First Career Oval Victory for AJ Allmendinger

AJ Allmendinger earns his first career oval victory in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Echo Park 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
HAMPTON, GEORGIA – JUNE 06: AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #16 C2 Freight Resources Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series EchoPark 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on June 06, 2020, in Hampton, Georgia. Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

AJ Allmendinger earns his first career oval victory in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Echo Park 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

NASCAR veteran AJ Allmendinger bested a field of the sport’s best young talents leading the final 37 laps of Saturday afternoon’s Xfinity Series EchoPark 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Making the run more impressive, Allmendinger rallied from a 30th place starting position.

Dash 4 Cash Winner and Homestead Qualifiers

Noah Gragson, last week’s Bristol race winner, finished runner-up by 1.858-seconds, which was still good enough to earn the Dash 4 Cash $100,000 money bonus given by series sponsor Xfinity. Next week Allmendinger, Gragson, Justin Haley, and Daniel Hemric, the second through fourth-place finishers, are 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 NASCAR wins on road courses.

AJ Allmendinger’s First Career Oval Victory with Top-Ten Finishing Order

Yes, the 38-year old Allmendinger won on an oval track, and he did so convincingly, pulling away from the field in the last laps of competition. Rounding out the top-ten were Harrison Burton, a highly-motivated Justin Allgaier, another of Allmendinger’s Kaulig Racing teammates Ross Chastain, Brandon Jones, Chase Briscoe, and Anthony Alfredo.

The top-ten work was some solace to Allgaier and Briscoe, who were two of the strongest cars all afternoon. Briscoe led 40 laps, and Allgaier ran consistently in the top-five. Both, however, 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, which dropped them to 25th and 27th for that restart.

Allmendinger had come out of the pits third. So, he inherited the lead and never looked back on his way to his first career oval victory at Atlanta.

“I just felt like we needed track position the whole time so once we go that lead it was about getting a good re-start,’’ he said adding, “Had to kind of pace myself and the last 15 laps beg for no yellows.’’

Allmendinger is Typically the Road Course Ace

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 has 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. ‘’

The Championship Contenders

Austin Cindric had a penalty for speeding on pit road in the 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. Cindric won both the first and second stages for his first stage wins of the year. His car was so dominant in the early laps that he won the first stage by nearly nine-seconds over Chastain. With the penalty in the third stage, Cindric took his No. 22 Ford to a 16th place finish.

Briscoe beat Cindric out of the pits during the second stage break. 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-ten in seven races he’s competed in this year for the team.

Kaulig Teammates

It was also a strong, consistent day for Allmendinger’s teammates, Haley and Chastain. Haley bounced back from a pit road penalty early in the race, rallying to his third-place finish. Chastain ran among the top-ten for most of the day after finishing sixth in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race earlier Saturday afternoon.

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 ran among the top-ten consistently, having to rally from an earlier race penalty as well.

“It’s an incredible opportunity what Xfinity is doing with the Dash 4 Cash program,’’ Gragson said. “It’s quite the privilege and the honor to be able to compete for $100,000. 

“We had a good run today. Man, I ate AJ’s bait there at the end. He started saving his tires and thought he had burnt his tires up. [I} Just got beat by his experience. He’s a phenomenal driver.’’

The Xfinity Series championship standings remain unchanged for positions one through six. Briscoe retained his lead by four points over Gragson. The rookie Burton is third, 32 points back, followed by Allgaier, Chastain, and Cindric.

Up Next for the NASCAR Xfinity Series

The Xfinity Series now moves to South Florida, where they have a doubleheader for two  250-mile races at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The first race is on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET with the second on Sunday at noon ET.

NASCAR Xfinity Series Race – 29th Annual EchoPark 250

Atlanta Motor Speedway

Hampton, Georgia

Saturday, June 6, 2020

                   1. (30)  AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 163.

                   2. (1)  Noah Gragson, Chevrolet, 163.

                   3. (4)  Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 163.

                   4. (2)  Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, 163.

                   5. (5)  Harrison Burton #, Toyota, 163.

                   6. (3)  Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 163.

                   7. (11)  Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 163.

                   8. (12)  Brandon Jones, Toyota, 163.

                   9. (9)  Chase Briscoe, Ford, 163.

                   10. (24)  Anthony Alfredo, Chevrolet, 163.

                   11. (21)  Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 163.

                   12. (10)  Brandon Brown, Chevrolet, 163.

                   13. (20)  Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 163.

                   14. (13)  Brett Moffitt(i), Chevrolet, 163.

                   15. (34)  Colby Howard, Chevrolet, 163.

                   16. (8)  Austin Cindric, Ford, 163.

                   17. (6)  Riley Herbst #, Toyota, 163.

                   18. (31)  Bayley Currey(i), Chevrolet, 163.

                   19. (32)  Ronnie Bassett Jr, Chevrolet, 162.

                   20. (14)  Jesse Little #, Chevrolet, 162.

                   21. (16)  Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 162.

                   22. (33)  Tommy Joe Martins, Chevrolet, 162.

                   23. (25)  Mason Massey, Toyota, 162.

                   24. (22)  Garrett Smithley, Chevrolet, 162.

                   25. (17)  BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 162.

                   26. (27)  Joe Graf Jr. #, Chevrolet, 162.

                   27. (15)  Alex Labbe, Chevrolet, 162.

                   28. (23)  Josh Williams, Chevrolet, 162.

                   29. (35)  Myatt Snider, Chevrolet, 161.

                   30. (26)  Matt Mills, Chevrolet, 161.

                   31. (19)  Vinnie Miller, Chevrolet, 156.

                   32. (28)  Joe Nemechek(i), Chevrolet, Suspension, 129.

                   33. (29)  Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, Alternator, 87.

                   34. (18)  Chad Finchum, Toyota, Suspension, 50.

                   35. (7)  Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, Engine, 47.

                   36. (37)  Stephen Leicht, Toyota, Clutch, 8.

                   37. (36)  Kody Vanderwal #, Chevrolet, Engine, 3.

EchoPark 250 Stats

Average Speed of Race Winner:  122.832 mph.

Time of Race:  Two Hrs, Two Mins, 37 Secs. The Margin of Victory:  1.858 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  Six for 28 laps.

Lead Changes:  Ten among seven drivers.

Lap Leaders:   N. Gragson 1-5;A. Cindric 6-17;J. Haley 18-25;A. Cindric 26-42;J. Allgaier 43;A. Cindric 44-82;C. Briscoe 83-98;M. Annett 99-101;C. Briscoe 102-125;N. Gragson 126;A. Allmendinger 127-163.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Austin Cindric three times for 68 laps; Chase Briscoe two times for 40 laps; AJ Allmendinger one time for 37 laps; Justin Haley one time for eight laps; Noah Gragson two times for six laps; Michael Annett one time for three laps; Justin Allgaier one time for one lap.

Stage 1 Top-Ten: 22,10,11,7,8,9,18,98,16,20

Stage 2 Top-Ten: 22,98,10,8,16,9,11,7,1,20