Green Light Racing, came to a stop in Turn 1. By then, names like Ryan Sieg and Sage Karam were assessed pass-through penalties for cutting the esses. During the caution period, names like the leader Allmendinger, Kligerman, Herbst, Brandon Jones, Jeremy Clements, Chandler Smith and Kaz Grala remained on the track while the rest of the lead lap competitors pitted, with Berry pitting for repairs to the front nose after receiving damage from hitting Byron at the start of the event.

When the event restarted under green on the ninth lap, Allmendinger jumped ahead with a strong start and pulled away from Kligerman while the field fanned out entering the first turn and the series of right and left turns. Through the series of turns, Allmendinger retained the lead in front of Kligerman as Riley Herbst maintained third in front of Jones with the field jostling for positions.

At the Lap 10 mark and with a series of on-track battles ensuing, Allmendinger was leading by more than a second over Kligerman followed by Herbst, Creed and Jones while Chandler Smith, Clements, Gibbs, Grala and Allgaier were in the top 10, with 35 of 38 starters scored on the lead lap.

At the conclusion of the first stage on Lap 14, Allmendinger captured the stage victory while Creed, Kligerman, Gibbs, Byron, Herbst, Justin Allgaier, Brandon Jones, Sammy Smith and Sam Mayer were scored in the top 10. Compared to the first five events on the schedule, the caution flag did not display and the competitors proceeded under green as part of NASCAR’s new rules for this season, which highlighted that no caution periods would be mandated at the conclusion of stage breaks on road course venues that hold Cup Series events.

With the second stage proceeding, green flag pit stops ensued as Chandler Smith pitted followed by Hill. Allmendinger would then surrender the lead near the Lap 15 mark to pit as Creed cycled to the lead. By then, additional names like Herbst, Brandon Jones, Kaz Grala and Kyle Weatherman pitted along with the rest of the field.

On Lap 16, the second caution of the event flew when Preston Pardus came to a stop in Turn 1. By then, Austin Hill, winner of three of the first five-scheduled events, took his car to the garage due to an apparent shifter issue while the front-runners remained on the track.

During the following restart on Lap 19, Creed pulled ahead of Byron and the field to maintain the lead as the field tried to navigate through the first turn. Through Turn 1, carnage ensued as Almirola and Preston Pardus spun with Allmendinger also involved as he wedged Berry into Almirola and slammed the brakes while Almirola spun in front of him. As the event remained under green, Creed retained the lead in front of Allgaier and Byron while Sammy Smith and Cole Custer battled in front of John Hunter Nemechek and Gibbs.

A lap later and with the battles around the track ensuing, the caution returned due to debris in Turns 13 and 14 when Brandon Jones lost and shredded a left-front tire to his No. 9 Menards Chevrolet Camaro. During the caution period, the entire field led by Creed remained on the track for a second time.

On the ensuing restart on Lap 22, Creed battled and maintained the lead over Byron entering the first turn. As the field navigated through the first turn and the 20-turn road course, Allmendinger and Berry made contact through the esses while Herbst spun in Turn 8. Back at the front, Byron made his move to assume the lead from Creed in Turn 19, but Creed fought back with a crossover move as he reassumed the lead entering Turn 20 and back to the frontstretch. Byron, however, managed to draw himself with Creed entering the first turn and pull ahead through the fifth turn as he assumed the lead while Custer tried to close in.

By Lap 27, the caution returned when Brett Moffitt came to a stop in Turn 1. During the caution period, names that included Kligerman, Almirola, Ryan Sieg, Jeb Burton and Berry remained on the track while the rest led by Byron pitted.

As the field restarted under green on Lap 29, Kligerman and Almirola dueled for the lead through the uphill climb to the first turn. Then exiting the first turn, Kligerman briefly fell off the pace Ryan Sieg rocketed past Kligerman and Almirola entering the second turn to assume the lead followed by Creed. In the midst of the battles, Cole Custer spun in Turn 4 with help from Berry and got his No. 00 Haas Ford Mustang stuck in the gravel trap. With the event remaining under green as the battles ensued, the caution then fell with Custer unable to pull his car out of the gravel trap. By then, Mayer spun while running in the middle of the pack in Turn 11. This concluded the second stage break scheduled on Lap 30 as Creed captured the stage victory while Ryan Sieg, Nemechek, Almirola, Berry, Allmendinger, Byron, Ty Gibbs, Sammy Smith and Jeb Burton were scored in the top 10.

During the caution period, names like Ryan Sieg, Kligerman and Custer pitted while the rest led by Creed remained on the track.

With 14 laps remaining, the final stage proceeded under green. At the start, the field fanned out to multiple lanes as Creed battled and fended off Nemechek to retain the lead through the first turn and entering the series of turns. Behind, however, Allmendinger carved his way back into the runner-up spot as he set his sights on Creed for the lead while Nemechek, Byron, Almirola, Berry and Sammy Smith trailed in the top seven.

Then in Turn 15, Allmendinger ignited his charge for the lead on Creed as he tried to bump and move Creed through the following turns. Entering Turn 19, however, Creed and Allmendinger made contact as Creed slipped sideways before spinning. This allowed Allmendinger to move back into the lead followed by a hard-charging Byron and Nemechek through the frontstretch while Creed, who was in contention for his first Xfinity career victory, plummeted in the leaderboard.

During the following lap, the battle for the lead ignited as Byron tried to navigate his way around Allmendinger for the top spot in Turn 1. The latter, however, managed to maintain his ground and keep Byron’s No. 17 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro behind through Turn 2 and the following turns while a trio of Joe Gibbs Racing competitors that included Nemechek, Sammy Smith and Ty Gibbs were running in the top five.

Down to the final 10 laps, Allmendinger continued to lead by three-tenths of a second over Byron followed by Sammy Smith, Nemechek and Gibbs while Allgaier, Berry, Almirola, Hemric and Jeb Burton were in the top 10. By then, 31 of 38 starters were scored on the lead lap. Not long after, however, Almirola spun while running in the top 10, but the event remained under green as Allmendinger retained the lead ahead of Byron.

With five laps remaining, Allmendinger extended his advantage to more than a second over Byron while teammates Ty Gibbs and Sammy Smith, both of whom were trailing the lead by more than 10 seconds, battled for third. Behind, Nemechek fell back to fifth in front of a hard-charging Allgaier while Hemric, Berry, Mayer and Jeb Burton occupied the top 10. Meanwhile, Creed rallied his way back to 11th despite trailing the lead by more than 26 seconds.

A lap later, Nemechek got punted by Hemric with four laps remaining, but the event remained under green while Allmendinger maintained a decent advantage over Byron.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Allmendinger remained as the leader by four-tenths of a second over Byron, who kept Allmendinger within his sights and was preparing for a final launch attack on the leader for the victory. By then, Nemechek made an unscheduled pit stop to address a flat left-rear tire. Through Turn 1 and the series of turns from Turns 2 to 10, Byron tried to close, but he briefly stepped out of the gas as Allmendinger placed a reasonable gap between himself and his challenger. Following the long straightaway in between Turns 11 and 12 before entering the final series of turns from Turns 12 to 20, Allmendinger did not miss a beat and managed to keep Byron in his rearview mirror as he cycled back to the frontstretch and claimed the checkered flag by eight-tenths of a second over Byron.

With the victory, Allmendinger, who is scheduled to make five Xfinity starts this season to go along with his full-time Cup Series campaign with Kaulig, became the first repeat winner at Circuit of the Americas in the Xfinity Series as he notched his 16th career win in the series, 11 of which have come on road course events. The victory was also the first of the season and 20th overall in the series for Kaulig Racing as Kaulig’s No. 10 entry returned to Victory Lane since Jeb Burton piloted the car number to a victory at Talladega Superspeedway in 2021.

“Well, William Byron might be one of the best ones in the sport right now,” Allmendinger said on FS1. “We’ve seen all the Cup races he’s winning. I knew it was gonna be tough, just trying to fight to get back up to the front there. [I] Hate we had contact with Sheldon [Creed]. I got under him. I was there, I felt like. He turned, I was trying to stay off him, so I hate that happened. So proud of everybody at Kaulig Racing. The Celsius Chevy was really hooked up. With all the damage we had, it definitely hurt the car. Man, I’m out of breath. I’m too old for this.”

“I spent a lot of years not winning anything,” Allmendinger added. “I’m gonna celebrate every [win] like it’s my last one. You never know. As much pressure that I put on myself, I’m always gonna try to live up to it. We fought hard. This was such a team effort. Pit crew was awesome. Just so proud of everybody. I’m just so lucky to be a part of this Kaulig Racing team.”

Byron, who made his lone Xfinity start of the season in Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 17 “all-star” entry, settled in second place for the third time in his Xfinity career while Ty Gibbs finished third in his first Xfinity start of the season in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 19 “all-star” entry as Cup Series regulars swept the podium spots.

“I just messed that esses up,” Byron, who will start on pole position for Sunday’s Cup Series event in Austin, said. “I was getting one final run at [Allmendinger]. Obviously, they were really good all day. Just great at these road courses and [I] still have just a little bit to gain and minimize some mistakes. Overall, [I] just got through the esses there. I didn’t want to get off and screw up second place, so I slowed way down to keep it within the track. Thanks to HendrickCars.com, Chevrolet. It was a great effort. Just need to clean it up in these cars. Just need to do a better job there, but I had a lot of fun racing them. Couple times, I probably had a shot and just needed to do a little better job. Part of it and hopefully, we’ll get’em tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, rookie Sammy Smith was the highest-finishing Xfinity regular notching fourth place while Allgaier finished fifth. Both along with sixth-place finisher Daniel Hemric and seventh-place finisher Sam Mayer have qualified for the first round of the Dash 4 Cash initiative that will occur next Saturday at Richmond Raceway.

Berry settled in eighth followed by Creed, who made a miraculous comeback from his late spin, while Herbst completed the top 10 on the track. By then, 31 of 38 starters finished on the lead lap.

There were six lead changes for four different leaders. The race featured five cautions for seven laps.

Following the sixth event of the 2023 Xfinity Series season, Austin Hill leads the regular-season standings by 15 over Riley Herbst, 29 over John Hunter Nemechek, 49 over Justin Allgaier and 53 over Chandler Smith.

Results.

1. AJ Allmendinger, 28 laps led, Stage 1 winner

2. William Byron, one lap led

3. Ty Gibbs

4. Sammy Smith

5. Justin Allgaier

6. Daniel Hemric

7. Sam Mayer

8. Josh Berry

9. Sheldon Creed, 16 laps led, Stage 2 winner

10. Riley Herbst

11. Brandon Jones

12. Chandler Smith

13. Miguel Paludo

14. Jeremy Clements

15. Alex Labbe

16. Anthony Alfredo

17. Parker Retzlaff

18. Kaz Grala

19. Connor Mosack

20. Ryan Ellis

21. Jeb Burton

22. Kyle Weatherman

23. Ryan Sieg

24. Aric Almirola

25. Jeffrey Earnhardt

26. Kyle Sieg

27. John Hunter Nemechek

28. Josh Bilicki

29. Brad Perez

30. Joe Graf Jr.

31. Parker Kligerman, one lap led

32. Cole Custer, one lap down

33. Brennan Poole – OUT, Steering

34. Brett Moffitt – OUT, Engine

35. Sage Karam – OUT, Engine

36. Preston Pardus – OUT, Suspension

37. Austin Hill – OUT, Engine

38. Carson Hocevar – OUT, Transmission

Next on the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule is the series’ lone visit of this season to Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Virginia, where the first of four Dash 4 Cash events will occur. The event is scheduled to occur next Saturday, April 1, at 1 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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