AJ Allmendinger’s 17th career NASCAR Xfinity Series win proves his versatility

Kaulig Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger held off an especially spirited field in double overtime to claim his first oval race victory of the season in a dramatic Tennessee Lottery 250 at Nashville Superspeedway Saturday afternoon.

The popular veteran led the final 20 laps and got an impressive final restart to launch his No. 11 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet from the pack and drive off to a 1.323-second win over runner-up Riley Herbst in a race that included a record-tying 11 caution periods and 17 lead changes among 11 different drivers.

The caution-punctuated ending was perhaps suitable for a race that saw three yellow flags within the first 20 laps. Fifteen cars in the 38-car field had been involved in incidents before the Stage 2 break.

Yet ultimately it came down a veteran’s purposeful, patient afternoon-long pursuit. And the 41-year old Californian Allmendinger was up for the challenge, claiming his 17th victory in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and second of the season.

“I love winning on ovals because I know a lot of people doubt me on an oval,” a smiling Allmendinger said, a nod to his former open-wheel days and his reputation as one of the best road course drivers in the history of the sport.

Certainly his experience paid off on Saturday with an especially active day. Ty Gibbs, the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion and now a NASCAR Cup Series rookie, won the first Stage and showed himself among the class of the field.  But on the next restart his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was hit while racing for the lead with one of this year’s championship favorites, Austin Hill, who was restarting up front on older tires. Allmendinger’s Chevy also suffered a little damage in the five-car melee near the front of the pack, but he – and Hill – were able to continue, while Gibbs’ car suffered too much damage.

Chandler Smith, Allmendinger’s Kaulig Racing teammate won the race’s second stage and kept the lead pack honest for most of the day. He and Allmendinger exchanged the lead and ran 1-2 for much of the second half of the race around the 1.333-mile oval.

After a series of final scheduled pit stops, Parker Kligerman settled in for the biggest strategic gamble of the day. While the lead cars were making their way back through the field following stops, Kligerman kept his No. 48 Big Machine Racing Chevrolet out front willing to take a chance on a fuel-saving strategy. But with 12 laps remaining, Kligerman’s team told him to drop in line behind Allmendinger to start conserving and Allmendinger passed him for the lead with 11 laps of regulation to go.

JR Motorsports driver Sam Mayer finished third with Hill fourth and JR Motorsports’ – and Tennessee native – Josh Berry rounding out the Top-5.

“That was the most up and down day I’ve ever had in racing,” Mayer said, managing a smile on pit road afterward.

John Hunter Nemechek finished sixth in the No. 20 JGR Toyota. Although he never led a lap his rally forward after a 21st starting position was good enough for him to hold onto the championship lead by nine points over Hill.

Reigning NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series champion Zane Smith turned in an impressive seventh-place finish in the No. 28 Ford. Allmendinger’s Kaulig teammate Daniel Hemric was eighth. Herbst’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Cole Custer was ninth followed by rookie Parker Retzlaff.

“We got a little fortunate there, when the accident happened, it didn’t really do anything too bad to the quarter panels .. and the guys did a good job of fixing it there,” Allmendinger said of the early damage, noting that the rash of early cautions actually helped his team have time to restore his car competitively.

“I will be honest, I was shocked on the initial start, I went down and made it three wide and thought nothing on it, didn’t even drive my car that hard and started wrecking so that kind of raised my eyebrows, it’s a lot slicker than I expected,” Allmendinger said. “So the next couple starts, just tried to chill and get into the rhythm of the race.

“I just knew more than anything I needed a good re-start and to get in Turn 1 clean,’’ he said of the final restart and ultimate winning move.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series moves to the Midwest next week for Saturday’s inaugural The Loop 121 on the Chicago Street Race course (5 p.m. ET, USA Network, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).