Allmendinger beats Byron to Xfinity road course win at COTA
By JIM VERTUNO
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) A.J. Allmendinger dominated early, then had to fight to retake the lead at the start of the final stage to earn his 11th career NASCAR Xfinity series road course victory Saturday at the Circuit of the Americas.
Allmendinger bumped Sheldon Creed out of the lead with 14 laps to go, then held off William Byron over the next couple of laps before pulling away late for the victory, his second in a row at the Texas track. Byron will be starting Sunday's NASCAR Cup series race from the pole position.
“I spent a lot of years not winning anything, so I’m going to celebrate everything like its my last one, because you never know,” the 41-year-old Allmendinger said. “We fought hard.”
Allmendinger and Kaulig Racing had the dominant car for much of the race and started Saturday from the pole. He built a big lead early before a pit stop strategy misstep and getting caught in some caution flag restart traffic dropped him to the back.
“I feel like I'm on vacation,” Allmendinger told his garage in an early radio message as he steadily pulled away from the pack in the first stage.
The race got much harder from there.
With NASCAR running a new format that doesn't have breaks at the end of the road course race stages, Allmendinger pitted from the front. That dropped him to 27th and turned a 3.5-second lead into deficit of about 37 seconds. He then got stuck in the pack on a restart, one of four in stage two, and the car in front of him got bumped and spun around, forcing Allmendinger into a complete stop.
“I wasn't sure how the race was going to play out,” Allmendinger said. “I knew we had a really fast car, it was about getting back up there.”
Creed won the second stage, giving the Richard Childress driver a chance to race for his first career Xfinity series win. But another restart saw Allmendinger launch from sixth to second and right on Creed's bumper.
With those two battling for the lead and Byron waiting behind them for an opening, Allmendinger tagged Creed's left rear wheel and pushed him sideways. Creed fought back to finish ninth.
“He turned. I was trying to stay off him. I hate that happened," Allmendinger said. “(Creed) has all the right to be mad ... It's the way it goes. It's not they way I wanted to take the lead."
Creed noted Allmendinger had the speed to eventually pass him, but was frustrated by the contact that cost him a podium.
“I don’t know if I had his pace in the long run,” Creed said. “I thought I gave him enough room, but I don’t know. I need to watch it.”
Byron, who will have a chance to grab yet another Cup series win for Hendrick Motorsports on Sunday, pushed Allmendinger until the last two laps, before a wobble through the track's S-curves forced him to pull back for second.
“I was getting one final run at him,” Byron said. “He’s just so good on these road courses.”
Ty Gibbs finished third for Joe Gibbs Racing. Austin Hill, who won at Daytona, Las Vegas and Atlanta, for the Richard Childress, retired early after reporting gear change problems in the opening laps.
The series moves to short track racing next Saturday at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Virginia.
AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports
Updated March 25, 2023