CONCORD, N.C.—AJ Allmendinger kept his Charlotte Roval record intact with his third-straight victory in the Drive for the Cure 250.
Scoring his 10th Xfinity victory and becoming the winningest driver on road courses with six trophies to his credit was quite the accomplishment for the 39-year-old racer.
But Dinger’s ability to regain the points lead and advance to the Round of 8 in the NXS Playoffs was the true prize on Saturday.
“Hell yeah, let’s go,” Allmendinger said over the radio. “Let’s (freaking) go!”
Allmendinger’s ascent to his fifth win of the season was anything but a cakewalk. He started 14th, then developed transmission issues in the final stage. But a rookie mistake by Ty Gibbs, when he blew through the backstretch chicane with 20 circuits remaining, opened the door for Allmendinger to take the lead.
Once the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet was out front—and with an 8.84-second lead—it appeared to be game over until Tommy Joe Martins spun in Turn 14 to ignite the seventh and final caution and send the race into overtime.
“I knew it was coming out,” Allmendinger said of the final caution. “It wasn’t going to go simple like that. That was a fight today. We had to be kind of on defense early, worrying about the points. This place was tough to pass—the track was really slick to start with, obviously, because of all the rain.
“Once we got the lead, the (car) was stupid-fast.”
Allmendinger took the green flag on Lap 67 and extended his advantage to 3.192-seconds over Austin Cindric at the checkered flag. Cindric conceded that the Kaulig cars were faster in the closing laps.
“They’ve been fast all year,” said Cindric, the only driver who was locked in coming to Charlotte. “I feel like this has honestly been one of my weakest road courses for probably exactly what you saw -- the rear tires fall off way too much. I felt like I was driving a skidpad car after about 10 laps.
“I feel a little bit lucky and a bit fortunate, honestly. I didn’t get moved or put in the wall, so either way we had a fast car. I think we set a fast lap time and got a good finish, so that sets us up well for Texas. I just wish we could have taken advantage of getting a playoff point.”
Daniel Hemric, Justin Haley, Brandon Jones, Noah Gragson, Preston Pardus, Myatt Snider, Justin Allgaier and Sam Mayer rounded out the top 10—in what was a mad dash at the finish.
Hemric won the first two stages to transfer to the Round of 8 along with Allgaier, Haley, Gragson, Brandon Jones and Harrison Burton. Cindric trails Allmendinger by six points in the NXS standings.
Allgaier overcame the greatest adversity on Saturday. After starting second to Cindric, he locked up his rear brakes in Turn 2, hit the wall and damaged the right rear of the No. 7 Chevy on Lap 6. Two laps later, he reported having “major problems” and was forced to pit. After dropping to 40th, spotter Eddie D’Hondt told Allgaier he would recover with a top 10. At the end of the second stage, Allgaier was 16th but remained on the track during the caution and gained nine positions.
Gibbs, who pitted six laps earlier, assumed the lead on Lap 41 followed by Mayer. Three laps later, Allmendinger passed Mayer for second-place. As he gained on Gibbs, the driver of the No. 54 Toyota faltered and Allmendinger grabbed the lead on Lap 48.
Six laps later, Dinger experienced his first of two hold-ups—when Joe Graf Jr. spun on the front stretch just and the No. 16 Chevy was coming through Turns 16 and 17. Graf was attempting to straighten his car and Allmendinger came to the start-finish line. Then, after nearly a nine-second lead, Martin spun in Turn 14. When the race returned to green, Mayer dumped Gibbs, who was running fourth. He gathered his car but finished 21st with the traffic jam through the final turns on the last lap.
At that point, Allmendinger had started his post-race celebration--a moment he wasn't taking for granted.
"I'm just here for the ride," Allmendinger said. "I just hope I get to ride it out...I love this team because they let me be me."