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Xfinity regular-season title decided by last-lap contact at Bristol: ‘That’s how AJ races’

BRISTOL, Tenn. — If it weren’t for the final two laps of Friday night’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet and the No. 22 Team Penske Ford would have left the Tennessee short track rather unscathed.

Instead, both were severely damaged due to continuous beating and banging that continued even after the checkered flag waved.

AJ Allmendinger’s No. 16 Chevy ultimately crossed the start-finish line first, despite holding contact with Austin Cindric’s No. 22 as it did so.

“I would say it was a bit desperate, but monkey see, monkey do in that situation,” Cindric said. “Like I said in my TV interview, I don’t want to tear up race cars and can’t say I’m the one that instigated any of that. I had a shot to win. I mean, I’d love to see the margin there of two cars crashing across the finish line.”

The margin of victory was 0.082 seconds.

RELATED: Official results | Race recap | Playoff field set

Torey Fox | NASCAR Digital Media

There was a NASCAR Overtime restart in the Food City 300. Cindric fired off from the front spot, with Allmendinger next to him in second and Justin Allgaier behind him in third. Allmendinger tried to make a quick pass, staying inside. It didn’t work. The drivers ended up three-wide, with Allmendinger getting squeezed out in the middle. Allmendinger then went inside again, capitalizing on the Cindric-Allgaier battle, and ultimately pulled forward. Cindric attempted to retake the lead, also from the inside, but Allmendinger was too far ahead.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Cindric said. “That’s how AJ races. That’s how he’s always raced. He’s usually walked that fine line no matter what position he’s running on the race track. I respect him for it – not for tonight, but I respect him for it in general.”

Said Allgaier: “I’ve been around AJ for a long time, and I knew when I saw him go the inside that he was going to send it there – there was no question. And I knew Austin was going to send it and try to be the best he could.”

RELATED: Watch the entire final lap at Bristol

It was the regular-season finale. Both Cindric and Allmendinger were locked in the playoffs by virtue of wins – Cindric has five; Allmendinger now four – but the regular-season title was still up for grabs between the two. With that honor came 15 playoff points, which can keep a driver’s championship hopes alive in the postseason.

Allmendinger held the advantage in that battle by a mere five points in the standings before Friday’s race. Cindric would have taken it had he won. That’s a big reason why Allmendinger didn’t let that happen.

“I’ve seen a lot worse out of a lot of people,” Allmendinger said. “That doesn’t make an excuse, like it’s right or wrong. I know he’s probably mad. I would be mad. I was mad after getting wreck coming across the start-finish line to get hit that hard after the checkered.”

RELATED: AJ Allmendinger discusses his mindset on the final lap 

Because now cars are destroyed.

Time will tell whether emotions will carry over to next Saturday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports App, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the Round of 12 opener. Cindric the reigning champ, claims the No. 1 playoff seed. Allmendinger is second thanks to the tiebreaker of wins.

“I don’t mind him winning,” Cindric said, “as long as I’m ahead.”