Saturday’s race was a début for the series at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and NASCAR fans were ready in the Buckeye State. Track management said the turnout Saturday was the best for the track so far this season.
AJ Allmendinger spent most of Saturday afternoon in front, then held on for an extra few laps to earn his second career NASCAR Nationwide Series victory in the Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Michael McDowell, in just his fifth NNS start of the season, secured his second career Coors Light pole with a fast lap of 96.256. McDowell led the first eight laps from the pole but gave way to Allmendinger, who dominated large stretches of the third and last road race on the NASCAR Nationwide schedule.
Starting second, Allmendinger needed only eight laps to take the lead and keep it for 27 straight laps and though the mid-point of the race. He was still out front for the last 29 laps and in total led 73 of 94 laps. McDowell led the next most laps with eight.
Losing the lead after a lap 58 pit stop, Allmendinger took it back five laps later. He kept his No. 22 Ford Mustang in front of the pack after a lap 67 restart and stayed out front for the rest of the series’ debut event at Mid-Ohio’s road course.
Allmendinger held a comfortable lead over pole winner Michael McDowell but had to sweat out a green-white-checkered finish after Kenny Habul triggered a course-wide caution on the last lap. After his crew chief relayed that he was good on fuel, Allmendinger sprinted away on a lap 93 restart and stayed in front for the extended two laps cruising across the finish line for his second road course victory in as many tries this season. He also celebrated a win with his Penske team at Road America in June, earlier this year.
The track here is much different from other road course circuits on the schedule said Allmendinger.
“It’s definitely more narrow than the other places,” he said. “Here, there’s a lot of twists and turns to it and in a way it’s a little more frustrating at times but it’s a little more fun, too.
“It’s a thinking place. It’s not going to be easy to make a pass and that’s what makes it fun.”
For the No. 22 Penske team, led by crew chief Jeremy Bullins, the win held special significance, logging the first-ever win of the series in the track’s NASCAR début.
“It was cool to get that for him,” Bullins said of owner Roger Penske, one of the most successful owners in the history of motorsports. “It’s another page in the history book.”
Not competing for a series title, for Allmendinger it was all about winning. But for those racing with points in mind, once again they saw changes at the top at their second road course in as many weeks.
With only 12 series races left in the season, Hornish came into the race three points behind series leader Austin Dillon, but left Mid-Ohio with a 13-point advantage. Dillon, who finished 21st, is now in a tie for third with Regan Smith, who spun early in the day and fell out of contention. Elliott Sadler jumped ahead of both of them to take over second in the standings and only two points ahead of the duo. Brian Vickers stayed right where he started and maintained fifth in the point standings. And now, only 18 points separate the top-five going into their next race.
Up next for the Nationwide Series is Bristol Motor Speedway, with plenty of action and perhaps another shakeup in the point standings in store on Friday, August 23rd. Television coverage is on ESPN beginning at 7:30pm ET.