A.J. Allmendinger takes the checkered flag at the Bank of America ROVAL 400. (HHP/Jim Fluharty photo)

Allmendinger Spoils Playoffs With ROVAL Win

CONCORD, N.C. — A.J. Allmendinger is one of the best road racers in the NASCAR Cup Series. He proved that skill by winning Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

But he had to do it the hard way by holding off a charging William Byron and Kyle Busch, who had to win to advance in the playoffs.

The green flag waved with 10 laps to go, and Busch was sideways on the restart after spinning the tires. That allowed Allmendinger to pull away as Byron took second place.

Allmendinger defeated Byron by .666 seconds. It was an emotional win for the former Champ Car Series, IMSA Sports Car and IndyCar Series driver.

The reason for this emotion?

“Because you don’t know when you’re going to do it again,” Allmendinger said. “I love all the men and women at Kaulig Racing so much. First of all, hi to my beautiful wife and my new baby boy. I usually give these checkered flags away but I’m going to have to wrap this around Aero (his son). My mom and dad, all my family and friends, those people see how much anguish and how much I put it on my shoulders when we’re struggling. It just means the world.

“I hate crying right now, but it’s a freaking Cup race, man. You don’t know when it’s ever going to happen again. Let’s go.”

Allmendinger’s career has had plenty of anguish and pain. But it’s moments like his race Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that made it worthwhile.

“This is why you do it,” Allmendinger said. “This is the only reason you do it. You fight. All the blood, sweat, tears, everybody at Kaulig Racing has just been such — I’d say a down year, but up-and-down year. It’s our second year in the Cup Series.

“I freaking love you guys so much.”

It was Allmendinger’s third career NASCAR Cup Series victory — his first win this season.

It was the second elimination race in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs and reduced the field of contenders from 12 to eight.

The drivers who advanced were Byron of Hendrick Motorsports, Martin Truex, Jr. of Joe Gibbs Racing, Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle Larson of Hendrick Motorsports, Chris Buescher of RFK Racing, Christopher Bell of Joe Gibbs Racing, Tyler Reddick of 23XI Racing and Ryan Blaney of Team Penske.

The drivers eliminated were Brad Keselowski of RFK Racing, Ross Chastain of Trackhouse Racing, Bubba Wallace of 23XI Racing and Kyle Busch of Richard Childress Racing.

Busch had to win to get in and made a great effort to get to Allmendinger on the final restart but spun his tires.

He finished third in the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

“I knew the guy I wanted behind me was Kyle because we were quicker than him,” Allmendinger said. “Kyle has been fantastic to me, my whole career. When I started driving for these guys during the Pandemic of 2020 with no practice, Kyle was always a guy I could call and he would call me back and tell me everything I needed to know, in detail, for one hour.

“I didn’t think he would clean me out on a restart or anything like that. I was trying everything I could to get Kyle to second on the restart to know that could give me enough of a gap to settle away.”

Busch came close to pulling out a dramatic, walk-off win, just as Christopher Bell did in this race last year.

“Yeah, yeah, that’s what we set out to do,” Busch said. “That’s what we felt like our road course program had in it anyways was for sure a top three, definitely a win.

“The guys gave me a great piece today. The Lenovo Camaro was pretty fast, just lacked a little bit on the long run, just didn’t quite have the feel of the tire that I was really looking for to be able to turn into the corners and to be able to drive out of the corners and keep pace with the front two there at the end. 

“I felt like I was holding up the group behind me, but the 54 cut me some breaks there, so that was nice.

“But overall, this ride is on me anyways. The first two weeks of this round was obviously not very good, and we didn’t score any points. That’s where it’s at. That’s where it lies. Texas, Talladega, just not being able to execute and do a good job when points were on the line. 

“It sucks to be out this early, but let us do Texas over again, and I feel like we’re right there. We’re ready.”

Allmendinger took the lead on lap 58 and controlled the race from that point forward. Prior to that, pole winner Tyler Reddick was having an outstanding race, and chose stage points to help him race his way into advancing into the Round of Eight.

Kyle Larson crashed his car early in Saturday’s practice session and had to start 36th in the field. He was 20th with 45 laps to go in the race an in the final transfer position.

He finished 13th.

Busch, who was in a win to get in situation, pitted with 39 laps to go. Michael McDowell, who had a power steering issue throughout the race, had a left-rear tire fail, sending Denny Hamlin spinning on the front straight.

That forced the lead contenders to come down pit lane in chase McDowell was unable to get around the race course. For some drivers, that may have been a bit early, but the race remained green because McDowell was able to continue into the pits.

Chastain and Bell pitted one lap later and Chastain pitted at an angle as Austin Dillon’s Chevrolet pulled out of his pit box in Chastain’s path. Chastain’s pit position was legal and his Trackhouse Racing crew was able to service the No. 1 Chevrolet and return to the race.

The yellow flag waved after Hamlin spun his No. 11 Toyota coming out of the final turn on lap 77. He was hit by Mike Rockenfeller, tearing up the rear of Hamlin’s Toyota. However, he was already locked into the Round of Eight.

After a restart, there was another caution when McDowell and Erik Jones were both involved in a crash in turn seven on lap 81.

Racing resumed two laps later with Allmendinger leading Gibbs, Busch, and Byron.

Andy Lally, who spun and crashed, tried to pull off course, but his car stopped on Pit Exit for another yellow flag on Lap 85 with 24 laps to go.

The green flag waved with 22 laps to go and Allmendinger was in front ahead of Gibbs. Austin Cindric and Daniel Suarez crashed on the backstretch chicane. Wallace missed the chicane and rolled through, so he had to come to a complete stop. He was running 11th and that miscue dropped him to 31st.

Wallace flat-spotted the tires on that spin and had to come down pit road, eliminated from advancing into the Round of Eight.

Keselowski was eliminated when he spun coming out of the final turn on lap 92 and forced Chastain to lock up. The incident dropped Keselowski to 30th and leaving him too far out of the playoff standings to advance. Chastain had to pit for fresh tires.

One lap later, Chastain’s Trackhouse Racing teammate Daniel Suarez was tagged by Bell’s Toyota, sending it into the wall with a hard crash on lap 99 for another caution.

The race restarted with 13 laps to go and Allmendinger was able to get away from the field, but Busch moved up to second place.

The lap was never completed at Rickey Stenhouse’s No. 47 Chevrolet caught on fire on the infield road course. He had to park the car and bail out as another yellow flag slowed the race.

Allmendinger wasn’t in the NASCAR Playoff field, but that didn’t matter to the driver from California.

“I love what I’m doing and when you see me, I know we can be better,” Allmendinger said. “That is why you see so much emotion out of me.

“I’ve grown up road course racing and it takes a great race car. When we have a good race car and we do the things we are capable of doing, we know we can go out there and win the race.”

That’s just what he did Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway