BRISTOL, Tenn. – With cars bouncing off each other like pinballs through two laps of overtime, AJ Allmendinger took his No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet three-wide to the bottom, passed Justin Allgaier and Austin Cindric on the final lap and won Friday night’s Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The victory gave Allmendinger the NASCAR Xfinity Series Regular Season Championship by 10 points over Cindric, who held the race lead when the 10th and final caution flag flew on Lap 297 of 300 after Allgaier turned JR Motorsports teammate Sam Mayer in Turn 1.
In the overtime, things got crazy. Cindric and Allgaier picked the top lane, and Allmendinger chose the inside of the front row. On the white-flag lap, Allmendinger drove hard into Turns 3 and 4 and slid up into Cindric’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford.
Allmendinger fell back to third, but contact between Allgaier’s Camaro and Cindric’s Mustang gave Allmendinger a chance to slip beneath both cars into the lead.
But the race wasn’t over. On the final lap, Cindric charged off the final corner, slammed into Allmendinger, and both cars slid sideways across the finish line, with Allmendinger the winner by .082 seconds.
After taking the checkered flag, Allmendinger careened off the inside wall, slid across the track into traffic and took a huge hit from Kaulig Racing teammate Justin Haley.
But the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series Regular Season Championship was his.
“I expected to get run into,” Allmendinger said. “It happened that previous corner. It’s frustrating getting hit that hard coming to checker, but we’re battling for the win. It’s Bristol, baby. That’s what it’s all about.
“I haven’t had a lot of chances to get a win at Bristol, so you know what? When you have a chance to do it, you’ve got to go do it. If I don’t take that chance, I don’t belong in a race car, because my team deserves the win.”
Under the circumstances, Cindric exhibited remarkable restraint in his post-race interview.
“I thought we had a great battle all season long up to this point, so congratulations to Kaulig and AJ,” said Cindric, who led 75 laps, third-most behind Allgaier’s 92 and Daniel Hemric’s 78. “Those guys didn’t want us to win really bad, and I hate that it completely destroyed our Ford Mustang.
“That’s all I’ve got, man… It looks like the 7 (Allgaier) just got loose there (in spinning Mayer), and AJ obviously just drove straight through us. You’ll have that in green-white-checkered racing.”
The victory was Allmendinger’s first at Bristol, his fourth of the season and the ninth of his career. The final lap of overtime was the only lap he led, as the race went six laps past its scheduled distance of 300 circuits.
The regular-season cutoff race also set the final positions for the Round of 12 in the Xfinity Series Playoff. With no new winner, Brandon Jones, Riley Herbst and Jeremy Clements clinched the final three spots on points, as expected, as the series heads for the Playoff opener Sept. 25 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Herbst finished third behind the wrecking cars of Allmendinger and Cindric. Allgaier fell to fourth on the final lap, with Jones and Haley running fifth and sixth. Harrison Burton, Myatt Snider, Mayer and Hemric completed the top 10.
The 12-driver playoff field is now set for the Xfinity Series. Drivers include Allmendinger, Cindric, Allgaier, Noah Gragson, Haley, Hemric, Jeb Burton, Harrison Burton, Snider, Jones, Clements and Herbst.
NOTE: Post-race inspection confirmed Allmendinger as the race winner. The No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet of Allgaier and the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Hemric were found to have one lug nut not safe and secure. Any potential fines will be handed out next week on the NASCAR penalty report.
Contributing: Staff reports