Almirola wins inaugural Xfinity Series event at Sonoma

In a race dominated by Kyle Larson, a late opportunity presented itself for Aric Almirola and it resulted in the Floridian veteran fending off road ringers AJ Allmendinger and Larson to win the inaugural DoorDash 250 at Sonoma Raceway on Saturday, June 10.

The 39-year-old Almirola from Tampa, Florida, led twice for 17 of 79 scheduled laps in a weekend where he was one of eight competitors pulling double-duty roles between the Xfinity and Cup Series divisions in Wine Country. Initially appearing to settle for a top-five result, a late caution period with 19 laps remaining followed by a restart with 15 laps remaining enabled Almirola to carve his way into the lead amid a scramble between Daniel Suarez and Alex Labbe.

In the proceeding laps, however, Almirola found himself being pressured by hometown hero Kyle Larson through every corner and turn. A mistake, however, by Larson, where he clipped a tire barrel in Turn 11 and briefly lost control of his steering with eight laps remaining, allowed Almirola to place a reasonable gap between himself and Larson as Allmendinger joined the battle. With Allmendinger and Larson battling for second, Almirola was able to drive away and retain the lead through the final seven laps as he claimed his first Xfinity checkered flag in six years.

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, Kyle Larson notched his sixth career Xfinity Series pole position after posting a pole-winning lap at 91.393 mph in 78.387 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Justin Allgaier, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 90.562 mph in 79.106 seconds.

Prior to the event, Anthony Alfredo was the only competitor to drop to the rear of the field in a backup car after wrecking his primary car during Friday’s practice session.

When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Larson rocketed away with the lead entering the first two turns. Larson would continue to lead through Turns 3 and 4 while Allgaier was trying to fend off Aric Almirola for second. As the field fanned out and jostled early for positions, Larson would cruise to lead the first lap while Almirola was up in second after overtaking Allgaier entering Turn 8.

During the second lap, Larson stabilized his advantage to a second-and-a-half over Almirola followed by Allgaier, Sheldon Creed and AJ Allmendinger while Ty Gibbs was in sixth after nearly turning Sam Mayer in Turn 7, with Mayer settling suit in seventh. Daniel Hemric was in eighth followed by John Hunter Nemechek and rookie Sammy Smith while Parker Kligerman, Alex Labbe, Austin Hill, Ross Chastain and Brett Moffitt were running in the top 15. Behind, rookie Parker Retzlaff, Daniel Suarez, rookie Chandler Smith, Josh Berry and Kyle Weatherman occupied the top 20.

As the race proceeded through the third lap, Larson extended his advantage to more than two seconds over Almirola while Allmendinger moved up to third. Allgaier, meanwhile, was being challenged by Creed for fourth while Ty Gibbs retained sixth. Larson would continue to lead by more than two seconds over Almirola as the event reached its Lap 5 mark.

Through the first 10 scheduled laps, Larson continued to lead by more than two seconds over Allmendinger while third-place Almirola trailed by more than five seconds. Allgaier and Ty Gibbs were in the top five followed by Hemric while Mayer moved up to seventh after overtaking Creed, who locked up his tires in Turn 7. Kligerman and Nemechek filled out the top 10 on the track while Sammy Smith, Austin Hill, Chastain, Brett Moffitt and Retzlaff were mired in the top 15.

Three laps later, on-track troubles occurred for a pair of RSS Racing competitors as Ryan Sieg spun in Turn 7. At the same time, teammate Joe Graf Jr. spun prior to entering the chute corner between Turns 4 and 7. In spite of both incidents, the race remained under green flag conditions as Larson continued to lead by more than two seconds over Allmendinger.

Then on Lap 18, Chastain bumped and sent Nemechek’s No. 20 Yahoo Toyota Supra for a spin in Turn 11 while both were battling with Austin Hill in the top 15. With Nemechek falling back to 18th and the race remaining under green, Larson stabilized his advantage to more than two seconds over Allmendinger.

At the conclusion of the first stage on Lap 20, Larson captured the stage victory after leading all the laps within the stage. Allmendinger trailed by more than two seconds while Almirola, Allgaier, Ty Gibbs, Hemric, Mayer, Kligerman, Creed and Sammy Smith were scored in the top 10. By then, Riley Herbst and Retzlaff had pitted under green a lap ago.

Not long after, the first caution of the event flew when Josh Berry stalled his No. 8 Tire Pros Chevrolet Camaro in between Turns 7 and 8. Prior to the caution being displayed for Berry’s issue, Nemechek, Hill and Sage Karam pitted.

During the caution period, nearly the entire field led by Larson pitted while the rest that included Hill, Nemechek, Karam and Herbst remained on the track. Following the pit stops and amid the field cycling past Berry’s car that was slowly limping onto pit road, Larson exited first followed by Allmendinger, Allgaier, Ty Gibbs, Mayer and Kligerman. Amid the pit stops, Berry returned to the track in spite of being scored two laps down following early mechanical issues to his car while Retzlaff’s car was being pushed behind the pit wall.

When the race restarted under green on Lap 25, where Hill and Nemechek occupied the front row, Hill and Nemechek dueled for the lead through the first two turns. As the field bumped and jostled for positions through the first two turns before entering Turns 3 and 4, Hill managed to pull ahead with the lead followed by Nemechek and Herbst while Larson carved his way up to fourth in front of Karam and Allmendinger. With the field continuing to fan out and jostle for positions through a series of right- and left-hand turns through Turns 7 to 10 before entering a sharp right-hand turn in Turn 11, Hill retained the lead by four-tenths of a second over a hard-charging Larson while Nemechek, Allmendinger and Herbst were scored in the top five. By then, Ty Gibbs was in sixth while Allgaier, Karam, Kligerman and Creed were scored in the top 10.

A lap later, Larson overtook Hill’s No. 21 Bennett Transportation Chevrolet Camaro entering Turn 7 to reassume the lead while Allmendinger pressured Nemechek for third. Allmendinger would then succeed and overtake Nemechek entering Turn 11 as Ty Gibbs muscled his way into the top five after overtaking Herbst’s No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang in Turn 11.

By Lap 30, Larson was leading by more than two seconds over Allmendinger while Hill fell back to third, though he trailed by more than two seconds. Ty Gibbs moved his No. 19 He Gets Us Toyota Supra into fourth after bumping and overtaking teammate Nemechek in Turn 11 while Allgaier was in sixth ahead of Herbst, Kligerman, Karam and Almirola.

At the halfway mark between Laps 39 and 40, Larson retained the lead by more than six seconds over Allmendinger and more than seven seconds over third-place Ty Gibbs while Hill and Allgaier were scored in the top five. Almirola, Nemechek, Herbst, Kligerman and Mayer trailed in the top 10 while Sammy Smith, Chandler Smith, Creed, Hemric, Custer, Brett Moffitt, Daniel Suarez, Chastain, Alex Labbe and Josh Bilicki were mired back in the top 20. By then, 35 of 38 starters were scored on the lead lap.

At the conclusion of the second stage on Lap 45, Larson remained dominant as he claimed his second consecutive stage victory of the day with an advantage of more than nine seconds. Allmendinger and Ty Gibbs followed suit in second and third while Allgaier, Hill, Almirola, Nemechek, Herbst, Kligerman and Mayer were scored in the top 10. By then, Cole Custer pitted his No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang a lap earlier.

With the event proceeding under the final stage with 34 laps remaining, Allmendinger, who was engaged in a tight battle with Gibbs to retain second during the closing laps of the second stage, pitted a lap later followed by Allgaier, Mayer, Hemric and others. Larson then surrendered the lead to pit under green with 33 laps remaining followed by runner-up Gibbs, Hill, Nemechek and more competitors as Almirola cycled into the lead.

With 30 laps remaining, Almirola pitted from the lead along with Sammy Smith as Larson cycled back into the lead. By then, he was more than 10 seconds ahead of Allmendinger, who was strapped in third behind Suarez, who trailed Larson by more than four seconds despite needing a pit stop. Meanwhile, Ty Gibbs was back in fifth as he trailed by more than 14 seconds.

Two laps later, Suarez surrendered second place to pit under green as Allmendinger cycled back into second, though he trailed Larson by more than 10 seconds. In the process, Ty Gibbs moved up to third as he trailed the lead by more than 14 seconds while Allgaier and Hill were running in the top five. Following his pit stop after leading a handful of laps prior to the final 30-lap mark, Almirola was in sixth.

With less than 25 laps remaining, Larson stretched his advantage to more than 11 seconds over Allmendinger and more than 15 seconds over third-place Ty Gibbs while Allgaier and Hill retained their spots in the top five. Almirola also retained sixth while Nemechek, Mayer, Herbst and Kligerman were running in the top 10. Behind, Cole Custer was back in 11th while Chandler Smith, Sammy Smith, Creed and Brett Moffitt were running in the top 15.

Five laps later, Larson continued to extend his advantage as he now led by more than 13 seconds over Allmendinger while third-place Ty Gibbs trailed by more than 16 seconds. Meanwhile, Almirola carved his way up to fourth followed by Allgaier while Hill was back in sixth ahead of Nemechek, Kligerman, Herbst and Mayer.

A lap later, the caution flew when Jeffrey Earnhardt got loose, spun and wrecked his No. 45 ForeverLawn Chevrolet Camaro against the tire barriers in Turn 10. The incident all but erased Larson’s advantage of more than 13 seconds over Allmendinger. During the caution period, Alex Labbe and Suarez remained on the track while the rest of the lead lap field led by Larson pitted. Following the pit stops and amid mixed strategy, Larson, who opted for no fresh tires during his pit stop, exited first followed by Allmendinger, who opted for two fresh tires. Almirola followed suit in third along with Allgaier, Hill and Nemechek while Ty Gibbs exited seventh after losing four spots on pit road.

Down to the final 15 laps of the event, the race restarted under green. At the start, Labbe and Suarez dueled for the lead entering the first two turns. Suarez then slipped up the track in Turn 2, which allowed Almirola, driving the No. 28 Michael Roberts Construction Ford Mustang, to move into the lead amid the scramble. Through Turns 3 and 4, Suarez got loose again as Allmendinger and Larson quickly moved up to second and third. Behind, a series of bumps and jostles ensued within the middle of the pack from the Chute corner towards the entrances of Turns 7, 8 and 9 while Almirola continued to lead ahead of a fierce battle for second place between Allmendinger and Larson.

A lap later, Larson overtook Allmendinger for second as he began his charge on Almirola for the lead. Amid a series of late jostles and fierce battles around the circuit, trouble struck for Brandon Jones as he spun within the middle of the pack in Turn 8, but the race remained under green flag conditions. In the midst of the battles, Daniel Suarez was black-flagged for a restart violation.

With 10 laps remaining, Almirola continued to lead by three-tenths of a second over a hard-charging Larson while third-place Allmendinger trailed by more than a second. Behind, Ty Gibbs cycled his way back into fourth while Allgaier was in fifth ahead of Hill, Kligerman, Custer, Mayer and Sammy Smith.

Then with eight laps remaining, Larson, who kept putting pressure on Almirola for the lead, made the slightest of contact against a tire barrel in Turn 11, which caused him to slip wide and lose his momentum briefly as he tried to steer his No. 17 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro straight. This allowed Allmendinger to move his No. 10 Gabriel Glas Chevrolet Camaro into second while Larson fell back to third as Almirola was now leading by more than two seconds.

Down to the final five laps of the event, Almirola continued to lead by more than two seconds over Allmendinger and Larson, with Larson still trying to navigate his way around Allmendinger for second. With Ty Gibbs retaining fourth and trailing by more than five seconds, Allgaier was engaged in a fierce battle with Kligerman for fifth.

A lap later, Larson gained a run on Allmendinger and overtook him for second in Turn 7. Allmendinger, however, was able to execute a crossover move on Larson to reassume the spot while Almirola was still leading by nearly three seconds.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Almirola remained as the leader by less than three seconds over Allmendinger with Larson still stuck in third. With both Allmendinger and Larson unable to close the deficit throughout the 12-turn circuit, Almirola was able to smoothly cycle his way back to the finish line and claim the checkered flag for an upset victory in Northern California.

By becoming the inaugural Xfinity Series winner at Sonoma, Almirola notched his fourth career victory in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in his 104th series start, his first on a road course venue and his first since winning at Talladega Superspeedway in May 2017. He also recorded the first NASCAR career win for RSS Racing.

SONOMA, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 10: Aric Almirola, driver of the #28 Michael Roberts Construction Ford, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Xfinity Series DoorDash 250 at Sonoma Raceway on June 10, 2023 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images).

“This [win] is so special,” Almirola said on FS1. “It’s hard to explain. I know it’s an Xfinity win. It’s not a Cup win, but after [Circuit of the Americas], I was like, ‘Man, I really don’t think I should run any more road course races in the Xfinity car.’ I lose self-confidence going into Sunday, but I knew that this racetrack; this is one that I can run good at. I’ve run good here my whole career. I don’t know what it is about this place, but I love racing here. Just so thankful to everybody on this race team. It’s been a really tough year on the Cup side and to come out here, get a win and get to celebrate,…[my kids]’re gonna get to go to Victory Lane. That is so special. So excited to share this Victory Lane here. Man, this is awesome. I can’t wait to get to Victory Lane.”

Allmendinger, who led two laps, came home in second place as he trailed Almirola by more than a second followed by Larson, who led a race-high 53 laps compared to Almirola’s 17 but was unable to claim another victory at his home track.

“I just got too greedy,” Larson said. “If you can get your rights [tires] below the rumbles, into the paint, it’s a lot of grip. I got it good a couple of times and then, I was just tucked up behind [Almirola] and clipped the tire [barrel]. It knocked the wheel out of my hand and after that, the toe [link] was off. I was really tight in the lefts and really loose on the rights, so we couldn’t make runs at it. I hate it for [crew chief] Kevin Meendering and everybody. They deserve a win so badly with his No. 17 car. Just bummed and mad at myself.”

Ty Gibbs finished in fourth place as the top-four finishing spots were occupied by Cup Series regulars. Parker Kligerman was the highest-finishing Xfinity Series regular in fifth place while Custer, Allgaier, Austin Hill, rookie Sammy Smith and Sam Mayer finished in the top 10.

Notably, John Hunter Nemechek ended up 16th, Ross Chastain finished 18th in his 100th Xfinity career start and Suarez ended up 27th following his late penalty.

There were 10 lead changes for six different leaders. The race featured two cautions for eight laps. In total, 31 of 38 starters finished on the lead lap.

With 12 Xfinity regular-season events remaining on the schedule, John Hunter Nemechek leads the regular-season standings by four points over Austin Hill, 25 over Justin Allgaier and 59 over Cole Custer.

Results.

1. Aric Almirola, 17 laps led

2. AJ Allmendinger, two laps led

3. Kyle Larson, 53 laps led, Stage 1 & 2 winner

4. Ty Gibbs

5. Parker Kligerman

6. Cole Custer

7. Justin Allgaier

8. Austin Hill, four laps led

9. Sammy Smith

10. Sam Mayer

11. Sheldon Creed

12. Brett Moffitt

13. Daniel Hemric

14. Chandler Smith

15. Riley Herbst

16. John Hunter Nemechek

17. Jeremy Clements

18. Ross Chastain

19. Josh Bilicki

20. Kaz Grala

21. Brandon Jones

22. Kyle Weatherman

23. Ty Dillon

24. Dylan Lupton

25. Alex Labbe, two laps led

26. Jeb Burton

27. Daniel Suarez

28. Ryan Sieg

29. Brad Perez

30. Blaine Perkins

31. Joe Graf Jr.

32. Connor Mosack, one lap down

33. Josh Berry, three laps down

34. Sage Karam – OUT, Transmission

35. Josh Williams – OUT, Suspension

36. Jeffrey Earnhardt – OUT, Accident

37. Anthony Alfredo – OUT, Suspension

38. Parker Retzlaff – OUT, Transmission

The NASCAR Xfinity Series teams and competitors enter a one-week break period before returning to action at Nashville Superspeedway on June 24. The event’s air coverage is scheduled to occur at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network, which will launch USA’s and NBC’s coverage for the remainder of this year’s Xfinity season.

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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