LAS VEGAS — AJ Allmendinger carried enormous momentum into Las Vegas Motor Speedway on the heels of back-to-back victories and a pole in Sin City.
But rather than leaving Las Vegas celebrating, luck soured on the No. 16 Kaulig Racing team. A quick pit stop at Lap 162 saw Allmendinger restart third following the final caution of the race — shooting to the lead just one lap after the restart.
Allmendinger immediately felt something wrong with his Chevrolet, though, and radioed saying he felt his right-front wheel was loose. Despite emphatic reassurance from his crew that all lug nuts were tightened, Allmendinger hit pit road at Lap 176 — only to be told that both right-side wheels were loose.
The result dropped Allmendinger to a 22nd-place finish, two laps behind race winner Josh Berry. With Berry locking his way into the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway, Allmendinger now finds himself outside the preliminary list of championship contenders by 16 points.
The frustration loomed too large for Allmendinger to say much after the race.
“Nothing. Nothing to say,” Allmendinger said. “We tried hard. Wasn’t good enough. Wheel was left loose. That’s it.”
He added he knew by the second lap of the run that something was amiss, but communication between himself and the team forced the decision to pit on Allmendinger.
“They tell me it’s tight, like always, and then leave it on me so I got to make the decision,” Allmendinger said. “Unfortunately, I guess I was right there. So I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but yeah.”
Chris Rice, president of Kaulig Racing, lamented the mistake that cost his driver not only a chance to compete for the win but valuable points as the window to a championship tightens.
“Really wasn’t a miscommunication,” Rice said. “You try to push it as long as you can, you know? You have the changers say they’re tight, but then ultimately you got to listen to the driver and they were loose. Both right sides were loose, and you know, it just ends a frustrating day.”
Allmendinger started on pole for Saturday’s 300-miler but was quick to note Friday that the team still had work to do to find speed throughout the course of a race run. In the end, he had the necessary track position but was plagued by loose lugs.
The series shifts to Homestead-Miami Speedway on Oct. 22 (4:30 p.m. ET, USA Network, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), another 1.5-mile track — the kind of facilities where Kaulig has struggled most.
“We’ve not been good at all this year at the mile-and-a-halves, and the second round of the playoffs doesn’t play any good to Kaulig Racing,” Rice said. “But you know what, we’re a fighting team and that’s what we do. We fight and we’re gonna fight to the end. We got Homestead next week, we got Martinsville after that, so we’re not gonna quit fighting. This whole group is … the best group in the garage and we just gotta go to work, man.”
The strategy doesn’t change much for the No. 16 team, which always focuses on attacking for race wins. But the points situation now amplifies how critical a victory could be.
“You got to get points,” Rice said. “You go maximize your points today and it’ll take care of itself. So congratulations to JR Motorsports, they’ve been great all year, so [we’ve] just gotta go. We gotta go gain all the points we can gain at Homestead and Martinsville and wherever the cards play out, that’s where they play out.”