Friday 5: Portland ‘will always be a special place’ to AJ Allmendinger


The memories remain fresh to AJ Allmendinger 16 years later. 

The last time he was at Portland International Raceway, Allmendinger won his first Champ Car race and shared the podium with one of his best friends and one of his toughest competitors. 

Allmendinger returns to the 1.97-mile road course for Saturday’s inaugural Xfinity Series race there. He arrives as the series points leader. 

Allmendinger says he remembers the events around that Portland Champ Car race in June 2006 “like yesterday.”

It started with fellow competitor Paul Tracy, who had supported a teen-aged Allmendinger in go-kart racing, telling Allmendinger he heard that his friend was about to lose his Champ Car ride. 

Allmendinger soon did. It wasn’t long before he was contacted by Forsythe Racing about a ride but was told that it might not happen for a week or so. The timetable accelerated. Forsythe Racing let go one of its drivers and hired Allmendinger the week of the Portland race.

At ease with the new team, Allmendinger was fast in practice and qualifying. He started the Portland race second, took the lead after the green flag and surrendered it only during green-flag pit cycles. 

His only concern came from close friend Justin Wilson.

“I had gotten out to a decent sized lead and then J Wil (Wilson) kind of ran me down through traffic,” Allmendinger told NBC Sports. “I remember thinking, ‘Of course, anybody but J Wil.’ It was good and bad. We had so much love and respect for each other, I knew he wasn’t going to come barreling down the inside and take me out. But I was like, ‘Man I’d rather take Sebastian (Bourdais, the two-time reigning series champion then) at this point.’

“It was surreal to be able to win the first race there. It was Father’s Day and my dad was there. It will always be a special place to me.”

Allmendinger won by 5.4 seconds over Wilson. Bourdais, who went on to win four consecutive series titles from 2004-07, placed third.

Sharing a podium with Wilson carries extra meaning for Allmendinger. Wilson died a day after he was struck in the head by debris during the August 2015 IndyCar race at Pocono Raceway. 

“I truly felt like — and this is the type of the person he always was — of course he wanted to win the race, but I almost felt like he was happier that I won than if he had won it,” Allmendinger said. “At least that’s the way he acted toward me. That was really special.”

Wilson’s excitement was evident as soon as the race ended.

“As I was getting out (of the car), he had parked and immediately come over,” Allmendinger said. “The guy that he was, he let, of course, my family and the team (get to Allmendinger first).

It also was meaningful for Allmendinger to be on the podium with Bourdais after beating him.

“He was the guy to always beat in Champ Car; Newman-Haas was the team to beat,” Allmendinger said. “It was one of those things, Sebastian, for sure, hated not winning because he won so much in Champ Car. Anytime he didn’t win, he was pissed off.

“But there’s pictures of us, him dumping champagne into my pocket. Stuff like that where I even felt like, ‘OK, he’s happy for me. As mad as he probably is about not winning.’ 

“Looking back on those photos and just sharing moments like that on the podium, that was really special. I couldn’t imagine two better guys (to share the podium) with at that point.”

Allmendinger seeks to make more memories this weekend. Should he win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, it would mark his third consecutive road course victory, tying Terry Labonte for the most Xfinity road course wins in a row. A victory also would give Allmendinger a win in six of the last 14 Xfinity road course events. 

COTA Xfinity race
AJ Allmendinger has one victory (shown here at Circuit of the Americas), six top-five finishes and 12 top-10 finishes in 13 Xfinity Series races this year. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

The 40-year-old has seen his career revived since joining Kaulig Racing in 2019.

“NASCAR is unique,” said Allmendinger, who also will drive for Kaulig Racing in Sunday’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.

“In my head it’s the only top-tiered sanctioning body that has different levels that you can drop down and still race. Like (two-time NTT IndyCar Series driver) Josef Newgarden is not going to drop back down to Indy Lights if Penske, all of a sudden, starts struggling. F1 guys are not going to drop down to F2 and F3, things like that. 

“I think sometimes in the outside world people don’t look at it and fully understand what the Trucks and the Xfinity Series is. For sure, they’re still a development series to get the young guys into Cup, but it’s also really competitive.”

And Allmendinger has held his own. Since 2020, Allmendinger has won eight of 57 Xfinity races (14%) and scored 30 top-five finishes (52.6% of his starts in that time).

“It’s not even always about winning, it’s trying to run up front,” he said. “When you have to do it 38 weeks of the year, it can become miserable, at least for me.”

“I used to always talk to David Ragan and I would always laugh. He either fakes it well or this is true. David used to always talk about, yea, at the racetrack he would be mad and all that, but when he walked into his house that week was over and he was OK, he was done. 

“I don’t know how to do that. Believe me, I’ve been talking to my wife Tara about it over the last couple of weeks because in the Xfinity Series we’ve been finishing decent and we’ve got the points lead, but we haven’t been as competitive as we want.”

That’s something Kaulig Racing President Chris Rice told NBC Sports last month at Darlington Raceway even after the team’s cars finished sixth (Landon Cassill), eighth (Allmendinger) and 10th (reigning series champion Daniel Hemric).

NASCAR Cup Series Verizon 200 at the Brickyard
AJ Allmendinger celebrates his Cup win last year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with Kaulig Racing President Chris Rice (left) and team owner Matt Kaulig (right). (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“I think some of the rule changes that were implemented in the offseason … we just haven’t caught back up,” Rice said then. 

“We’re not laying down. … We’re going to work hard to get it fixed before we go to the playoffs. It’s just bad because we only go to Texas (and Charlotte) and then we hit a stretch of road courses and different style of racetracks. 

“Hopefully, by the time we get back to the mile and a halves after Texas that you’ll see a difference in our cars, because we’re really going to put a big push on trying to get better on these style (of tracks).”

Although JR Motorsports placed three cars in the top four at Charlotte, including winner Josh Berry, Allmendinger saw positives after his 19th-place finish. Allmendinger’s finish was hurt by a tire going down and hitting the wall. He finished two laps down.

“Charlotte was finally the first kind of bad luck that caught us out,” Allmendinger said. “We had kind of been playing with fire for the last few weeks. The funny part of it is — this is the way auto racing is — it was actually, probably one of our better races in (terms) of speed on a mile-and-a-half racetrack. 

“We weren’t going to win. The JR (Motorsports) cars have, for sure, found something and they are succeeding. … We had tried some new stuff going into Charlotte, and I felt like we actually made gains.”

2. Work to do  

Although Alex Bowman has scored nine top-10 finishes, including a win, in the last 12 races, he’s looking for better results.

“I feel like the stat sheet probably looks pretty consistent, (but) we’ve definitely had a rough couple of weeks,” Bowman said. “Texas wasn’t great (sixth in the All-Star Race), Kansas wasn’t amazing (ninth) and Charlotte (10th) was pretty rough. Just got to keep working at it. 

“I think we’ve learned a lot. We were awful in Darlington (29th due to an accident). I feel like we learned a ton from that race. Just being able to go back to the simulator afterwards and identify things and kind of go there.

“It could always be worse. I feel like the summer has always been rough on us. We’re just doing our best to put together the best races that we can. Unfortunately, the ones lately haven’t been great, but we’ve had a lot of really fast race cars this year, too.”

Hendrick Motorsports will field a car for Bowman in one Xfinity race this season. He will compete in the Indy road course event, the day before the Cup race there in July. He said running in the Camping World Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas helped him in the Cup race. He finished second in the Cup race.

“I felt like I did a poor job at COTA last year and needed to be better,” he said. “We ran the Truck and had a really good day on Sunday. Hopefully, more of that same there.”

3. Can the streak continue?

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Christopher Bell each have finished in the top 10 in the last four races, the best active streak in the series.

Stenhouse’s streak comes after he had finished 21st or worse in eight consecutive races.

“We were in a valley but we were kind of hanging our hats that we had good races and good speed,” he said. “We just didn’t have those finishes to go along with the effort that the team was putting in at the racetrack and the shop.”

All-Star Race
In his last four points races, Ricky Stenhouse finished second at Dover, eighth at Darlington, eighth at Kansas and seventh in last week’s Coca-Cola 600. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Stenhouse classifies World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway as a short track even though it is a 1.25-mile track. He classifies it that way because the braking drivers do in Turns 1 and 2 is similar to what they do at Phoenix, Martinsville and Richmond — all tracks 1 mile or less. 

Stenhouse notes that JTG Daugherty Racing’s short track program has struggled, so his goal is more modest this weekend.

“Going to Gateway this weekend, we’re not shooting for a top 10,” he said. “I feel like the way our short track program started this year, if we could make some improvements and have a top-15 car, I think that would be a win. 

“If something happens like at the end of the Coke 600, you never know what kind of finish you can get out of it. We’re just trying to make sure we stay consistent and keep executing like we have been.”

Stenhouse’s hot streak has helped him go from 31st to 24th in the points. Even with five top-10 finishes this season, he hasn’t scored as many points as he did last year when he had only one top-10 finish through the first 14 Cup races. Stenhouse had 281 points at this time last year. He has 267 points this year.

“I probably feel better about this year, just knowing that at tracks we were capable of winning, Daytona and Atlanta, we put ourselves in the position that we needed to be in when chaos broke loose,” he said, alluding to accidents in both events. “We got a top 10 at (Auto Club) and ran in the top five. 

“We were top 10 at Vegas and had that engine issue. I felt like COTA we were good on the long run and felt like we could have finished top 15 (before a drivetrain issue led to a 37th-place finish) … so I feel good about where our road course program is going into Sonoma in two weeks.”

4. Taking away the positives 

Cole Custer was in position to score his first top-10 finish of the season when last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 went to overtime. Custer restarted seventh. He was 10th when he was collected in a multi-car crash triggered after contact between Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson  at the front.

Custer’s car could not continue and he finished 21st. It marked his fifth consecutive result of 15th or worse.

“You just have to keep grinding,” said Custer, who is 27th in the points, of his predicament. “It’s a really long year and you just have to stay at it and keep working with your team and get your cars better and go week-by-week.  

“But I think the biggest thing from last week is that we can take a lot of positives and a lot of momentum from that. I mean, being able to run up there in the top five and have a shot to win the race at the end, that makes you pumped to go to the track the next week.

“I think we’re going in the right direction, it’s just a matter of cleaning some things up and having some good luck.”

That’s something he and his Stewart-Haas Racing team haven’t had.

He ran in the top 10 for much of the race at Circuit of the Americas and spun off course on a restart with less than 10 laps left. He finished 23rd.

Custer started third, ran in the top five for the first two stages at Martinsville before a penalty for an uncontrolled tire put him in the back of the field. He never recovered, finishing 21st.

And there was Coca-Cola 600 result.

“We’ve had tires roll away, we’ve had motors blow, and we’ve gotten wrecked I think six or seven times, so it seems like one thing after another,” Custer said. “But if you bring fast cars to the racetrack, it’ll eventually turn around,” he said.

5. Inaugural Cup race winners

With Cup heading to World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway for its inaugural race there, here is a look at drivers who have won inaugural Cup races since 2000:

2021 Indianapolis Road Course — AJ Allmendinger

2021 Road America — Chase Elliott

2021 Nashville — Kyle Larson

2021 Circuit of the Americas — Chase Elliott

2021 Bristol Dirt — Joey Logano

2020 Daytona Road Course — Chase Elliott

2018 Charlotte Roval — Ryan Blaney

2011 Kentucky — Kyle Busch

2001 Kansas — Jeff Gordon

2001 Chicagoland — Kevin Harvick

Corey LaJoie calls fourth-place finish ‘huge’ for him, Spire Motorsports


HAMPTON, Ga. — With about 30 laps left in Sunday’s Cup race, Joey Logano looked around and suddenly saw Corey LaJoie’s car near the front.

“Oh, there he is,” Logano, the eventual winner, said he thought to himself. “Where has he been all day?

“Corey just kind of popped up there.”

LaJoie took a methodical approach — he ran in the top 10 for only 13 of the first 167 laps — and found himself toward the front for the third consecutive race since Atlanta Motor Speedway was reconfigured. 

His career-best fourth-place finish Sunday continued his strong runs at Atlanta, but also showed the growth in his Spire Motorsports team. While it’s only five races into the season, LaJoie is 14th in the points. He’s never finished better than 29th in Cup.

LaJoie placed fifth at Atlanta in March 2022 and was passed by Chase Elliott for the lead two laps from the finish in the July 2022 race there. Sunday, his push launched Logano on the final lap to pass Brad Keselowski for the win. 

While LaJoie continues to seek his first career Cup win, he was excited about his result.

“Hell, yeah, there’s moral victories,” he said after Sunday’s finish. “If you get … smashed 35 weekends out of the year, here’s an opportunity where you can win. When you can run fourth, there are so many good things wrapped up in that. … For me, it’s huge. For our team, it’s huge.”

Also significant was that LaJoie was the top-finishing Chevrolet.

“That’s a really big deal for us,” crew chief Ryan Sparks told NBC Sports. “Just kind of prove ourself and hopefully continue to build a relationship with Chevrolet. It’s always great to be (Chevrolet’s) top finisher. Obviously, we want to win the race. We’re getting closer. I think we’ll get up there for the year is done.”

After failing to make the feature in the Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race, LaJoie finished 16th in this year’s Daytona 500. He followed that by placing 14th at Fontana, California and then was 20th at Las Vegas and 26th at Phoenix before Sunday.

He has an average finish of 16.0 in the first races of the season. He’s never had an average finish better than 24th in his previous full-time Cup seasons. 

His performance this year has him in a playoff spot and ahead of in the standings:

  • Three cars from Stewart-Haas Racing
  • Both cars from 23XI Racing
  • Both cars from Legacy Motor Club
  • Both cars from Front Row Motorsports
  • All the Hendrick cars (although their penalties will be appealed)
  • Both Kaulig Racing cars

“We’ve started the year off really, really solid,” LaJoie said. “I don’t think we could have started any better. We messed up at Phoenix, but we came back and rebounded and put a good payday in the bank and a couple of points around the guys we are racing as well.

“It’s inevitable that a lot of the guys we’re in front of are going to catch us, those guys are the ones that run top 10 and top 15 consistently, so we have to get to where we can, on any given intermediate or any given short track, run in the top 15 a little bit better. We’re getting there. Days like this give us more confidence.”


Sunday’s race matched two drivers who are among the best in the sport at speedway style racing dueling for the win in former teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.

It marked the first time they had finished 1-2 in a speedway style race, as Logano passed Keselowski on the last lap to win Sunday at Atlanta.

“I feel like Brad is one of the top five best speedway racers on the racetrack,” Logano said. “I feel like I’m in there. A few others that are in there that you just know are really, really good at it.

“We were kind of duking it out back and forth, side by side, side drafting each other. Okay, this is what you would expect. It’s fun going up against the best like that.

“He works really hard at it. He studies it. He’s really smart at speedway racing, for sure. When you think of driver and spotter combinations, you’re going against two of the best right there, right? Whether it’s T.J. (Majors) and Brad or myself and Coleman Pressley) , if I’m picking a couple pairings of people that understand the draft, those two groups are the best at it. So it was fun to kind of go back and forth there at the end.”

Said Keselowski of racing Logano: “We know each other’s moves pretty well, for sure, but it’s just a matter of how the cookie crumbles and it kind of came his way there at the end and he made a good move. Kudos to him.”

It was a much different ending from their duel on the final lap of the 2021 Daytona 500. Logano led Keselowski when they made contact, triggering a multi-car crash and allowing Michael McDowell to win the race.


Brad Keselowski’s runner-up finish continued his improved start to the season compared to last year. 

“We’re right there, though, as our team just continues to improve and show what we’re made of,” Keselowski said, “so I’m proud of that.”

A look at how much better this season has started for Keselowski compared to last year:

His average finish in the first five races of this season is 13.2 compared to 19.2 at this time last year.

He’s run in the top 15 in 85% of the laps run this season compared to running in the top 15 in 37.4% of the laps in the first five races of last season.

His average running position in a race is 9.5 this year compared to 18.3 at this time last year.




Several Cup drivers running extra race at COTA


Seven Cup drivers will do double-duty this weekend at Circuit of the Americas.

Four Cup drivers are entered for Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at the road course in Austin, Texas. They are:

Aric Almirola (No. 08 SS Green Light Racing)

AJ Allmendinger (No. 10 Kaulig Racing)

William Byron (No. 17 Hendrick Motorsports)

Ty Gibbs (No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing)

Three Cup drivers are entered for Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at COTA. They are:

Alex Bowman (No. 7 Spire Motorsports)

Ross Chastain (No. 41 Niece Motorsports)

Kyle Busch (No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports)

In the Cup Series, there are 39 entries that includes a few road racing specialists:

Jordan Taylor (No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports)

Jenson Button (No. 15 Rick Ware Racing)

Kimi Raikkonen (No. 91 Trackhouse Racing)

Also entered this weekend is Jimmie Johnson in the No. 84 for Legacy Motor Club and IndyCar driver Conor Daly in the No. 50 for TMT Racing.

COTA Cup Entry List

COTA Xfinity Entry List

COTA Truck entry list





Winners and losers at Atlanta Motor Speedway

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A look at winners and losers in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway:


Joey Logano — Logano had won 31 Cup Series races entering Sunday’s 400-miler, but none had come at Atlanta. He changed that statistical column in a big way, leading 140 laps and making a risky move around leader Brad Keselowski on the final lap to record win No. 32.

Brad Keselowski — Keselowski’s struggle to return RFK Racing to prominence has taken many months, but he has had impressive runs this year. He led 47 laps Sunday and was on the verge of victory.

Christopher Bell — With better organization from the Toyotas at the front, Bell would have had a shot at a win. He finished third and has been in the top six in four of the season’s five races.

Corey LaJoie — Sunday’s fourth-place run was LaJoie’s best in 205 Cup starts, and his smart start to the season is an indication that better things might be ahead.


William Byron — Byron’s two-race winning streak ended with a thud — literally — Sunday as he was involved in a multi-car crash and finished 32nd.

Kevin Harvick — From one instant to the next, Harvick fell from first place to out of the race. He lost control of his car in tight racing with Ross Chastain and hit the wall. He finished 33rd.

Kyle Larson — Larson fought the good fight with the more dominant Fords much of the day in the top 10, but his car was damaged in a crash with Aric Almirola. Larson parked and finished 31st.

Long: One lap, 30 seconds of action with so much at stake at Atlanta


HAMPTON, Ga. — As they began the final lap of Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Brad Keselowski led Christopher Bell by a car length. Joey Logano ran third, with Corey LaJoie on his rear bumper in fourth, and Tyler Reddick beside LaJoie in fifth.

So much was at stake over the final 1.54 miles and would be determined in the next 30 seconds on a brisk day at a track that looks like an intermediate speedway but races like Daytona and Talladega. 

Here’s what mattered for each:

  • Keselowski sought to end a 66-race winless streak that stretches nearly two years.
  • Bell looked to score his third win in the last nine Cup races, which would have been more than any other driver in that span.
  • Logano sought a win in a season that Fords have had few chances to do so.
  • LaJoie was focused on winning his first Cup race.
  • Reddick looked to earn his first victory with his new team.

It started with Keselowski, who is in his second year as owner-driver at RFK Racing. The organization fought through struggles last year before teammate Chris Buescher won the Bristol night race. 

Keselowski was going for his first Cup victory for his team in what has been a markedly better start to this season compared to last year.

“You need days like this,” Keselowski said afterward. “You just wish they were wins. We were right there, just didn’t come together at the end.”

Bell is proving to be the under-appreciated ace in the Cup series. 

He twice needed to win to advance in the next round of the playoffs last year — and did so. Both victories were overshadowed. The focus at the Charlotte Roval was on Chase Briscoe eliminating Kyle Larson from the playoffs instead of Bell’s win. Ross Chastain’s video game move was the talk of Martinsville instead of Bell’s triumph that day.

Nobody had won this year in Cup except Chevrolet drivers. That made this a key race for Ford and Toyota drivers. 

“We haven’t had the start to the season we’d want or hope for,” said Paul Wolfe, crew chief for Logano. “The West Coast swing was pretty rough on us. We had speed at times, but not really where we need to be on any of those tracks. So we’ve got our work cut out for us.

“We know the speedways with all the aero changes to all the manufacturers, the speedways are probably the strengths for the Fords right now. I think we saw that in Daytona as well. If you look at qualifying (Saturday), that will probably point to that same sign.

“We have to take advantage of these races right now. If this is our strength, we got to make sure we execute. That’s probably what I’m most proud of, is we were able to come here and get the win. Now we’ve really have to squeeze hard to get more speed out of our cars on the downforce tracks.”

LaJoie finished fifth in this race a year ago and was passed for the lead with two laps to go. He entered Sunday’s race winless in 204 career Cup races. He had three top-20 finishes in the first four races of the year, solid performances for his Spire Motorsports team. He’s gained some attention for those efforts.

“If we have a good car like we saw at Fontana or Las Vegas,” LaJoie said earlier this week of his 14th at California and 20th at Las Vegas, “then I can go get the job done and be up front. So, certainly a crucial beginning part of the season for me with the future of my career. I want to make sure people know what I’m capable of, no matter whether it’s an intermediate or a short track or superspeedway.”

Reddick is in his first season with 23XI Racing and it has been a rough start to the season. He was eliminated by accidents in the first two races of the year. He scored his first top 10 of the year last week at Phoenix and looked for even more Sunday.

It is what all those situations hovering as the white flag waved to begin the final lap.

The key moment came with LaJoie planted on the back of Logano’s rear bumper on the inside lane.

“Joey got such a huge run down the frontstretch,” Keselowski said. “There was nothing I could do to stop it other than wreck all of us.”

Logano said that LaJoie “clobbered me at the start/finish line, gave me such a big run.”

That energy allowed Logano to go from the bottom lane to the top lane — while narrowly slipping between Keselowski and Bell.

“When you get a run like that on the last lap, you can’t lift, you just can’t,” Logano said. 

He knew he needed to move up the track to avoid having Keselowski block him on the bottom lane.

“I had to get up there and slip to his outside,” Logano said. “Ultimately, that’s the move that was going to win the race.

“If I got to his inside, you have a chance, maybe a 20% chance of winning the race depending on what kind of push you get down the backstretch. Most likely we were not going to win the race.”

He did and Keselowski finished second.

“We know each other’s moves pretty well, for sure, but it just matters how the cookie crumbles and it kind of came his way at he end and he made a good move,” Keselowski said. “Kudos to him. We’re right there, though, as our team just continues to improve and show what we’re made of, so I’m proud of that.

Bell finished third and was left to wonder what if.

“I had the position (Logano) had and I decided to bail on it and go to the top,” Bell said. “To come so close is disappointing.”

LaJoie finished a career-best fourth.

“Hell, yeah, there’s moral victories,” LaJoie said after Sunday’s finish. “If you get … smashed 35 weekends out of the year, here’s an opportunity where you can win. When you can run fourth, there are so many good things wrapped up in that. … For me, it’s huge. For our team, it’s huge.”

For Reddick, a day that started with John Hunter Nemechek on standby because Reddick wasn’t feeling well, ended with Reddick scoring his second consecutive top five.

“I was trying to create an opportunity to where myself Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin could all break away and take advantage of momentum,” Reddick said. “It didn’t quite work out timing-wise where it needed for that. All in all, an OK day.”