LINCOLN, Ala. – After 11 oh-so-close but frustrating efforts at the superspeedways, AJ Allmendinger made the most of his 12th start on Saturday afternoon.
Rolling off the grid from the eighth starting position, the 40-year-old Los Gatos, California native had a bit of a serene streak in his distinct No. 16 Action Industries Chevy Camaro fielded by Kaulig Racing.
Considering his hard fought fourth in a wild Texas Playoffs race last Saturday, the competitive stock car racer brought his A game alongside his team.
The 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series regular season champion placed sixth in Stage 1 before improving to a third place result in Stage 2.
As the case has been at Daytona and Talladega, Allmendinger showcased his superspeedway prowess. Despite his somewhat sour disposition with the brand of racing prevalent at the large speed arenas, he looked as nimble, comfortable and confident as ever.
With only one on-track competition occurring on Lap 4 for Ty Gibbs’ backstretch spin, it was a rare pitcher’s duel at the 2.66-mile superspeedway. This placed a heavy emphasis on near perfection for the pit crews and the drivers taking on this daring track.
In Allmendinger’s case, given his intensity, passion and cerebral ways, applied lessons learned from his past 11 superspeedway starts.
Consider his near winning moment in last summer’s Daytona Xfinity race or his last lap duel with Ross Chastain, a current NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs contender, in 2020.
Undoubtedly, Allmendinger tapped into his prior bids and applied his savvy ways in the final laps.
Initially, Allmendinger took the lead from Sam Mayer with three laps remaining. However, Mayer slipped past him on the penultimate lap, set on capturing his maiden Xfinity Series win.
Youth and enthusiasm combated against age and experience for a rare, near gem of an Xfinity Series race at Talladega. Once the field reached the backstretch, Allmendinger, who fell back to third, got a hardy but brief bump draft from Landon Cassill, his Kaulig Racing teammate.
Once he got past Ryan Sieg for the second position, in the words of the late Benny Parsons, he was shot out of a cannon toward Turn 3.
In fact, Allmendinger gave a hardy bump draft to Mayer rather than scooting to his outside, a textbook, set up for a win pass.
Instead, the Californian waited until the field reached the tri-oval, leaving it to a split second, white knuckle decision before the stripe.
Perhaps those replays, visually and mentally, helped Allmendinger, darting to the outside of Mayer.
By just 0.015 seconds, Allmendinger bested Mayer for a dramatic, memorable fourth win of 2022.
Moreover, he overcame those frustrating superspeedway moments and punched his ticket into the crucial Round of 8.
Maybe being the headline Saturday race paid off for Allmendinger as he considered how Matt DiBenedetto captured his debut NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win.
“So, I’ve watched so many of these. Matty D and the Truck race, which is awesome, (he) got his first NASCAR win,” Allmendinger said to NBC NASCAR’s Marty Snider. “It seems like the guy in third on the bottom lane… if you lay back enough here, you have a run. I’ve watched enough of these. Ross here in the Cup race, Matty D in the Truck.”
Indeed, Allmendinger’s patience and poise paid off at Talladega along with some daring.
“I didn’t even know if I was clear in front of (Ryan) Sieg. I just made a hard right to try to win this race. And we got it,” he remarked before realizing the magnitude of his win.
“Oh my God! This is Talladega. Yes, I hate superspeedway racing. But this is awesome to win in front of this Talladega crowd!”
As Allmendinger soaked in his latest win, Cassill and Daniel Hemric, his Kaulig Racing comrades, ran from pit road to the stripe, congratulating their teammate with a bit of water.
“That’s what I love about this race team. You get amazing teammates like that,” he observed.
Given the noise and attention with Noah Gragson and his No. 9 Bass Pro Shops/TrueTimber/BRCC Chevy Camaro in the past month, Allmendinger seemed ready to win one of the Round of 12 races.
Now, as he’s clinched a Round of 8 spot, next Saturday’s Drive for the Cure 250 at the Charlotte ROVAL seems a bit less stressful.
Additionally, Allmendinger captured his first oval win of the 2022 season. Regardless of his Talladega triumph, his stance on this style of racing hasn’t changed, although a new trophy was not earned solely by his efforts in his car.
“I still hate it! Still hate it!” Allmendinger quipped. “But gosh, we’ve been so close to winning one. I feel like I keep on giving them away. I might’ve given it away. I’m still learning, trying to know what too big of a lead is. But honestly, all (the) credit to Landon Cassill. He kept shoving me, he stuck with me, that’s what’s great about Kaulig Racing.”
Like Ricky Bobby with Cal Naughton Jr. in Talladega Nights, Allmendinger sang his praises for Cassill.
“When you’ve got teammates like Landon and Daniel (Hemric), no matter where you go, they’ll go with you, they’re gonna go with you,” he said. “It makes it a little bit easier.
“So Landon, he’s gonna share it with me. But I wish we could both be the winner because he deserves it more than I do. So, thank you, Landon.”
Surely, Allmendinger will share an AlmondDinger custard with Cassill, who may exchange a Shirley Temple.
Considering Allmendinger’s prior 2022 wins in the distinct green and white No. 16 Nutrien Ag Solutions colors, it was a debut win for one of his new partners.
“Everybody at Action Industries, (we) finally got that thing in Victory Lane,” he said in excitement. “ECR, RCR but especially all the men and women at Kaulig Racing, I love all of you! Man, I just wanted to win at a superspeedway. Finally got it!”
Stage 1 Top 10 Finishers
Stage 2 Top 10 Finishers
Hill-Allgaier-Allmendinger-Bayne-J. Burton/Mayer-Brown-B. Jones-Sieg-Berry
Sparks 300 at Talladega Top 10 Finishers