Race Weekend Central

The Underdog House: AJ Allmendinger Finding Late Season Success

Top Dog: AJ Allmendinger

If AJ Allmendinger and Kaulig Racing still haven’t decided where the driver should compete next season, the case for another year in the Cup Series is looking more and more desirable.

Amidst the late-race chaos that consumed the Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Oct. 22, Allmendinger quietly — and I mean very quietly — finished fifth, his fourth top five of the season. What’s even crazier is that all of those top fives have come in the second half of the season.

Allmendinger, two weeks removed from his emotional win at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, started 25th at Homestead and didn’t earn any stage points throughout the day. But as frontrunners such as Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. ran into trouble toward the end of the race, Allmendinger quietly slipped through to bring home another top five.

See also
Christopher Bell Rallies for Homestead Win

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, however. Last year, as a part-time driver for Kaulig while competing for an Xfinity Series championship, Allmendinger showed up to Homestead and finished third. Homestead is just a good track for Allmendinger since he joined Kaulig. His worst finish at Homestead in a Kaulig car was 14th in the Xfinity race back in 2021.

Allmendinger’s No. 16 seat has been a topic of silly season, as Allmendinger is unsure whether or not he will compete full-time in the Cup Series next season or return to the Xfinity Series.

Allmendinger is finally putting together better results in a Cup car — after all, he hasn’t been full-time in a Cup car since 2018 — so maybe the growing pains of getting adjusted to a new car while also returning to full-time after five years are finally over.

Who Impressed

Erik Jones didn’t have an outstanding race by any means, but 14th is certainly something to be happy about when all is said and done. Jones has finished outside the top 20 ever since his impressive third-place run at Kansas Speedway, so a 14th-place result to stop the bleeding for the No. 43 team will more than suffice.

Corey Lajoie’s 20th-place finish isn’t indicative of his performance throughout the race. At one point, Lajoie had outright drove into the top 10 and was challenging some of the big dogs. It looked to be a great day for the No. 7 team, but unfortunately the handle went away and Lajoie had to settle for 20th. It doesn’t take away the fact that Spire Motorsports seems to be moving in the right direction, especially in anticipation of a big 2024 for the team.

Who’s in the Dog House

Another race, another poor finish for Harrison Burton.

Burton hasn’t really had the best experience in the Cup Series, but things have gone even worse for the No. 21 after a crew chief change entering the playoffs. Burton is now working with Jeremy Bullins after previously having Brian Wilson atop the pit box, and the partnership is not good right now.

Burton went behind the wall at Homestead after completing 165 of the 267 laps. There was no explanation given as to why, but the final race results show that Burton’s car may have been struggling with overheating. Burton was the first car out of the race and finished dead last in 36th.

Even worse, the DNF is Burton’s fourth in the eight races since Team Penske switched out the crew chiefs with the Wood Brothers Racing team. Talk about a string of bad luck. Yikes.

See also
Ryan Blaney Calls Denny Hamlin 'Hack' After Chaotic Miami Race

John Hunter Nemechek made his season debut for Legacy Motor Club, the team he will be driving for full-time next season. The deal came together when Toyota agreed to loan Nemechek to Chevrolet for one race to allow Nemechek to get to know the No. 42 team as it prepares to switch to Toyota and welcome Nemechek.

Unfortunately on lap 212, Nemechek collided with JJ Yeley and Ross Chastain, resulting in Yeley slamming the inside wall and Chastain and Nemechek taking heavy damage themselves. All three drivers were done for the race. Nemechek, in particular, finished 32nd — a disappointing debut for the team.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. never really got going and only managed a 27th-place finish, four laps behind race winner Christopher Bell. Stenhouse spun and brought out a caution that ended stage one. Later he smacked the wall and eventually brought his No. 47 to pit road while his JTG Daugherty Racing crew went under the hood.

It’s been a good season for Stenhouse and JTG, but Homestead likely will not be included on the postseason highlights.

What They’re Saying

Allmendinger (fifth):

Nemechek (32nd):

Yeley (33rd):

Josh Bilicki (35th):

Small Team Scheme of the Week:

When racing near Miami, sometimes paint schemes are adjusted accordingly to accommodate the vibe that Miami brings.

While Raze Energy has always had colorful paint schemes with Spire Motorsports, the one that adorned Ty Dillon‘s No. 77 promoted Raze’s all new Focus Shot, particularly the sour gummy worm flavor.

Dillon’s paint scheme was filled with bright green and blue, complete with a gold number that made the scheme shine under the Miami sun as Dillon wheeled it to a 24th-place finish.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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Fingers crossed, here’s hoping I’ll be able to watch the Dinger in Cup next season.

I know that he should be able to win trophies in Xfinity, But I have to think a Cup trophy should trump anything he could do in Xfinity.

And he’s proven that if they can give him the car, he can get ‘er done.

Good finishes on ovals would just be icing on the cake.

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