MARTINSVILLE, Virginia – For what it is worth, AJ Allmendinger approached the Round of 8 with a clear, optimistic mindset.
If he advanced to the Championship 4, it would be a chance to close out his full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series career with potential glorious results.
However, if he did not advance, it would not be without a complete effort from the 40-year-old Los Gatos, California native and his No. 16 Action Industries Chevrolet Camaro team.
Starting ninth, Allmendinger gave it his best along with his Kaulig Racing crewmates during Saturday’s Dead On Tools 250. Placing eighth in Stage 1 and third with some strategy in Stage 2, it looked like a day of crafty driving and shrewd calls from the pits courtesy of crew chief Bruce Schlicker.
Hovering between sixth through 10th, Allmendinger was a shadow’s length from his main opponent, Justin Allgaier, for the final Championship 4 spot.
Before Ty Gibbs clinched the third Championship 4 position, Allmendinger knew it was going to be an uphill battle against the affable Allgaier.
By all means, both drivers dueled on the track as if it was for the win. The two stock car veterans traded paint, banging fenders and doors with everything on the line for a chance at the NASCAR Xfinity Series title.
On Lap 237, Allmendinger’s battles with Allgaier ended with heartbreak off Turn 4. A few paint trading moves proved a bit much for the left rear tire of Allmendinger.
Allmendinger’s left rear punctured and eventually resulted in the Californian limping his car to his stall with about three decently inflated tires.
Although a rash of late race cautions brought Allmendinger back into the fight with a “Lucky Dog” and lead lap spot, he did not have enough time to make up for lost points and position.
Crossing the stripe in 16th, Allmendinger reflected on his championship quest’s ending recalling how his team battled to get his car’s handling to his liking.
“It’s all fair. We’re going back and forth on it,” Allmendinger said. “We knew going into today, we weren’t happy with the car. We hoped we’d make it better and it was really bad to start with. So all credit to Bruce and all the guys, kept adjusting on it, picked the right strategy to be on a little bit better tires.”
The urgency was prevalent in Allmendinger’s mindset, particularly when he would get close to and battle alongside with Allgaier. There was a mutual understanding that it was going to be a true, gritty fight to Phoenix.
“I knew I had to go quick cause it was gonna be tough to pass once he got the high line rolling,” he recalled with Allgaier’s preference with racing the second groove. “So, it was all fair. I knew I tried to pinch him down cause I knew if I could clear and maybe get away, there’s a chance.
“And we just made contact. That’s what happens in this format.”
Moreover, Allmendinger tipped his cap to Allgaier, particularly with how scrappy both drivers and teams fought all season long.
“Congrats to Justin and those guys. They deserve it,” he remarked. “We knew it was going to be a battle. And thank you to everybody at Kaulig Racing. (With) our Action Industries Chevrolet, we were making the best of it. It’s disappointing to end it like that. But it’s still a great year. We did everything we could.”
Ultimately, the cards did not fall into Allmendinger’s favor at the Dominion State track. Ultimately, he understood the high stakes of a short track deciding the Championship 4 field while looking forward to closing out this latest chapter of his racing career with a hopeful outlook.
“It was unfortunate that the tire got cut down,” he shared. “But when you’re banging fenders like that, there’s always a chance of that. It is what it is. We honestly weren’t good enough overall to really give ourselves a shot. We were just trying to do what we’ve done all year and make the best of it. And we still had a shot at it.
“I’m not mad. I’m obviously disappointed not going to Phoenix but it’s been a great time in the Xfinity Series. And we’ve still got one more race.”