HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Following a 22nd place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, AJ Allmendinger found himself behind the eight ball entering Saturday’s Contender Boats 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Mainly, the two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series regular season champion was below the Playoff cutline.
While the 40-year-old Los Gatos, California native has been consistent throughout this postseason, his hopes for a renewed championship pursuit moved onto the 1.5-mile progressive banked track where he has middling results.
Prior to Saturday afternoon’s race, Allmendinger’s average finish at Homestead-Miami was 13th.
Fittingly, Allmendinger rolled off from the 13th starting position for the 200 lap race. As most eyes were on Noah Gragson and his pursuit for his elusive first Homestead-Miami win, Allmendinger needed a solid result at a track where the high line was where it was at before nighttime.
Despite Allmendinger’s No. 16 Action Industries Chevrolet Camaro having stellar race trim pace, he had a bit of uneasiness ahead of the race.
“The way I felt about myself going into this race about ripping the top, the struggles I put on myself to carry us, I didn’t feel good after yesterday about how I was driving this racetrack,” Allmendinger said. “Even this morning in Cup practice, we had a fast Cup car and I was really mad. I felt like I was letting us down.”
Most of Allmendinger’s trepidations dissipated with his steady results in Stages 1 and 2, placing fifth and second.
For a driver with plentiful experience in a variety of racecars, the stock car veteran proved old dogs could learn new tricks mainly by observing the affable Gragson around the South Florida track.
“I got up there and it helped following Noah a lot,” he shared. “He’s really good ripping the top.”
Allmendinger was not too shabby riding the high line especially as the race progressed with long green flag runs. The Californian drove a calculated, smart race as he was able to corral his car like a skilled pickup rider.
Following a Lap 189 fronststretch incident involving Kyle Sieg, Stefan Parsons and Nick Sanchez, Allmendinger, along with the lead lap contenders, pitted for tires and fuel.
Aside from Josh Berry, who exhausted his allocated sets of fresh tires, Allmendinger and his peers opted for their last sets of fresh tires.
As Gragson led the field back to the green flag restart on Lap 196, Allmendinger did not have the best grip on the inside lane.
Once the field rounded their way to Turns 3 and 4, it was a bit close between the top two before Gragson drove away from Allmendinger within the final three laps.
From there, Allmendinger had to listen to .38 Special’s advice from their hit 1981 song by holding on loosely.
“I thought I was going to get under him a couple of times,” he recalled. “I felt like we were already loose the whole night. The track felt like it was freeing up.
“On that last restart, I was really loose. I thought I could maybe get under him and at least get a shot. But after a couple of laps, I was starting to really slide around. I didn’t want to have Ty (Gibbs) get around me. That was another point we were gonna lose.”
Gragson collected his eighth win of the 2022 season with Gibbs finishing second.
Meanwhile, Allmendinger maximized with a third place result, his 16th top five and 27th top 10 finish of the season.
All in all, it was a spirited, gallant effort for the soon-to-be returning Cup racer.
“I’m really proud of everybody at Kaulig Racing,” he said. “Our Action Industries Chevy was pretty damn good. It was probably still better than the driver. Overall, we made up a lot of points there and we at least have a shot now at Martinsville.”
Certainly, Allmendinger is back in the championship chase with one race remaining before the season finale at Phoenix Raceway.
Although the eighth year NASCAR Xfinity Series racer has an average finish of 12.25 in his past four starts at Martinsville Speedway, he likes his chances going into next Saturday’s Dead On Tools 250 (3 p.m. ET on NBC).
“(With) how the night was going, I just wanted a solid top five finish and go to Martinsville, a great racetrack,” he remarked. “And I think, by my unofficial calculations in my head, we should at least be fourth in points, so we’ve got a chance.”
Allmendinger would make Ken Martin, a NASCAR historian, proud with his computerlike mathematical skills.
Regardless of past results, the Kaulig Racing driver is as much of a contender as the remaining six challengers who can earn a grandfather clock and ticket to Phoenix at the paperclip oval.