By Holly Cain | NASCAR Wire Service
A.J. Allmendinger prevailed in a hard-fought NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff race that ended in overtime on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval Saturday evening. After a long afternoon negotiating the road course in rainy weather against a field of drivers with championship hopes on the line, the veteran edged 22-year old Noah Gragson by a mere .446-seconds in a rooster-tail run to the checkered flag.
It marked the second win of the season for Allmendinger in the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet and his second career win on the Roval.
Daniel Hemric, Alex Labbe and Ross Chastain rounded out the top five. Team Penske’s Austin Cindric, Cody Ware, Jade Buford, Michael Annett and Brandon Jones completed the top 10.
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The Drive for the Cure 250 was the final race in the Round of 12 of the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs with Chase Briscoe, Cindric, Justin Allgaier, Gragson, Justin Haley, Jones, Chastain and Ryan Sieg advancing to the next three-race round of Playoff competition that begins next week at Kansas Speedway.
Drivers Harrison Burton, Brandon Brown, Michael Annett and Riley Herbst were eliminated from Playoff contention at Charlotte.
With the challenging weather conditions – heavy rain and high winds – it was a victory Allmendinger conceded he would remember for a while – a race the whole field will remember for a while.
“I don’t know what we just witnessed,” Allmendinger said with a smile. “I was complaining the whole race. Crazy. The 98 (of) Chase Briscoe was doing a fantastic job. I didn’t really have anything for him after a couple laps but I knew that final restart I was going to do everything I could.”
Allmendinger and Briscoe, the driver of the No. 98 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, were vying for the win, door-to-door, corner-by-corner in the closing laps which featured five lead changes between the two in just the final 17 laps of the 68-lap overtime thriller.
Briscoe was leading with three laps remaining when a caution flag came out for Brown, whose car was precariously disabled alongside the track. Racing side-by-side for the lead on the ensuing restart, Briscoe spun out in Turn 1, allowing Allmendinger the opportunity to take control of the race and navigate the wet track to victory. Briscoe, who led a race-best 23 laps, instead finished 18th.
“Driver just made a mistake,” said Briscoe, who with eight wins is still the top-seeded Playoff driver heading into the next round.
“In conditions like this you’ve got to be at 100 percent and I tried going 110 and it bit me. Very unfortunate. That one’s going to sting for a long time. I feel like I did my job for about 95 percent of the day, right.”
That was a familiar refrain on Saturday in a rare NASCAR road course event that called for rain tires, drivers’ patience and resolve. Gragson, for example, was involved in multiple incidents on track.
He and fellow Playoff contender Herbst collided only 28 laps into the race, and later contact between the two further damaged Gragson’s No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet. Still, he was able to come back and turn in a podium-worthy finish.
The Joe Gibbs Racing rookie Herbst was one of the four Playoff drivers who needed to gain massive points or straight out win the race for an opportunity to advance to the next round. He led seven laps, but finished 12th – ultimately recovering from a spin in overtime as well.
Fellow rookie Harrison Burton, a two-race winner this season and Herbst’s JGR teammate, also looked strong early in the race contending among the front of the field, even if he didn’t lead laps. His No. 20 JGR Toyota had a transmission problem and he was scored 33rd of the 38 drivers.
The Georgia native Sieg, who drives the No. 39 RSS Racing Chevrolet for his family-owned team, was able to take advantage of others’ misfortune Saturday and continue what’s been a career season for the 33-year old. He ranks eighth heading to the next Playoff round. His previous best series career championship finish was ninth place in 2016. He was 11th last year.
While Sieg and certainly Allmendinger were on the upside of fortunate, all the drivers climbed out of their cars with a similar refrain.
“It’s nothing like I’ve ever done before,” Hemric said. “I’m going to sit back with a cold one and watch [the NASCAR Cup Series race at the Roval] tomorrow.”
The Xfinity Series resumes the Playoff schedule next Saturday, Oct. 17 at Kansas Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). With the points reset for this round, Briscoe takes a 10-point lead over regular-season champion Cindric and is 27 points up on third place Allgaier.