There are few things in life as certain as death and taxes.
Well, except maybe AJ Allmendinger on a road course in a stock car that is.
On Saturday the Xfinity Series returned to the Circuit of the Americas with plenty of intrigue and storylines and of course, the race delivered. The opening stage saw a heated four car battle for the lead, as two Xfinity championship contenders had a heated fight with two Cup series regulars.
The red hot Ross Chastain jumped out to an early lead, with Ty Gibbs and AJ Allmendinger in hot pursuit. Eventually, one of the world’s very best on this track layout would expertly anticipate a mistake by the youthful Gibbs. Gibbs ran Chastain up the track, opening the door for “The Dinger” to slide right by. Allmendinger cruised to the stage win.
The next stage was a tough one for Joe Gibbs Racing. Early on, Ty Gibbs lost a valve stem on a restart after slight contact with Chastain. He was able to rally for a decent 15th place finish. Meanwhile, Bubba Wallace, making his first of two starts this season in the Xfinity Series and was impressive early, making it all the way up to second before a mechanical issue caused him to finish all the way back in 28th.
One of the best stories of the day, and desperately in need of a good run, Sam Mayer got his first career stage win at the end of stage two. The final stage was pretty pedestrian until the final 15 laps. Allmendinger grabbed the lead with 14 to go, but a late caution threatened to make things more interesting for the veteran.
It was on this restart with seven laps to go that things got a little wild. Landon Cassill made contact with Chastain in turn one, relegating him to a 17th place run. Jeb Burton and Jeremy Clements were having amazing top-five runs when NASCAR penalized them for cutting the track through the first set of esses, which was addressed in the drivers meeting earlier that morning.
There were more great stories though, that were able to keep the storybook endings they deserved. Noah Gragson, the current points leader, battled nausea and stomach issues all afternoon to finish fourth, getting his fourth top-five in five races. His teammate Sam Mayer would capitalize on his stage win with a fifth, which was much needed after the last few races had nothing but bad luck for the young driver. Myatt Snider, Jade Buford, Miguel Paludo, and Sheldon Creed all grabbed much needed top-10s.
Austin Hill was able to snag a runner up finish. “I‘ve always felt like I could get around road courses. I felt like I proved it last year in the trucks winning at Watkins Glen and it just kind of builds the momentum and the confidence going forward into this year that when we come to road courses, we can get the job done,” said Hill after the race.
No one could catch AJ after the restart though, as he got his 11th career win. It’s his seventh win on six different road courses. Allmendinger was all smiles and had his signature energy after the win. “Honestly, all these men and women here at Kaulig Racing between the Cup side of it and the Xfinity side of it, they don‘t sleep during the week, they‘re busting their tails and that‘s why I‘m so freaking hard on myself sometimes because they deserve to win more than anybody here,” said a grateful AJ, “and I just want to do it for them. Thankfully, we got it done today.”
By virtue of their finishes, Allmendinger, Hill, Gragson, and Sam Mayer are all eligible for next week’s “Dash For Cash” $100,000 bonus at Richmond. The highest finisher among them will get the bonus.
Hopefully the Xfinity drivers can keep the momentum and putting on great races this season.
Photo Credit to the official Twitter account of Kaulig Racing @KauligRacing