Race Weekend Central

Xfinity Breakdown: AJ Allmendinger Refuses to Lose at COTA

AUSTIN, Texas — With 26 laps to go in the Pit Boss 250 (March 25) at Circuit of the Americas, AJ Allmendinger was in 29th place. The road-course ace was mired deep in the pack due to pit strategy. Then, his car was battered and bruised by an incident in turn 1, leaving him at the tail end of the pack.

Could he really come back from that? Well, he restarted 25th on lap 23 and drove up to eighth place by lap 26, all under the green flag. With 14 laps to go, the Los Gatos, Calif., native was up to second. He then got into Sheldon Creed, sending the No. 2 car spinning. Allmendinger zoomed by unscathed and never relinquished the lead.

William Byron gave chase to Allmendinger the rest of the way, keeping the lead at or below one second. As Byron closed in on the final lap, he missed his mark in the esses and couldn’t get back to Allmendinger. Ty Gibbs came home third, sweeping the top three for NASCAR Cup Series regulars. Sammy Smith finished fourth and Justin Allgaier rounded up the top five.

This was the first race in years to feature no cautions at the end of stages. Allgaier let Frontstretch know how much he liked that “new” twist after the race.


Allmendinger scored his 16th Xfinity Series win and his 11th on road courses. The come-from-behind nature of the win adds to his legacy and brings back memories of his Portland International Raceway win last season.

This was the first win for Kaulig Racing since the Charlotte ROVAL, the last time we were at a road course. Can you guess who won that race? Here’s a hint: His name rhymes with “all-time ringer.”

Oh, what could’ve been for Creed. He won stage two and had a great run going until the contact from Allmendinger dropped him back to 24th with just 14 laps to go. The 25-year-old then staged a comeback of his own. He went on to finish ninth and thanks to his stage results of second and first, he scored the most points on the day.

Smith showed he will be a factor on the road courses despite his rookie status. The Johnston, Iowa, native held his own with teammate Gibbs. Smith collected points in both stages and finished fourth.

It appeared Riley Herbst might lose his top 10 streak. He ran a clean race, but was 12th with four laps to go. Misfortune for John Hunter Nemechek and a pass on Jeb Burton kept the streak alive. Going back to last season, this was Herbst’s ninth consecutive top 10. For those keeping track at home, Herbst has now beaten his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Cole Custer in all six races so far this season.

See also
Sheldon Creed Ends Promising COTA Xfinity Race in 9th After Contact With AJ Allmendinger

How in the world did Josh Berry finish eighth? The JR Motorsports driver had his front end smashed up on the first lap of the race. Berry used strategy to finish fifth in stage two and held top-10 track position the rest of the way.

Alex Labbe had a solid day filling in for the suspended Josh Williams. DGM Racing’s super sub from Quebec finished 15th. Williams will return to the car next week, but Labbe did well with the opportunity.

Sam Mayer had a pretty quiet day. He scored only one stage point, but scored a top-10 finish. Perhaps more importantly, his seventh-place result qualified him for the Xfinity Dash for Cash. He’ll join Sammy Smith, Allgaier and Daniel Hemric in a battle for $100,000 next week.

The Losers

Points leader Austin Hill started 12th and quickly moved into the top five. But transmission issues snowballed into engine issues, eventually ending his day. Hill won three of the first five races of this season but finished 37th at COTA.

Custer had a good run going. He was running second when a caution came out late in stage two. Two laps later, he spun and got stuck in the gravel. This would bring out a caution and cause Custer to lose a lap he would never get back. He finished 32nd and lost three positions in the points standings, falling to 12th.

Parker Kligerman ran well early, and finished the first stage in third place. He developed gear issues. He finished last on the lead lap in 31st. The skilled road racer will have to wait until Portland in June to get another opportunity to turn right.

The JD Motorsports No. 4 car driven by Garrett Smithley was the latest casualty of the increased level of competition throughout the pack this season. Smithley failed to qualify at COTA and the No. 4 team has dropped down to 38th in the standings. They’ll now be battling with CHK Racing, MBM Motorsports and Emerling Gase Motorsports for the final spots on future grids.

Scheme of the Week

Aliens, Bald Eagles and Four Loko. Ryan Ellis quietly finished 20th, but his scheme was LOUD. This car stood out on the track and could be seen very vividly on the wide shots, despite running mid-pack most of the day.

Fuel for Thought

For the first time since 2016, NASCAR did not throw a caution flag for stage breaks. Fans have been asking for this for a while, especially at the road courses. This offered a vintage opportunity for strategy. As it played out, cautions for cause would prevent widespread strategy racing in this event, but this format will be repeated on all national series road-course races this season. Keep an eye out for some varying strategies.

Despite the mechanical failure and poor result, Hill kept the points lead. He has 15 more points than the second-place driver. Who could that be? Nemechek? Allgaier? Smith? The other Smith? Berry? None of the above. Don’t look now, but Herbst has climbed to second in points, just 15 out of the lead. If the playoffs started today, Custer would be the last driver in. Ryan Sieg would be the first driver out.

Custer and Sieg are separated by just nine points. Brandon Jones lurks behind them in 15th. All of these drivers are in treacherous waters, especially if we get a surprise winner.

Where to Next?

The Xfinity Series will head to Richmond Raceway for the first short track of the season on Saturday, April 1 at 1 p.m. ET on FS1, along with the Motor Racing Network.

The most recent Xfinity race at Richmond was a duel between Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Gibbs and Nemechek. Gibbs moved his teammate and scored a controversial win. Is Nemechek the man to beat next week? Tune in and find out.

About the author

Steve Leffew joined Frontstretch in 2023, and covers the Xfinity Series. He resides in Wisconsin and has been a NASCAR fan as long as he can remember. He has served honorably in the United States Air Force and works during the week as a Real Estate Lender.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

The Dinger lost me as a fan for dirty driving. I’m really disgusted.

Share via