By David Morgan, Associate Editor
CONCORD, N.C. – AJ Allmendinger cemented his place as the king of the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval in Saturday’s Drive for the Cure 250, winning his third straight race on the 2.28-mile, 17-turn road course.
“I’m just proud of everybody at Kaulig Racing,” Allmendinger said amid cheers of ‘AJ! AJ! AJ!’ from the crowd. “The big picture is championship, but getting another win – three in a row here at the Roval, it means the world to me…What an awesome day.
“It takes me back to my open wheel days,” he added of his love for the Charlotte course. “Ripping through the Streets of Long Beach and Australia and Toronto, places like that. When you enjoy a race track, it makes it fun to show up.”
Some three seconds in arears of Allmendinger, Austin Cindric crossed the line in second place, while Daniel Hemric brought his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota home in third after sweeping the first two stages of the race and making a late charge through the field.
Justin Haley, Brandon Jones, Noah Gragson, Preston Pardus, Myatt Snider, Justin Allgaier, and Sam Mayer would round out the top-10.
The race wasn’t quite as much of a runaway as the final results may seem, with a late race caution erasing Allmendinger’s seven-second lead and stacking the field up for an overtime restart.
Despite having the field nipping at his heels trying to unseat him from atop the scoring pylon, Allmendinger made quick work of his competitors on the overtime restart to pull away for the win – even though fuel concerns came into play during the final run to the finish.
Behind Allmendinger, it was a scramble for position between the other drivers, leading to some chaos unfolding.
On the final lap, Mayer and Ty Gibbs were battling for second place when Mayer sent Gibbs for a ride in the infield section before getting passed by Cindric and then missing the backstretch chicane, necessitating a stop and go penalty, which eventually dropped him to 10th in the final running order.
After his dustup with Mayer, Gibbs fell from what looked to be a top-three finish to a 21st place result.
The chaos wasn’t finished after that incident as a number of cars went spinning in the final chicane on the frontstretch, with Talladega winner Brandon Brown throwing his car into reverse and backing across the line to claim his 22nd place finish.
Prior to the calamity of overtime, the race featured one red flag stoppage on Lap 30 when Josh Bilicki ran off-course entering the backstretch chicane, with the front end of his car striking and destroying one of the curbs that ran alongside, showering debris all over the racing surface.
NASCAR was forced to bring the race to a halt for four minutes and 41 seconds while the debris was cleaned up and track workers removed the bolts exposed by the contact from Bilicki’s car.
Given that Charlotte was the first elimination race of the 2021 Xfinity Series Playoffs, there wasn’t much change among those above the cut-off line and those on the outside looking in despite the tumultuous nature of the racing on the oval/road course hybrid.
Allmendinger was already good on points, but his win cemented his spot in the next round, along with Cindric, Allgaier, Hemric, Haley, Jones, Gragson, and Harrison Burton.
On the other side of the line, Harrison’s cousin Jeb Burton was on the unlucky end of things at Charlotte, coming into the race needing to make up eight points and leaving with the same deficit after a hard-fought 13th place finish on the day.
“I made a couple of mistakes today,” Jeb said. “I got in the wall when I was side-by-side with Harrison. Luckily, it didn’t end our day, but I just need some more laps here. I haven’t raced here before. It was getting better and better. I appreciate Kaulig and everything they’re doing for me. Congrats to AJ, he helped me a lot. Just needed a little bit more.”
Myatt Snider, Riley Herbst, and Jeremy Clements also saw their postseason cut short on Saturday after failing to claim enough points to move on.
The Xfinity Series Playoffs head to Texas Motor Speedway next Saturday afternoon with the running of the Andy’s Frozen Custard 335 at 3:00 pm ET on NBC.