Race Weekend Central

Xfinity Breakdown: Concrete Chaos in Nashville Opens The Door For AJ Allmendinger

Mayhem!

The Tennessee Lottery 250 on Saturday (June 24) in Lebanon, Tenn. featured attrition among some of its favorites to win, tying the Nashville Superspeedway record for the NASCAR Xfinity Series with a total of 11 cautions. The wrecking began in turn 1, lap 1, and didn’t stop through most of the first two stages.

Temperatures in the 90s made for a hot, slick racetrack and likely some hot tempers after the race. The phrase “next-man-up” came into play here as contenders were put through the spin cycle. Repeatedly, the driver who seemed to be the most likely winner wound up either crashed or damaged, turning the race into a battle for survival.

Some noteworthy drivers who were involved in wrecks included Ty Gibbs, Justin Allgaier, Austin Hill (twice), AJ Allmendinger, Carson Hocevar, Sammy Smith, Brandon Jones, Jeb Burton, Ryan Sieg, Kyle Sieg and Connor Mosack.

But there’s one driver who, in hindsight is probably happy he got hit: the damage sustained by Allmendinger in a lap 53 wreck actually seemed to have helped his speed. The right rear was pushed in and bent in such a way that provided some additional downforce, rocketing his No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet back through the field. Late in the race, after Allmendinger had started closing on the leaders, it became clear he had a sizeable edge on the rest of the field who survived all the carnage.

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AJ Allmendinger Wins Wild Xfinity Series Race at Nashville

When the mayhem cooled down some in the final stage, we saw an excellent battle between Chandler Smith and Custer in front that went on for many laps. As those two battled fiercely, Allmendinger caught up and eventually overtook them both.

In the end, it was Allmendinger’s second Xfinity series victory this season, 17th of his career and third top five in three 2023 attempts. Riley Herbst finished second, followed by Sam Mayer, Hill, and Josh Berry a strong fifth just days after announcing his Cup Series promotion in 2024. John Hunter Nemechek, Zane Smith, Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer, and Parker Retzlaff rounded out the rest of your top-10 finishers.

What a race! When it was announced that Nashville Superspeedway would return to the schedule, there was a collective groan from those who remembered how the track raced during its first go-round from 2001-2011. But we saw some excellent racing here last season, and after two of three races in the books for 2023, we’re batting 1.000 at this 1.33-mile oval.

We’ll see if the Cup Series can keep the Music City momentum going.

Winners

Allmendinger just seems to win races in gritty ways. Whether it’s spinning and winning on a road course, or getting in an early wreck that somehow manages to improve his handling, the ‘Dinger earns trophies in some pretty entertaining ways. Those wins always happen in this series, though. You have to wonder if AJ wouldn’t be happier as a full-time Xfinity driver, competing for championships annually instead of slugging it out for 20th place each week on the Cup level.

Herbst had a new crew chief this week, Davin Restivo, after his prior head wrench Richard Boswell was promoted to the Cup Series to work with Chase Briscoe. This race wasn’t perfect for Herbst. During a green-flag pit sequence in the final stage, he slowed to come to pit road but soon realized he was never going to make it.

The mistake cost Herbst some time, but late cautions, plus missing out on the wrecks, helped him achieve his best finish of the season. Runner-up was the Las Vegas native’s first top five since April 1 at Richmond Raceway, and that’s no April Fools joke. Maybe the crew chief change was just what the doctor ordered.

Mayer’s third-place finish, with points in both stages, helped him improve to ninth in the standings, some 58 points above the playoff cutline. There was a moment where it looked like Mayer might be the driver to beat. That moment was fleeting, though. Still, Mayer’s six laps led were his first since Darlington Raceway on May 13.

Hill was involved in at least two incidents. He spun on lap 9 and sustained rear end damage. The rear spoiler was pushed up slightly as a result of the contact and, like Allmendinger but perhaps to a lesser extent, the bent sheet metal seemed to help Hill’s handling instead of hurt it.

After the lap 9 incident, Hill was behind the curve on his tire allotment, so to start stage two, his team elected not to take tires. That gave him the lead, but he again spun in turn 1 on that restart, left to climb back through the field once again. All the adversity prevented fourth-place Hill from earning any stage points, but he still remains first on the playoff grid courtesy of his series-leading three wins.

Berry was the center of attention this week, announcing Wednesday he’ll drive the No. 4 car for Stewart-Haas Racing in the Cup Series next season, replacing the retiring Kevin Harvick. He had a quiet race but avoided wreck after wreck and brought home a top-five finish for JR Motorsports. Berry is fifth in the regular season standings, some 99 points above the cutline on the playoff grid.

The third Smith in this race, Zane Smith, did a really nice job driving the No. 28 Ford for RSS Racing. Remember, this team was the same one Aric Almirola won with at Sonoma Raceway two weeks ago.

Despite the official designation as a RSS entry, there was a lot of involvement from SHR this weekend; could that be a sign of partnerships to come? Smith isn’t often flashy, but he gets the job done; seventh is solid for a spot start in NXS as the reigning Truck Series champion aims to move up come 2024.

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Custer, who may have had the best car, only finished ninth. Late-race restarts buried him further back than he had been running despite pacing the field for 32 laps. After the race, he told Frontstretch about his disappointment with the finish, and his belief that the damage to Allmendinger’s car led to an unfair advantage.

Kyle Weatherman finished 18th, driving the No. 4 Chevrolet for JD Motorsports. That’s a car which hasn’t even made the show in some recent events. Weatherman was recently praised by Dale Earnhardt Jr. for his talent and, after starting 32nd, he showed why such praise was deserved. This effort will help the No. 4 team in the owner points, which might pay dividends in the near future should they need to fall back on them to make it into the show.

His JDM teammate Brennan Poole finished 20th. Poole was not happy with Weatherman, though and accused his teammate of unnecessary rough driving. Frontstretch caught up with both men after the race.

Losers

Stefan Parsons had a new sponsor, Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery, and a sleek looking Camaro at the track. He had a solid qualifying effort and started 18th, but a promising weekend never made it beyond the first lap. Parsons was collected in a lap 1 melee involving the Sieg brothers, Burton, and others, leaving him sitting in the garage dead last.

Gibbs was a favorite coming into the race, feeding into why Frontstretch’s Tanner Marlar caused a stir over ‘Buschwhacking’ earlier this week. Allmendinger’s win likely irked those opposed to the art with a funny name, but Gibbs didn’t do any of it at Nashville. His day was ended by the same lap 53 incident that gave Allmendinger his beneficial damage. The 20-year-old from Charlotte, N.C. wound up sitting in the garage in 37th.

Hocevar had yet another race where he fought above his weight, until he didn’t. After winning the Craftsman Truck Series race on Friday evening (July 23), he spent the majority of his time inside the top five in NXS until getting collected in the lap 53 wreck, unable to finish another promising run at a higher level. He wound up 36th.

A disappointing season continues for Brandon Jones. He was running inside the top 15 and could’ve capitalized on all the attrition, until he became part of it. A lap 68 crash badly wounded his Chevrolet, leaving him limping home 24th.

At least Jones had a chance to compete; Sage Karam wasn’t even in the race. The former IndyCar driver was running the No. 44 this week for Alpha Prime Racing, putting down a decent lap in qualifying until he got loose and made major rear-end contact with the wall. The lap time suffered and led to a DNQ, the first of his limited NASCAR career to date.

Karam took to social media to voice his disappointment and anticipation for next week’s race at the Chicago Street Course.

Speaking of teams that failed to make the show, your humble author recently discussed the trials and tribulations of this season with MBM Motorsports team owner Carl Long.

Among many other things, Long talked about how much shorter practice times had “made it difficult for us.” This weekend, the Xfinity Series held a 50-minute practice session, but it wasn’t enough for MBM to find its groove. Despite driver Chad Finchum picking up speed throughout practice and qualifying, the No. 66 missed the show for the ninth time this season.

Scheme of the Week

The always entertaining Josh Williams and his No. 92 Chevrolet from DGM Racing is our pick for scheme of the week. New sponsors Dan-O’s seasoning and Peg Leg Porker put together a good-looking green scheme with a flair of wood grain and the Dan-O’s suspender-clad mascot.

An old superstition said having green on a racecar was bad luck. The likes of Harry Gant, Bobby Labonte, and Kyle Busch have done a lot of work over the years to disprove that. Unfortunately for Williams, this good-looking ride wasn’t able to contend for a good finish. Fuel pump issues surfaced in stage two, putting the team many laps down and eventually ending their day altogether.

Well, if you’re going to finish 33rd, at least look good doing it, right? Between this scheme and that hair, Williams had the field covered. Better luck next week!

Fuel for Thought

When Brandon Jones and his Menards sponsorship moved to JR Motorsports, taking over for Noah Gragson, it seemed like that team would be a factor for the championship. But we are now 15 races into the season and Jones is 14th in the regular season standings, collecting just one top-five finish. After 15 races last year, Gragson already had two wins and nine top fives running the same car.

Yes, the skew rules were changed. Yes, Jones had to adapt to a Chevrolet. Yes, he has to get acquainted with his new team. But this slump is just getting to be embarrassing.

JR Motorsports had a slow start to the season across the board. However, while Jones continues to trudge through the season with his one top five, JRM teammates are leaving him in the dust. Even Mayer, who has far less experience than Jones, is eighth in the points. Is Jones worthy of this elite ride?

One other question. Are we still wanting to chew up and spit out Nashville Superspeedway in favor of the Fairgrounds? I can’t see getting rid of this track with the racing and excitement we are seeing. Can the booming market of Nashville support a race at both tracks? I think so. What about you?

Where to Next?

It’s street course racing time! We’re headed to Illinois for The Loop 121 from the Chicago Street Course, perhaps the biggest unknown on the entire schedule. The course features 12 turns, seven of them coming in at 90-degree angles. The views will sure be legendary along the shore of Lake Michigan; will the racing match it?

You’d think the drivers who thrive on road courses would have an edge, but this event is going to be a totally unique beast for Xfinity Series drivers. There won’t be any Cup Series drivers in the field, so which NXS regular will get the honor of winning NASCAR’s first ever Chicago street race?

It all gets started on Saturday, July 1 at 5:00 p.m. ET. Follow the action on USA Network along with your local MRN radio affiliate.

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.

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Dawg

There are a lot of drivers in NASCAR that I have a hard time liking. But the two Nashville winners so far are not in that category.
Behind the grin, & goofy hats, Hocivar has shown some serious talent, that should serve him well, as he progresses up the ladder.

I’ve followed AJ since he overcame his early struggles, to become an Indy Car winner. Then his disastrous start in Cup with ill fated BK racing, the loss of his Penske ride, the JTG Daughtery years, until finding a home at Kaulig. His joy is infectious, & he’s in a good place now. happy for him.

Here’s hoping the trend continues tonight. With the experience of the cup drivers, & the late start, we should see an entirely different race this evening.

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