For the first time this season, the Xfinity Series took on the half-mile short track at Bristol Motor Speedway. In the final race of the regular season, it was a battle between reigning champion Austin Cindric and veteran AJ Allmendinger. The Last Great Colosseum put on quite the show for fans and teams alike, with the drama of the looming playoffs playing a huge part.
Like most races this year, neither practice nor qualifying were held. The starting lineup was determined by the metric that has been in use since early 2020. Drivers’ positions for the start were determined as 25% driver’s finishing position from the previous race, 25% owner’s finishing position from the previous race, 35% team owner points, and 15% fastest lap from the previous race. This put the 9 of Noah Gragson, winner of the past two races, on the pole. The rest of the top-five was filled out by Justin Allgaier in the 7, Ty Gibbs in the 54, Daniel Hemric in the 18, and Justin Haley in the 11. Austin Cindric started in the ninth position with Allmendinger filling out the row beside him.
All 40 entries made it through pre-race tech inspections without any troubles, so no one was sent to the rear to begin the race for tech issues. However, the 1 of Josh Berry was sent for a late driver replacement. He was filling in for Micheal Annett who had re-aggravated the leg injury that has kept him out multiple times this season. Just 34 points below the cut-line, this was a devastating blow to the 1 team.
Going green at 7:47 p.m., it was Noah Gragson on the outside with Allgaier on his inside. The outside proved to have the most momentum as the 9 immediately took a car length’s lead on Allgaier with Hemric not far behind. By lap five, Hemric had used that momentum to take the lead from Gragson. The first caution of the night had come out on lap 11 after the 02 of Brett Moffitt wrecked into the wall at turn two. Not expecting any big tire or fuel issues, the leaders chose not to pit.
The restart saw Hemric on the outside and Gragson on the inside, with the 18 again having the most momentum. As the track began to heat up, the inside lane with the freshly laid PJ1 traction compound proved to be the most dominant. Reaching lapped traffic around lap 32, Hemric was caught up by the 48 of Jade Buford, which allowed Allgaier to take the lead and the 11 of Justin Haley to slide into second. Lap 42 brought out the competition caution, and only the 39 of Ryan Sieg and 51 of Jeremy Clements came down for tires.
The 90 of Spencer Boyd came down for a splash of gas, and would be the reason the caution was prolonged. His pit crew was unable to grab the gas can from his car before he drove off, causing him to drag it down pit road. It eventually fell out on the back stretch, dumping fuel all over the apron. Still under caution, the safety team applied some drying compound to the track to clean up the spill. (Shoutout to the guy that fell trying to clean it up. You were the race MVP.)
At the restart, it was Allgaier on the outside with Haley on his inside. As expected, the 7 got a huge jump and took an early lead. At lap 80, the 1 of Josh Berry was black-flagged for spilling fluid on the track. He came to the pits without having to bring out another caution. Lap 85 marked the end of the stage, with Allgaier bringing home the win and a playoff point. All of the leaders pitted at the stage break, taking four tires. Clements, however, took only fuel as he had taken tires at the prior caution.
The restart once again saw Allgaier in the lead, this time with Gragson on the inside. Taking Clements three-wide, Allmendinger and Haley went low and high to take his position. Still on older tires, Clements got into Cindric back in sixth without causing much damage. Lap 103 brought out another caution, this time for the 44 of Tommy Joe Martins who spun on the backstretch after some contact with the 15 of BJ McLeod.
With Allgaier still in the lead, Hemric took the inside on the restart. Allgaier immediately got loose, turning sideways and allowing Hemric to take the lead. The caution came out yet again just one lap later for the 99 of Matt Mills who got into the wall. Unable to continue, a visibly frustrated Mills threw his water bottle at the 90 of Boyd before heading to the infield care center.
This time, it was Hemric in the lead at the restart with Gragson on his inside. At lap 136, Allgaier had regained control – and the lead. After some contact with the lapped 07 car of Joe Graf Jr., Allgaier got sideways again. Although he made a great save and didn’t lose many positions, the caution was brought out. Six cars pitted for tires, including the 2 of Myatt Snider who was caught speeding and sent to the rear. The restart saw Hemric and Allgaier on the front row, and Hemric was able to hold off the 7 for his seventh stage win of the year.
All but seven cars pitted at the stage break with only two going without tires. In what was thought to be a crushing blow to a great race, Allgaier was sent to the rear for speeding on pit road. The 9 of Gragson found himself in the same situation. The restart saw the 10 of Jeb Burton and the 98 of Riley Herbst, who had both stayed out, on the front row. Yet another caution was thrown on lap 198 for the 17 of Carson Ware who suffered a flat tire.
At the restart, it was the 8 of 18 year old Sam Mayer on the outside with Burton on the inside. Getting bunched up at lap 206, Hemric got loose and allowed Cindric to pass while Haley suffered some damage after the 19 of Brandon Jones ran into him. Lap 230 saw Austin Cindric earn the lead for the first time in the race. Mayer wasn’t letting him go easy, though, as he got into Cindric’s bumper and ran both cars into the wall with minor damage. Eight laps later, the caution was brought out again for the 44 of Martins who spun with the 66 of David Starr.
The leaders all pitted for four tires, with Cindric winning the race off pit road. The 98 of Herbst lined up next to him on the front row, with Cindric getting the advantage at the restart. The chaos began at lap 253, beginning with Gragson getting into the wall in the 16th position. A lap later, the 2 of Snider got sideways after some contact from the 20 of Harrison Burton. Another lap later, Harrison’s cousin Jeb blew a tire and was able to get to the pits after slowing down on the track. Facing similar problems, the 39 of Sieg cut the field to get to the pits, narrowly missing the leader, the 22 of Cindric.
Reaching Cindric once more, the 8 of Mayer wasn’t giving up. He got into Cindric’s bumper once again, stripping the letters off of his tires. After falling back to over a second behind the leader, Mayer was battling the 7 of Allgaier who had strongly recovered from his earlier speeding penalty. With three laps to go, Allgaier got into Mayer’s back, spinning both cars along with the 92 of Josh Williams.
Forcing overtime, the restart saw Cindric on the outside with points leader Allmendinger on the inside. I couldn’t have drawn it up better myself. In a two lap frenzy, Allmendinger took the lead for a split second before making contact with the 22, giving Allgaier the lead. Allmendinger got right back to his door, then dove below both cars to take the lead back. After taking a car’s length lead, Allmendinger was caught by Cindric in turn four. It was an extremely tight battle to the finish as the two made contact and wrecked across the line. It was Allmendinger who crossed first, earning the regular season championship.
It was somewhat of a silly scene as Allmendinger crawled out of the car, cheering with the crowd before climbing into the ambulance to be taken to the infield care center. He was released shortly thereafter and was able to give an interview in victory lane, although without his extremely damaged winning vehicle. The wrecked pile of metal made it through post-race tech inspection without a hitch, making the race – and championship – win official The only issues that arose out of tech were a loose lug nut from both Allgaier and Hemric. The win marked Kaulig Racing’s first ever regular season championship, and they now look to bring home the championship title with all three drivers in the playoffs.
The Xfinity Series playoffs begin next Saturday, September 25th at 7:30 p.m.. They will race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the first race of the Round of 12. Those twelve drivers include the regular season champion in Allmendinger (four wins), along with Austin Cindric (five wins), Justin Allgaier (three wins), Noah Gragson (two wins), Justin Haley (one win), Daniel Hemric (no wins), Jeb Burton (one win), Harrison Burton (no wins), Myatt Snider (one win), Brandon Jones (no wins), Riley Herbst (no wins), and Jeremy Clements (no wins).
Featured image from @NASCAR_Xfinity on Twitter.