AJ Allmendinger
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Xfinity Series is ready to gamble at Las Vegas

Veteran AJ Allmendinger not only leads the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings, but he also returns to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for Saturday’s Alsco Uniforms 300 (4:30 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) as the defending race winner after beating Daniel Hemric by .978 seconds last year.

Two races into the 2022 season, Allmendinger, 40, holds a slim 1-point lead over Vegas native Noah Gragson in the championship standings. And although Gragson, 23, has yet to win on his home track, last year’s championship finalist has finished in the top 10 in all six career starts on the 1.5-mile speedway. His best showing is a runner-up finish in 2020.

RELATED: Las Vegas weekend schedule | Xfinity Series standings

Gragson is the only driver with top-five finishes in both 2022 races with a third place at Daytona and a runner-up effort last week at California in the No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet. His 37 laps led on the season are second to Hemric’s 48 laps out front.

JR Motorsports teammate Josh Berry, who won the fall race last year at Las Vegas, figures to challenge Gragson and joins Allmendinger as the only two full-time series drivers with victories at Vegas.

“We’re coming back to Vegas with the same team that I won with last year at this place, so the confidence is high going into the weekend,” said Berry, who drives the No. 8 JR Motorsports Chevrolet.

“We made big strides last weekend finding the balance and we were in contention at the end, so I know this Tire Pros Camaro has speed. Taking everything we learned from last weekend in Fontana and last year from Vegas, there’s no reason we can’t put this car back in Victory Lane.”

Another JR Motorsports teammate, Justin Allgaier, comes to Las Vegas ranked third in the driver standings, a mere three-points behind Allmendinger. He also is looking for his first victory at Vegas but has three runner-up finishes — the most recent coming last March.

Reigning series champion Hemric will also be trying to earn his first victory of the season. Now driving for Kaulig Racing, he is Allmendinger’s new teammate. Although he’s led the most laps of 2022 and earned two stage wins, Hemric is still looking for his first top 10 of the year. He’s ranked ninth in the standings.

Austin Hill, a perennial title contender in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, scored his first Xfinity Series win in the Daytona opener as he contends for the title for Richard Childress Racing. He’s ranked 11th heading into Vegas, where he won back-to-back Truck Series races in 2019-2020.