HAMPTON, Ga. – A.J. Allmendinger crossed winning on an oval off his bucket list by winning Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series EchoPark 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Allmendinger has long been considered a road course expert. The 38-year-old native of California is a four-time road course winner in NASCAR competition, including one win in the NASCAR Cup Series and three in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
Despite his success on road courses, a win on an oval had long eluded Allmendinger. That finally changed on Saturday afternoon as Allmendinger piloted the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet to victory.
“Oh my God I won on an oval,” Allmendinger exclaimed as he emerged from his race car at the start/finish line.
Allmendinger started the race from the 30th position following a random draw, but was quick to march his way into the top-10. However, he didn’t find himself at the front of the field until late in the race.
A caution flag with 39 laps left for the spinning car of Vinnie Miller changed the outlook of the race. At the time Chase Briscoe was leading, with Austin Cindric and Justin Allgaier also in contention.
A cycle of pit stops followed the caution flag, with Briscoe getting off pit road first ahead of Allgaier, while Cindric exited the pits a few positions behind them. However, all three contenders were hit with pit road speeding penalties, which sent them to the rear of the field for the restart.
That left Allmendinger, who came off pit road in third prior to the penalties, at the front of the field ahead of Noah Gragson and Justin Haley. Racing resumed with 34 laps left and Allmendinger pulled into the lead right away as Gragson and Haley battled for second behind him.
“At that point we were still going to have 35 laps and around Atlanta you can burn your stuff up in around 10 or 15 laps,” Allmendinger said. “At that point I was looking forward to starting third because it was as high as I was going to start. I was just fighting dirty air like everybody else was back in fifth, sixth, seventh.
“I just had to get a great restart, I knew I had to get in that clean air and from there if I could get a gap the first couple of laps then it was just a matter of pacing myself.”
Allmendinger would not give up the lead for the remainder of the race. Gragson, who won Monday’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway, eventually emerged in second. At one point closed to within a second of Allmendinger, but he couldn’t get close enough to challenge for the victory.
“I might retire, I just wanted to win on a damn oval,” Allmendinger said. “I was close I would say a lot, but there was definitely several opportunities in a Cup car with different teams to go win on an oval and it never played out. I would have taken any oval. If we go win at Talladega or Daytona I’m not going to turn it down.
“I wanted to win on an oval that we really had to drive and get after it,” Allmendinger added.
Despite falling short of his second-straight win, Gragson still managed to pocket the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus as a result of his runner-up finish. He bested Briscoe, Brandon Jones and Harrison Burton to earn the bonus money.
“It’s an incredible opportunity what Xfinity is doing with the Dash 4 Cash program. It’s quite the privilege and an honor to compete for $100,000. We had a good run today in our Axalta/EchoPark car,” said Gragson, who will battle for another $100,000 bonus next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “I ate A.J.’s bate there at the end. He started saving his tires and I thought he’d burnt his tires up. I just got beat by his experience.”
Haley finished third to give Kaulig Racing two cars in the top-three positions. Daniel Hemric was fourth, with Burton completing the top-five.
Allmendinger, Gragson, Haley and Hemric are the four drivers eligible for the Dash 4 Cash $100,000 bonus next week at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The Xfinity Series will compete twice at Homestead next week, with the second of the two races on June 14 serving as the Dash 4 Cash event.
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