HOMESTEAD, Fla. – If NASCAR still had a regular points format void of any postseasons, playoffs, rounds or eliminations, AJ Allmendinger would mathematically be one race away from wrapping up his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series championship.
But that’s a points format of a bygone era, and in this timeline, Allmendinger is fighting hard to keep his championship hopes alive. But on Saturday (Oct. 22) evening at Homestead-Miami Speedway, that job got just a little bit easier.
The NASCAR journeyman and road-course ace earned a third-place finish on the 1.5-mile oval of Homestead and points-raced his way back into the top four of the Xfinity Series standings after heading into the southern Floridian circuit 16 points below the cut line. He left it with a cushion of five points.
“At the end of the day, it was one of the best races I’ve run for our race team,” said Allmendinger post-race. “To come out 16 down and plus five going into Martinsville, at least we’ve got a chance … That’s the way these playoffs are. One bad race can put you in trouble.”
Indeed, one bad race did put him in trouble. In fact, it was one of only four bad races the No. 16 team has had all year.
In 2022, Allmendinger has finished in the top 10 27 times out of 31 races, meaning he has only finished outside of the first 10 positions a miniscule total of four races. In fact, the lowest he’s finished all year was 22nd, and it just so happened to occur at Las Vegas Motor Speedway during the opening race for the Xfinity Series Round of 8.
The humdrum finish put the Kaulig Racing driver below the cut line in sixth with a deficit of 16 points after JR Motorsports driver Josh Berry earned his third win of the season and punched his ticket into the series’ Championship 4 for Phoenix Raceway.
That put the normally jolly Allmendinger in a downhearted mood.
“I was super down yesterday. Even today,” said Allmendinger, who won at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL only a week before Las Vegas. “Just knowing that I struggle sometimes running the fence, and that’s where the speed is going to be… Obviously, last weekend was disappointing. That goes without saying… But that’s what I love about our race team. Chris (Rice) pumped me up this morning. I was really, really down. We’re going to keep fighting no matter what.”
To make things better for the Californian racer, he now heads to Martinsville Speedway for the series’ penultimate race of 2022 – a track he has performed well at in the past.
But that doesn’t mean he’s not cautious.
“We know how good Justin [Allgaier] is there, and Austin [Hill] was really strong there,” said the driver of the No. 16, who has earned five Xfinity wins so far in 2022. “It’s not going to be easy. Obviously, Brandon [Jones] won last time there.”
He’s right. It’s not going to be easy. Like he mentioned, he has some stiff competition.
Then there’s the aforementioned Hill and Allgaier, who both have a higher average Xfinity Series finish than Allmendinger at the paperclip-shaped circuit of four and 11.3, respectfully.
It’s true. It won’t be easy. But at least now it’ll be easier.
“I just wanted to go in there potentially not just having to win the race,” Allmendinger said sweating on pit road. “And that’s what we gave ourselves a chance to do.”
About the author
Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.
Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT
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