LAS VEGAS – A.J. Allmendinger is making the most of his return to full-time racing with Kaulig Racing this season.
Allmendinger took the lead during a late-race restart and outran Daniel Hemric to post his first victory of the season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series on Saturday afternoon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, guaranteeing himself a place in the Xfinity Series playoffs later this year.
The 39-year-old veteran returned to full-time racing this year after spending the last two seasons racing sparingly for Kaulig Racing, earning three victories along the way.
His determination to continue helping Kaulig Racing improve helped lead Allmendinger back to full-time status.
“That’s why they wanted me here, was to keep improving. That’s all they tell me,” Allmendinger said. “We’d love to win the race today. We all know that. They tell me there is no pressure, you’re making us better, we’re getting better, that is all that matters.
“It’s happening fairly quick once we got rolling and we’re continually improving. The win is gratifying for everybody. I didn’t make that the justification of that’s the reason I’m coming back, I have to win.”
Allmendinger and Hemric ran at or near the front of the field most of the day, with the two battling for the lead during the final 60 laps. Allmendinger took the lead for the first time from Hemric with 62 laps left in the race.
The driver of the No. 16 Chevrolet Camaro led through a round of pit stops and was more than a second ahead of Hemric when the caution waved with 27 laps left for a spin by Harrison Burton after contact with Austin Cindric.
Allmendinger and Hemric led the field down pit road, with Hemric beating Allmendinger off pit road. Ty Dillon stayed out during the pit stops and was the leader for the restart, but Hemric quickly dispatched him to regain the lead.
Dillon quickly fell through the field and one lap later was involved in a multi-car incident that brought the caution flag back out. That set up what would prove to be the final restart with 13 laps left with Hemric leading Allmendinger back to the green flag.
When racing resumed Allmendinger was able to get a big run on the bottom through turns one and two, allowing him to pull clear of Hemric to regain the lead. Hemric and third-place Brandon Jones both tried to challenge Allmendinger in the next few laps, but Allmendinger blocked every move and slowly began to inch away.
With no caution flags to bring the field back to him, Allmendinger held on to earn seventh career Xfinity Series victory and second on an oval in Xfinity Series competition.
“Really what it comes down to is the second row and who is pushing you,” Allmendinger said of the final restart. “Noah Gragson gave me a heck of a push. Daniel, I think Brandon was restarting behind him and I don’t know if Brandon spun the tires or was just a little late, but there was just that gap where Brandon didn’t push Daniel so I could get into turn one with a half car length lead on Daniel and our car was so good I kept it pinned to the floor.
“I knew I had the lead off of turn two. Daniel was really quick, but he was especially quick on shorter runs. Once we got the lead I knew I just had to hold him off for a couple laps and then our car was so fast after that I could just start driving away.”
Hemric finished second for the eighth time in Xfinity Series competition as he continues to chase his first victory in one of NASCAR’s three national divisions. He said he thought starting on the outside during the final restart was the winning move, but Allmendinger simply outran him.
“It seemed like strength of numbers,” Hemric said. “If you’ve got some help on the bottom you can make it work all day, but for me if I could just hold serve…if I could be door handle to door handle with A.J. through one and two I felt like my car was so good in that middle lane through (turns) one and two, through three and four, I felt confident I could clear him.
“That plan obviously deteriorated when I launched. I really honestly got too far out. The bottom lane, from what I can tell, they just got linked up and had so much momentum coming back that whenever I went to go turn down to side draft I just was on the splitter. I was probably late getting there in general.”
Jones was third, followed by Austin Cindric and Las Vegas native Noah Gragson.