AJ Allmendinger scores second straight Xfinity win at COTA

AUSTIN, Texas — AJ Allmendinger started on the pole position and won the NASCAR Xfinity Series Pit Boss 250 presented by USA Today on Saturday at the world-renowned Circuit of The Americas road course.

The 46 laps between the green and checkered flags, however, were dramatic and full of emotional highs and lows for the veteran Allmendinger, who led 14 laps to start the race and the final 14 laps to close it out. The series’ all-time road course winner earned his 11th road course trophy (and 16th career Xfinity Series victory) despite having to navigate through the field after falling back to 25th place during mid-race green flag pit stops.

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It was a major league road course lesson for the rest of the field as the 41-year-old Californian diced and sliced his way forward in the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet to win this race for the second consecutive year. He ultimately took a 0.853-second victory over relentless Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron in the No. 17 Chevrolet.

“William Byron put his best foot forward, you’ve seen all the Cup races he’s winning,” Allmendinger said of the season’s two-race winner Byron. “I knew it was going to be tough just trying to fight to get back up to the front there. Hate that I had contact with Sheldon [Creed], he got under me, I was trying to stay off him, so I hate that happened but so proud of everyone at Kaulig Racing. The Celsius Chevy was really hooked up, and with all the damage we had, it didn’t hurt the car.”

“I spent a lot of years not winning anything, so I’m going to celebrate every one of them like it’s my last one,” Allmendinger added. “You never know. As much pressure as I put on myself, I’m always going to try to live up to it. The pit crew was awesome, and I’m so proud of everyone.”

NASCAR Cup Series rookie Ty Gibbs — the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion — finished third in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Toyota, just ahead of his JGR teammate Sammy Smith and veteran JR Motorsports driver Justin Allgaier.

The 3.41-mile, 20-turn COTA track is regarded as one of the more challenging stops on the NASCAR schedule, and Allmendinger certainly had his work cut out for him on Saturday. He led early but was shuffled back after winning Stage 1 and gambling on a pit stop later than the other frontrunners.

Forced to line up for a restart toward the back of the field — and miscommunication from the team to driver regarding the exact position he should take — left him 25th near the race’s midpoint. He answered by reeling off one pass after another and made his way into the top 10 with 15 laps remaining — making a dramatic push forward on that final restart to go from sixth to first with 14 laps remaining. He took the lead after a spirited battle with Sheldon Creed, who spun out after contact between the two.

Allmendinger then drove off to more than a 1-second gap on the field but was doggedly chased by Byron, who will start Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at COTA from the pole position.

“I was getting one final run at him, but obviously, they were really good all day, just great at these road courses,” Byron said. “Just a little bit to gain and then made a mistake [navigating the esses].

“It was a great effort, just need to clean it up in the cars … but had a lot of fun racing,” Byron added.

Kaulig Racing’s Daniel Hemric, JR Motorsports teammates Sam Mayer and Josh Berry, Creed and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Riley Herbst rounded out the top 10.

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Austin Hill, a three-race winner in 2023 who was leading the championship standings by nearly 50 points coming into Austin, suffered mechanical problems in his No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet and took a DNF. He still holds a 15-point advantage over Herbst atop the championship standings, however.

This was a Dash 4 Cash qualifying race, with the four top-finishing full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series competitors now eligible for a $100,000 bonus next week at Richmond Raceway; the top finisher among the four will earn the big paycheck and is eligible for another the following race on April 15 at Martinsville.

With their showings on Saturday, Sammy Smith, Justin Allgaier, Daniel Hemric and Sam Mayer are the four drivers who will race for the Xfinity Dash 4 Cash $100,000 in next week’s Call811 Before You Dig 250 at Richmond Raceway (1 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).