By: Ashley McCubbin
When a new season begins, a lot of questions are always raised about the competition and possible outlook for the rest of the year. With more events on the track, it seems those thoughts get answered. Five races into the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and a couple things are becoming clear.
In previous seasons, there have been a couple drivers whom have emerged above the rest – ‘the big three’ as it was dubbed two years ago. Thus far in 2021, it seems the field is pretty equal and competitive – except for one driver, Austin Cindric. The 2020 Series Champion has reached victory lane twice with no finishes worse than fifth.
“I think it’s going to be more competitive. I don’t think you’re going to see those two or three drivers separate themselves from the group,” A.J. Allmendinger told NEWS FROM THE PITS when evaluating the competition. “As we speak today, it’s the 22 car, Austin Cindric, and then the rest of us in the next couple of groups. He’s the championship one that we’re all chasing after, but you look at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) between (Daniel) Hemric, Brandon Jones, and Harrison (Burton), you look at all the JR Motorsports cars – they’ve been quick, just had issues. As I said, I think all our three cars (at Kaulig Racing) can be very strong as the year goes on, and on the down the line.
“I don’t really want to leave anybody out so I think you can have a long group of drivers that are battling it out every weekend going for wins and trying to separate themselves from the pack but may never through the year. There are definitely a couple of groups, but the 22 is the car we’re all chasing after right now.”
Looking at Cindric versus the field, Allmendinger says the big thing that separates them is experience.
“Team Penske – there’s nothing to say about Team Penske except in every form of racing, they’re absolutely bad ass so we know what we’re up against,” he commented. “They continually just get better and he’s the champion and the 22 team is the champion for a reason. Even though they’re a single-car team, they have all the resources, and the rules haven’t changed in awhile so all their notes and notebooks are really thick with info, and Austin is on their game.
“It’s like I said in the team meeting yesterday – our expectations get so high because we’ve had success already, but we have to realize that we’re still fairly new to this. This is the sixth year and there’s going to be up and down weeks, and there’s certain race tracks that this team hasn’t been good at that we need to get better at.”
Fortunately, Allmendinger can focus on finding what it takes to beat Cindric as he does not need to worry about getting in the playoffs – already done so with a trip to victory lane at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. While the win took the pressure off of making it into the post-season, being able to get a checkered flag in itself was even bigger.
“It’s not the pressure of we’re locked in the playoffs – at least for me. It was just that we need to win early, and we can do it,” he said. “We’ve shown that we have the speed and can execute and make it happen. So it really had nothing to do with the playoffs – that was just a bonus factor in winning the race. But it was more knowing that we had the speed and put it all together and could win a race gives us more confidence than anything.”