Holly Cain | NASCAR Wire Service
NASCAR veteran AJ Allmendinger topped a field of the sport’s best young talents leading the final 37 laps of Saturday’s Xfinity Series EchoPark 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Making the run more impressive, Allmendinger rallied from a 30th-place starting position.
Noah Gragson, last week’s Bristol race winner, finished runner-up by 1.858 seconds, but it was still good enough to earn the Dash 4 Cash $100,000 bonus given by series sponsor Xfinity. Next week, Allmendinger, Gragson, Justin Haley and Daniel Hemric — the second- through fourth-place finishers — will be eligible for the Dash 4 Cash prize money.
“Oh my God, I won on an oval baby,” a grinning Allmendinger exclaimed after climbing out of his winning No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet — referring to his previous three Xfinity wins on road courses.
Yes, the 38-year-old Allmendinger won, and he did it by pulling away from the field in the last laps, competition that included Harrison Burton, Justin Allgaier, Ross Chastain, Brandon Jones, Chase Briscoe and Anthony Alfredo, who rounded out the top 10.
The top-10 work was some solace to Allgaier and Briscoe who had two of the strongest cars all afternoon. Briscoe led 40 laps and Allgaier ran consistently in the top five — but both were penalized for speeding on pit road on a final stop with 39 laps remaining. They came out of the pits first (Briscoe) and second (Allgaier) before getting news of the penalty that dropped them back to 25th and 27th, respectively, for that restart.
Allmendinger had come out of the pits third, so he inherited the lead and never looked back.
“I just felt like we needed track position the whole time, so once we got that lead, it was about getting a good restart,” he said, adding, “Had to kind of pace myself the last 15 laps, beg for no yellows.”
A former IndyCar Series champion contender, Allmendinger was highly regarded for his road-course skills when he came to NASCAR. He earned his only NASCAR Cup Series victory in 2014 on the Watkins Glen road course and had three previous Xfinity Series wins — on road courses at Road America, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and the Charlotte ROVAL.
“I just wanted to win on an oval,” Allmendinger said. “There were definitely several opportunities in the Cup car to win on an oval, but it never worked out. I wanted to win on an oval that we really had to drive and get after it.”
Austin Cindric was also penalized for speeding on pit road in that final series of stops. The driver of the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford led a race-high 68 laps and looked like the car to beat early — winning both the opening stages. His car was so dominant in the early laps that he won the first stage by nearly nine seconds over Chastain. Cindric finished 16th.
Briscoe beat Cindric out of the pits during the second stage break, and the two Ford drivers kept one another honest with Chastain right there followed by the JR Motorsports cars driven by Hemric and Allgaier. Hemric’s fourth-place finish was his fifth top 10 in seven races he’s competed this year for JR Motorsports.
The Dash 4 Cash victory for last week’s Bristol winner Gragson was a feel-good ending for the 21-year-old who said he ultimately learned a lot racing Allmendinger. The driver of the No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet started on pole position and also ran among the top 10 consistently having to rally from an earlier race penalty as well.
“We had a good run today,” Gragson said. “Man, I ate AJ’s bait there at the end. He started saving his tires and thought he had burnt his tires up. Just got beat by his experience. He’s a phenomenal driver.”
The Xfinity Series next moves to South Florida where it will have a doubleheader — two 250-mile races at Homestead-Miami Speedway; one on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET) and the other on Sunday (noon ET).