NXS: AJ Allmendinger fends off late charge from William Byron, wins COTA for second consecutive year

AJ Allmendinger started the day in first, and that’s also where he ended it for the second straight year on the 20-turn Circuit of The Americas.

Allmendinger, who led a race-high 28 of 46 laps, retook the lead on Lap 33 and didn’t relinquish it again even as fellow Cup regular William Byron gave chase over the last several laps and finished .853 seconds behind the winner.

“Well, William Byron might be one of the best ones in the sport right now. We’ve seen all the Cup races he’s winning,” Allmendinger said. “I knew it was gonna be tough just trying to fight to get back up to the front there.”

The “fight” Allmendinger referred to was the result of pitting after cruising to a Stage 1 victory. Allmendinger elected to pit on Lap 15 after winning the opening stage – the stage ended under green instead of yellow, a new road course rule – while the majority of the field pitted prior. That left Allmendinger mired deep in the field for much of Stage 2.

After ninth-place Brett Moffit’s car stopped in Turn 1 and brought out the caution on Lap 28, most everyone pitted for four tires, including Allmendinger. On the ensuing restart, Sheldon Creed was able to pass Ryan Sieg for the lead and won the second stage after the caution flag flew for Cole Custer, who was stuck in the Turn 4 sand trap after contact from Josh Berry.

On the Lap 33 restart to begin the final stage, Allmendinger got up to second place and later spun Creed in Turn 19 to regain the lead for the first time since Lap 15.

“Hate we had contact with Sheldon (Creed),” Allmendinger said. “I got under him, I was there I felt like, and he turned. I was trying to stay off him, so I hate that happened, but so proud of everybody at Kaulig Racing.”

Hendrick Motorsports’ Byron said of his second-place showing: “I just messed the esses up. I was getting one final run at him. Obviously they were really good all day. AJ’s great at these road courses and I still have just a little bit to gain and minimize some mistakes.”

Another Cup regular – Ty Gibbs – finished third, almost 13 seconds behind Allmendinger. Fellow Joe Gibbs Racing driver Sammy Smith was fourth and veteran Justin Allgaier was fifth.

Daniel Hemric made up the middle of a JRM sandwich in sixth as Sam Mayer and Berry were seventh and eighth. Creed was able to preserve a top-10 finish in ninth, while Riley Herbst came home 10th.

In all, there were five cautions for seven laps. Austin Hill, who had engine troubles and finished 37th, retains the lead in the point standings by 15 over Herbst. John Hunter Nemechek, who was spun by Hemric in the closing laps, finished 27th and sits 29 points behind Hill in third.

The Xfinity Series heads to Richmond Raceway for the first short track race of the season next Saturday, April 1, for the ToyotaCare 250. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. ET on FS1.

Jason Guth
Follow Me