A.J. Allmendinger taking time to enjoy Xfinity success

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Over the last two weeks A.J. Allmendinger has experienced a few highlights in his lengthy NASCAR career.

On June 6, he earned his first oval track win in a Xfinity Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and a week later claimed a $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus in Sunday’s Xfinity race in Miami.

When the Kaulig Racing driver and NBC Sports analyst reflects on his racing career, the only part that compares to the last two weeks took place a year before his NASCAR career started. It occurred in 2006 during his final year in the Champ Car open-wheel series.

“Back in my Champ Car days, to have the run that we did where I won three in a row, that was a lot of fun,” Allmendinger said Wednesday in a Zoom press conference. “It was kind of the same situation. It was unique in the sense that that was with a new team (Forsythe Racing) when I did it in Champ Car, and I don’t want to say it was unexpected but when you go to a new team like that to have that much success so early was a little bit of a shock.”

Allmendinger observed that during his winning run in Champ Car, that “maybe I didn’t allow myself to enjoy it enough because I was always focused. ‘OK, that just happened. Great. Let’s celebrate. Let’s move on to the next weekend.’ ”

AJ Allmendinger celebrates after winning the Grand Prix of Toronto in 2006. (Photo by Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Following the end of his full-time Cup career in 2018, Allmendinger has made eight starts for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series. In that time he’s won twice while finishing in the top five four times.

“Now me just being at a different point in my life and really being so thankful for any opportunity that I get to drive a race car, but especially with Kaulig Racing because (owner) Matt Kaulig really has made that third car generally my car,” Allmendinger. “They basically said that when (the No. 16 car is) running, they want me driving it. Just all the men and women of Kaulig Racing, for them to give me these opportunities. … I just want to always show my appreciation and my thanks for the effort that everybody puts in. … And the best way to go do it is to go win races and then with the Dash for Cash from Xfinity to have that $100,000, which as you know, it’s a big deal.”

Now he’s trying “to enjoy it more because you never know when it can stop. And I never know when my last race is going to be. So I hope I have a lot more going. But definitely trying to enjoy it and really be at the race shop and at the race track and having fun with the race team.”

Allmendinger’s fun continues this weekend as the Xfinity Series travels to Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama (5:30 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1. It’s the third Dash 4 Cash race and will pit Allmendinger against Chase Briscoe, Brandon Jones and Chastain.

Like all his Xfinity starts this year, it’s his first at Talladega in the Xfinity Series and the green flag will drop without any practice having taken place.

“I’m always a little bit nervous of the unknowns of how a car is going to drive and just trying to get used to it and get a comfort level during the race in an Xfinity car at (new race tracks),” Allmendinger said.

Allmendinger’s start comes after he failed to make the season-opener at Daytona due to a mechanical failure during qualifying.

“Take out the race itself and being Talladega and knowing that anything can happen … we know that the Kaulig Racing Chevy’s are fast, ECR horsepower, Chevrolet, we know that the cars have a lot of speed,” Allmendinger said. “So what happened at Daytona was a mechanical failure on both mine and Ross (Chastain’s) car that we fixed and it won’t be an issue again. It was unfortunate that it happened at Daytona, but you know, I look at it when things like that happen, you know, positives come out of it. …

“I don’t know if that led to have an opportunity to go race in Atlanta and so on. So our superspeedway program has always been really fast, (with) last year at Daytona with Ross winning. Ross and Justin (Haley) at Talladega and Daytona won stages. So these cars are going to be fast and our engineers have been really good about the simulation and making sure all the ride heights and everything are correct.”

Talladega Xfinity starting lineup: Austin Hill wins pole

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Austin Hill will lead the field to the green flag Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway after scoring his first career Xfinity Series pole.

Hill won the pole Friday with a lap of 182.036 mph. He will be joined on the front row by fellow playoff contender Ty Gibbs (181.981 mph).

MORE: Talladega Xfinity starting lineup

Playoff drivers will start in seven of the top eight spots. The exception is Sheldon Creed, who will start third after a lap of 181.870 mph. Hill and Creed give Richard Childress Racing the first and third starting spots.

Justin Allgaier (181.529) qualified fourth and Brandon Jones (181.305) completed the top five. Noah Gragson, who has won four races in a row, starts sixth after a lap of 181.134 mph and is followed by playoff drivers Josh Berry (181.052) and AJ Allmendinger (180.932).

The Xfinity Series race is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET Saturday on USA Network.

Talladega Truck starting lineup: John Hunter Nemechek wins pole

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — John Hunter Nemechek will start on the pole for Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race.

Nemechek earned the pole with a lap of 178.767 mph.

Nemechek is one of four playoff drivers starting in the top six: Chandler Smith (second, 177.732 mph), Zane Smith (fourth, 177.061) and Ty Majeski (sixth, 176.744). Majeski clinched a spot in next month’s championship race at Phoenix with his Bristol win.

MORE: Talladega Truck starting lineup

Also qualifying in the top five were Carson Hocevar (177.068) in third and Matt Crafton (176.960) in fifth.

Failing to qualify are Tim Viens, Spencer Boyd, Jason White and Natalie Decker.

Saturday Talladega Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather

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The second race of the opening round of the Xfinity playoffs takes drivers to Talladega Superspeedway.

Noah Gragson secured his spot in the next round by winning last weekend at Texas. Ryan Sieg holds the final transfer spot. Riley Herbst is the first driver below the cutline, one point behind Sieg. Also below the cutline are reigning series champion Daniel Hemric (-8 points), Brandon Jones (-12) and Jeremy Clements (-28).

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Talladega Superspeedway

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 4:09 p.m. … Green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:21 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 1 p.m. … Driver introductions are at 3:30 p.m. … The invocation will be given at 4 p.m. … The Brookwood High School choir will perform the anthem at 4:02 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 113 laps (300.58 miles) on the 2.66-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 25. Stage 2 ends at Lap 50.

TV/RADIO: USA Network will broadcast the race at 4 p.m. Countdown to Green begins at 3:30 p.m. on USA Network. … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. and also will stream at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

STREAMING: NBCsports.com

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Sunny with a high of 78 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Noah Gragson won and was followed by Jeffrey Earnhardt and AJ Allmendinger.

 

Could Talladega open door for a record 20th winner?

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Talladega Superspeedway is known for fast speeds, huge drafting packs, sensational wrecks and tight finishes.

On Sunday (2 p.m. ET on NBC), it could be the site of an unexpected record.

Nineteen different drivers have won Cup races this season, tying a record. If a new winner shows up in Talladega victory lane Sunday, it will mark the first time in the sport’s history that 20 drivers have won races in a single season.

One of the remarkable things about that possibility is that the driver who has far and away the best record at Talladega among active drivers is among the group still looking for a win in 2022. That’s Brad Keselowski, who has won six times at NASCAR’s biggest track. No other active driver has more than three. (Keselowski is tied for second on the all-time Talladega win list with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon. Dale Earnhardt tops that list with 10).

Talladega and Daytona tend to reject repeat winners. The past nine races at the two tracks have been won by nine different drivers.

Other seasonal non-winners who could break through at Talladega:

Ryan BlaneyBlaney’s only win this year is in the All-Star Race, so he’s still looking for his first points win while continuing to chase the championship. He won at Talladega in 2019 and 2020.

Martin Truex Jr. — Superspeedways have been a pox on Truex’s career. In 70 races at Talladega and Daytona, he has failed to win.

Aric Almirola — In what has been a disappointing season, Almirola’s best finish is a fifth — twice. He won at Talladega in 2018 but hasn’t had a top 10 in his last four runs there.

Michael McDowell — McDowell’s best finish at Talladega is a third, but he is usually very competitive in the Talladega and Daytona drafts, winning the 2021 Daytona 500.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Stenhouse won at Talladega in 2017 and usually is a factor in the draft.

Harrison Burton — Burton has had a tough rookie season, but the peculiarities of the Talladega draft should play in his favor. The No. 21 team’s next win will be its 100th.

Justin Haley — Haley has no top-10 runs in five Talladega starts, but he showed potential last week with a third-place finish at Texas.

Corey LaJoie — LaJoie has started nine Cup races at Talladega and has led exactly one lap. His best finish is a seventh.

Noah Gragson — Gragson, the star of this Xfinity season, is in the No. 48 for Hendrick Motorsports with Alex Bowman out because of concussion-like symptoms. In the Talladega draft he could be a threat.