Analysis: AJ Allmendinger, Austin Cindric can impact Road America results


A.J. Allmendinger and Austin Cindric are statistically suited to combat NASCAR Cup Series regulars in today’s race at Road America (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

The idea of road course ringers has long been greater than their impact. In recent seasons, one-off or part-time drivers didn’t typically receive good equipment for efforts in Cup Series road races; thus, they had no real shot of contending for a win or influencing the result.

But the 2021 season — one in which the Cup Series schedule sees seven road races, including six in the regular season — has beckoned two Xfinity Series full-timers, each with fast cars and winning reputations. Kaulig Racing’s Allmendinger and Team Penske’s Cindric each have legitimate opportunities to disrupt the result, with the potential to claim spots in the finishing order that’d otherwise dole out a sizable points outlay coveted by full-time teams.

Both have wins at Road America on their résumé:

A.J. Allmendinger

Allmendinger’s Kaulig ride ranks eighth in average median lap time on Cup Series road courses this season and fares better in average best lap time — capturing the average ranking of a team’s best lap in each race — ranking fifth. The latter would become more impactful with clean air.

He started 34th on the Daytona road course, the lineup decided by metric qualifying, which directly affected his time at or near the front of the field. He spent nearly 60% of the race outside the top 15, but ultimately finished seventh. On the day, he amassed an adjusted pass differential 54 positions better than his statistical expectation, the best surplus differential of any driver.

Traditional qualifying is on the docket today, which should help eliminate the need for Allmendinger to do so much heavy lifting. Regardless, his bases appear covered: He ranks first in surplus passing value among all drivers in Cup Series road course races this season. Additionally, his relentless maneuvering has been well assisted by crew chief Matt Swiderski, who’s pitted the 39-year-old at every chance under green-flag conditions when faced with toss-up situations where stage points hang in the balance.

Points, though, are inconsequential to Allmendinger, only the result mattering. Eschewing the need to stop during a stage break allows the team to inherit better positioning on the ensuing restart, which works to the driver’s advantage. He earned four positions on two restart attempts from inside the first seven rows at Daytona and presently ranks as one of the Xfinity Series’ top five restarters based on his 73.17% retention rate.

At Road America, talent tends to win out on the short runs, as the restart rows are relatively even compared to other tracks, including Sonoma, that feature more severe disparity in retention probability:

He might lack for elite speed — an eighth-place median lap ranking by itself won’t easily dispatch Hendrick Motorsports or Joe Gibbs Racing — but outside of that, there isn’t an obvious reason (or potential excuse) as to why Allmendinger can’t contend for the win or a top result today at Road America.

Austin Cindric

Like Allmendinger, Cindric’s designation as an interloper is advantageous to his chances of winning the race outright. It’s important to know that there is but one clear strategic path, because otherwise it’d be easy to become skeptical of crew chief Miles Stanley’s ability to call a race. He’s retained Cindric’s running position on just 23.08% of green-flag pit cycles this season, giving up 40 positions on the racetrack across five starts, a dubious stat line if stages mattered to them at all.

But Stanley has let Cindric be Cindric, an unbridled charger whose eclectic upbringing in motorsports has provided him a mastery of certain road courses. He’s competed in just one Cup road race this season, at COTA, where he led four laps on slick tires in rainy conditions.

While his COTA performance is a highlight of his season and his road racing bona fides precede him — five of his 13 victories at NASCAR’s national level came on road courses — he’s worked to build his reputation as an efficient passer regardless of track type. At Atlanta, Richmond and Kansas, Cindric secured positive surplus pass differentials, nearly 61 positions above his statistical expectation; curiously, COTA was the one Cup race this season in which he failed to meet his expected differential (+7.03 based on his average running whereabouts), turning in a differential of -2.

Any reservations about his chances at pulling down a good finish at Road America may be alleviated by the speed potential of his car, displayed at COTA. Per its best lap time, his Penske Ford ranks as the fourth-fastest car on road courses this season, trailing only those of Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson. It’s a different story for Cindric once clean air eludes him; his machine ranks 18th in median lap time, 17th fastest specifically in its lone road course race.

The ability to qualify creates an opportunity for Cindric, who time-trialed third at COTA. An improving passer and position defender in a car that, at its best, is among the fastest in the series allows for staying power at the front of the field. Strong initial track position offers any driver a better chance at dictating the race, but for Cindric, with no other intent but to score the best possible finish, it makes him an especially dangerous “ringer.”

Both Allmendinger and Cindric have realistic shots at punching back on a Cup Series field that’s bought into NASCAR’s brave new world of road racing, with cars and teams not previously made available to part-time road course specialists.

NASCAR Clash heat race lineups


LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell and William Byron will start on the pole for their heat races Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. 

There will be nine cars in each of the four heat races. Here’s a look at each of the those heat races.

Clash heat race starting lineups

Heat 1

This heat has four drivers who did not make last year’s Clash: Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, Chris Buescher and Ty Dillon. Almirola starts second, Bowman third, Buescher eighth and Dillon ninth. This heat also has defending Clash winner and reigning Cup champion Joey Logano, who starts fifth.

Heat 2

Richard Childress Racing teammates Busch and Austin Dillon start 1-2. This race has five former champions: Busch, Kyle Larson (starting third), Kevin Harvick (fourth), Martin Truex Jr. (fifth) and Chase Elliott (eighth).

Heat 3

Toyota drivers will start first (Bell), second (Denny Hamlin) and fifth (Tyler Reddick). Ryan Blaney starts last in this heat after his fastest qualifying lap was disallowed Saturday.

Heat 4 

Byron will be joined on the front row by AJ Allmendinger in this heat. The second row will have Ross Chastain and Bubba Wallace.

The top five in each heat advances to Sunday night’s Clash. Those not advancing go to one of two last chance qualifying races. The top three in each of those races advances to the Clash. The 27 and final spot in the Clash is reserved for the driver highest in points who has yet to make the field.

Justin Haley tops field in Clash qualifying


LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s qualifying for the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Haley will start the first of four heats on the pole after a lap of 67.099 mph (13.413 seconds). The four heat races will be held Sunday afternoon, followed by two last chance qualifying races and then the Busch Clash on Sunday night.

Clash qualifying results

“I feel pretty confident about where we are,” Haley said. “I’m not sure why we’re so good here.”

The top four qualifiers will start on the pole for their heat race.

Kyle Busch, who was second on the speed chart with a lap of 66.406 mph, will start on the pole for the second heat. That comes in his first race with Richard Childress Racing after having spent the past 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Christopher Bell, third on the speed chart with a lap of 66.328 mph, will start on the pole for the third heat. William Byron, fourth in qualifying with a lap of 66.196 mph, will start on the pole in the fourth heat race.

The pole-sitters for each of the four heat races last year all won their heat. That included Haley, who was third fastest in qualifying last year and won the third heat from the pole.

Ty Gibbs was not allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments his team made while making repairs to his car after the door foam caught fire during practice. NASCAR deemed that the Joe Gibbs Racing team made adjustments to the car not directly related to the damage.

Ryan Blaney‘s fastest qualifying lap was disallowed after he stopped the car in Turn 4 and turned it around and to go back to the backstretch and build speed for his final lap. NASCAR disallowed the time from that final lap for the maneuver.

Section 7.8.F of the Cup Rule Book states: “Unless otherwise determined by the Series Managing Director, drivers who encounter a problem during Qualifying will not be permitted to travel counter Race direction.”

The top five finishers in each of the four 25-lap heat races advance to the Clash. The top three in the two 50-lap last chance races move on to the Clash. The final spot in the 27-car field is reserved for the driver highest in points not yet in the field.

Chase Briscoe, AJ Allmendinger in first on-track conflict of the season.


LOS ANGELES — The first on-track conflict of the 2023 NASCAR Cup season?

Did you have Chase Briscoe and AJ Allmendinger?

They made contact during Saturday night’s practice session at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the Busch Light Clash.

Busch Clash practice results

Briscoe explained what happened from his point of view.

“(Allmendinger) was slowing down so much on the straightaway to get a gap (away from other cars),” Briscoe told Motor Racing Network. “I felt like I was beside him pretty far down the straightaway. I got in there a little hot for sure, but, honestly, I thought he was going to give it to me since we were in practice. Went into (Turn) 3 and he just drove me straight into the fence. Definitely frustrating. … Just unfortunate. We don’t have a single back-up car out there between the four of us at SHR. 

“Definitely will set us behind quite a bit. Just chalk it up in the memory blank.”

Asked what happened with Briscoe, Allmendinger told MRN: “He ran inside of me, so I made sure I paid him back and sent him into the fence.

“It’s practice. I get it, I’m struggling and in the way, but come barreling in there. I just showed my displeasure for it. That’s not the issue. We’re just not very good right now.”

Earlier in practice, Ty Gibbs had to climb out of his car after it caught on fire. Gibbs exiting the car safely. The Joe Gibbs Racing team worked on making repairs to his No. 54 car. NASCAR stated that the car would not be allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments, modifications not directly related to the damage.

NASCAR will not race at Auto Club Speedway in 2024


LOS ANGELES — Auto Club Speedway will not host a NASCAR race next year because of plans to convert the 2-mile speedway into a short track.

It will mark only the second time the Cup Series has not raced at the Southern California track since first competing there in 1997. Cup did not race at the track in 2021 because of the pandemic.

Dave Allen, Auto Club Speedway president, also said Saturday that “it’s possible” that the track might not host a NASCAR race in 2025 because of how long it could take to make the conversion. 

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum 

NASCAR came to the Fontana, California, track during the sport’s expansion in the late 1990s that also saw Cup debut at Texas (1997), Las Vegas (1998) and Homestead (1999).

Auto Club Speedway begins the West Coast swing this season, hosting the Cup Series on Feb. 26, a week after the Daytona 500. The series then goes to Las Vegas and Phoenix the following two weeks.

Auto Club Speedway has been among a favorite of drivers because of its aging pavement that put more of the car’s control in the hands of competitors. 

Allen said that officials continue to work on the track’s design. It is expected to be a half-mile track. With NASCAR already having a half-mile high-banked track (Bristol) and half-mile low-banked track (Martinsville), Allen said that a goal is to make Auto Club Speedway stand out.

“It has to make a statement, and making sure that we have a racetrack that is unique to itself here and different than any of the tracks they go to is very important,” Allen said. “Having said that, it’s equally important … to make sure that the fan experience part is unique.”

Kyle Larson, who won last year’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway, said that he talked to Allen on Saturday was told the track project likely will take about 18 months. 

“I don’t know exactly the extent of what they’re doing with the track, how big it’s going to be, the shape or banking and all that, and I love the 2-mile track, but I think the more short tracks we can have, the better off our sport is going to be,” Larson said.

With Auto Club Speedway off the schedule in 2024, it would mean the only time Cup raced in the Los Angeles area would be at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. NASCAR has a three-year contract with the Coliseum to race there and holds the option to return.

Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum marks the second year of that agreement. Last year’s inaugural event at the Coliseum drew about 50,000 fans. NASCAR has not publicly stated if it will return to the Coliseum next year.