By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
All eyes were on the new aero-package as it made its race debut in Saturday’s Monster Energy Open at Charlotte Motor Speedway and it didn’t disappoint, notably the third and final stage as A.J. Allmendinger held off Chase Elliott and Erik Jones to make his first Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race since 2015.
After the race, Allmendinger said his mindset was to transfer into his fourth All-Star Race, not the racing package.
“Yeah, I don’t care how many cars are in the field or if it was the third stage or second stage to win and get into the All-Star race. More importantly for our race team; my guys have worked so hard,” said Allmendinger. “(Spotter) Ernie Cope told me to bring it back with the steering wheel. We’re going to win this thing. So, I was making a conscious decision right there. We were crashing or I was going to win the thing. But, I can’t thank everybody at our race team for working so hard. We’re not where we want to be but we’re getting better. We’ve got a chance for a million dollars now.”
Prior to the ten-lap shootout, Allmendinger came up short of beating Daniel Suarez to make the main show in stage two. From there, the 12-year Cup Series veteran had to step up his A-game and go all out.
Then with four laps to go, it was gut check time and put his No. 47 Kroger Clicklist Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in a tight battle between Elliott and Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, Jr. for the race lead.
Wallace would lose the lead, battling an ill-controlled car, and it now became a four-man battle for the lead.
Coming to the white flag, Allmendinger was in a tight battle with Elliott and battled door-to-door for over a lap, fighting for the main event’s 20th starting spot. The pack bunched up in Turn 1 and Allmendinger had his nose ahead of Elliott.
However, Jones came from out of nowhere and made it three-wide heading into Turn 2. Allmendinger swept up high, got clipped by Elliott but controlled his car and immediately blocked Jones’ momentum, giving him the advantage of clearing both drivers for good.
“At that point I didn’t lift for the last four laps. I had made the decision twice that I was crashing, if not,” Allmendinger on the finish. “I got a run down the front straightaway there and Chase (Elliott) and I think it was Erik (Jones) were side-by-side and I knew my only shot was Chase was going to need to kind of get loose and check ‘em up. I came off the corner and saw just enough there and held them off.”
Allmendinger added his stage three victory was made possible thanks to his two-car JTG-Daugherty Racing team.
“I mean it’s big for our race team to be able to call ourselves All-stars,” said Allmendinger. “All my guys, Kroger Clicklist, everybody to be a part of it and to be able to race our way in, it’s cool for a night. It gives us a little bit of momentum that we need hopefully and kind of kick us off in these summer months to have something good happen.”
Allmendinger’s bid of becoming the first driver since Kasey Kahne in 2008 to win the million dollar event after transferring from the Open came up short, finishing eighth after overcoming wall contact in Stage 2.