Race Weekend Central

The Underdog House: AJ Allmendinger Closes Door on 2022 With Optimism Ahead

Top Dog: AJ Allmendinger

A growing annual review that several media members and fans have tackled is what things are coming to an end in 2022. Once again, that was the case during the week leading up to the season finale at Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 6).

For AJ Allmendinger, it includes two opposite circumstances. On one hand, he closed the door on his full-time tenure with Kaulig Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, three years after joining the team to help build it up.

On the other hand, his time as a part-time driver in Kaulig Racing’s No. 16 in the NASCAR Cup Series came to a close as well because he’ll run for the organization full-time in 2023. On Sunday, he capped his part-time tenure strong with a 12th-place run.

After starting 16th, Allmendinger quickly drove up to 12th early on, where he stayed until the conclusion of stage one.

A rough pit stop during the stage break put the No. 16 back in 27th to begin stage two. Dirty air caused Allmendinger to struggle as he drove up to 19th. However, he was short on fuel to make it to the end of the stage, forcing him to pit with about 20 laps to go in the stage. Fortunately, he was able to get his lap back by the end of the stage.

Early in stage three, the 40-year-old got caught on the outside of a four-wide situation, which ended with both Michael McDowell and Tyler Reddick spinning. Allmendinger said he got hit in the left rear, but no issues developed from it.

Another close call occurred in the final stage when Allmendinger hit the wall, but nothing came from it once again.

With 45 laps to go, a caution flew for Alex Bowman, leading to the final pit stop of the race. Allmendinger restarted in 10th and was able to keep his ground, crossing the line with a top-15 finish.

Daniel Hemric spoke with Frontstretch following the Xfinity race and was asked about his time as a teammate with Allmendinger. At one point, Hemric said “[Allmendinger] is as good as anyone if not better than those guys on Sundays.” Despite all of the rough patches during his career, Allmendinger certainly established himself as a potential playoff contender for 2023.

While he only competed in 18 Cup races, Allmendinger had an average finish of 15.4 in 2022, better than any other season in his Cup career. He had a career-high three top fives and the third most top 10s of his career with eight.

In his final 10 starts with Kaulig, the Los Gatos, Calif. native finished outside the top 10 only three times. The speed and consistency he was able to find with a team in its first full-time Cup season should bring high hopes for the 2023 season.

A rejuvenated, winning Allmendinger is one of the most entertaining stories in the sport. Now, it will be interesting to see what he can do with arguably his best Cup opportunity.

Underdog Highlights

Erik Jones concluded his second season in the No. 43 for Petty GMS in 14th. 2022 also was a rejuvenation of sorts for Jones, though he is only 26. He earned 13 top 10s this season, more than double of his 2021 total. Those 13 top 10s were also the most for a Petty-owned team in 13 years. His 16.3 average finish matched the mark he set in 2019 and was the third-best average finish of his career in six seasons, three of which came with Joe Gibbs Racing. To top it all off, he got the No. 43 back in victory lane for the first time in eight years by winning at Darlington Raceway.

The future only looks brighter for Jones and Petty GMS. Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson stole some headlines this weekend when he announced that he was purchasing an ownership stake in the team, which will also include him driving in select races. The information, experience and potential alliances that Johnson will bring can only help a young Jones, who is looking to bring Petty GMS to the top.

See also
Jimmie Johnson Becomes Part-Owner of Petty GMS, Will Run Partial Schedule

With all of the euphoria of the championship weekend and silly season news, tragedy struck in a way that tore up hearts in the NASCAR community. Just hours after watching his son, Ty Gibbs win the 2022 Xfinity title, Joe Gibbs Racing co-owner Coy Gibbs passed away in his sleep at the age of 49. Please extend your prayers to the Gibbs family during this trying time. Truly, life is but a vapor and an absolute gift.

Ty Gibbs was pulled from the No. 23 for 23XI Racing and the team scrambled to find a substitute. Just an hour before the race, Hemric was tapped for driving duties. Despite having no practice in the car, the short notice and having to fit in the seat, the 31-year-old put together a sentimental and solid 17th-place run. It was certainly not the circumstance Hemric wanted to have to cover for, but he gave it all in a difficult situation.

See also
NASCAR Community Reacts to Coy Gibbs' Death

Behind Hemric in 18th was Corey LaJoie. LaJoie had two moments of contact with Ryan Blaney after being lapped early in the race but was able to keep his composure and earn a solid top 20. On the year, LaJoie earned 15 top-20 results as Spire Motorsports continues to build. LaJoie will have a consistent teammate to communicate with next year in the No. 77, as Ty Dillon will move over to the team in 2023.

The race did not go off without incidents and a couple involved underdogs. On lap 85, Landon Cassill spun off turn 2, slapping the outside wall and blocking the path of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Stenhouse hit Cassill and sustained some serious damage to the nose of his No. 47. Stenhouse finished 35th while Cassill went out of the race in 36th.

Another caution flew on lap 193 when McDowell fell victim to a four-wide situation mentioned earlier. McDowell later got into Bowman, causing the final caution of the race. McDowell concluded a career-best season in 25th. His 12 top 10s earned were more than winning drivers William Byron, Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric and Bubba Wallace.

Underdogs Sound Off

LaJoie (finished 18th): 

Ty Dillon (finished 26th): “We rebounded there at the end, our Petty GMS team was able to get the car a little bit better towards the end of the race. I’d say it was a decent end to the year. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to drive the No. 42 Chevy this season, we had a lot of memories made this season and I had a lot of fun behind the wheel. Thank you to Maury Gallagher, Richard Petty, the fans, and all of our partners. Onto what’s next for me.”

Top-10 Underdog Moments Since 2000 – No. 1

Drumroll, please! After 10 weeks, we have arrived at the top underdog moment of the 21st century thus far. Many of the moments we have covered have included perseverance, emotional wins, and some of the most shocking moments in NASCAR history. However, this one is undeniably one of the biggest upsets in history.

During Speedweeks for the 2011 Daytona 500, a young driver named Trevor Bayne made waves in the No. 21 for Wood Brothers Racing. At just 20 years old, Bayne was making his second career Cup start.

The Big One struck early, as a collision between David Reutimann and Michael Waltrip set off a 17-car pileup. Tandem drafting was a big feature of the race, limiting how many laps a driver could stay out front. Ryan Newman led the most with 37. 22 drivers swapped the lead 74 times, the most for the Great American Race. It also featured 16 cautions, most comprising of just a couple of cars.

The 15th caution flew involving Regan Smith and Clint Bowyer, who had been a force during the event. On the ensuing restart, the complexion of the race changed. Race leader David Ragan changed lanes before reaching the start/finish line, leading to a penalty and Ragan’s hopes of winning dashed. A three-car crash involving Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. brought out the final caution, setting up another green-white-checkered.

On the final lap, Carl Edwards got by Bobby Labonte for second with help from David Gilliland. That put Edwards right on the bumper of race leader Bayne. Edwards attempted to make the pass but never got a window. Bayne held on for his first career win, becoming the youngest winner of the Daytona 500 and the second to do so in his first attempt at the race.

Small Team Scheme of the Race

Todd Gilliland had Boot Barn on the car once again for the final race of his rookie season. The No. 38 featured a black and orange twist for a sponsor that usually features a red and black car. It also had an American flag shadowed into the black. Gilliland wrapped up a solid rookie campaign with a 29th-place result. His future is uncertain currently, but expect him to be back with Front Row Motorsports.

About the author

Luken Glover arrived on the Frontstretch scene in 2020. He has been an avid NASCAR fan for the majority of his life, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who used to help former team owner Junie Donlavey in his garage. Glover covers news for the site and took over "The Underdog House" column in 2021. In addition to being a college junior, his hobbies include volunteering at church, playing basketball and tennis, racing go-karts, and helping at his high school alma mater.

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