BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) — AJ Allmendinger put his emotions on full display Saturday — again.
He screamed into the radio while crossing the finish line. He scaled the Michigan International Speedway fence. Then he paused to savor the moment fans started chanting his name.
Now Allmendinger doesn’t doesn’t want it to end. Just six days after the biggest victory of his career, the NASCAR Cup Series’ Brickyard 200, Allmendinger drove back to victory lane — this time by taking the lead with four laps left in regulation and holding to win the Xfinity Series race in triple overtime.
He beat Bradon Jones to the finish line by 0.163 seconds.
“Wow! What a hell of a six days,” said. “This is awesome I don’t want to wake up from this dream I’m in.”
For nearly two decades Allmendinger struggled to stay competitive and relevant in IndyCars and stock cars. Now, at age 39, the Californian might be going through the best stretch of his career.
A little more than 24 hours after finishing as the Xfinity runner-up in Indy, he and Kaulig Racing made their first trips to the Brickyard’s historic victory lane together.
On Saturday, it seemed almost like a replay.
This time, the No. 16 Chevrolet made a daring pass on the outside of Josh Berry, side-drafting into the lead with help from the trailing Jones who moved into second.
From there, a series of yellow flags turned the race into a shootout. Jones lined up behind Allmendinger for each restart and they worked in tandem to close it out, giving Allmendinger his third win this season and eighth of his career. Noah Gragson finished third, and Berry was fourth.
“Of course Brandon wants to win the race, but he was great,” Allmendinger said after winning the longest Xfinity race in Michigan history, 139 laps. “I think he knew if we got side by side we’d probably hurt ourselves and not give either one of us a chance to win.”
But for much of the day, it appeared Berry would be fulfilling his own dream scenario.
While Allmendinger was golfing in Indy on Monday, JR Motorsports announced it had hired Berry as the full-time driver in the No. 8 car next season. On Friday, Berry finished 15th in the Truck Series race in suburban St. Louis and, on Saturday, he charged from the 40th and final starting spot on the grid to the lead in the closing laps of regulation. He just couldn’t find a way to get around Allmendinger in overtime.
“I kept trying the bottom, kept trying the bottom, I probably should have taken the bottom on the last one,” said Berry, Michael Annett’s replacement driver in the No. 1 car. ”I just really wanted to try something different.”
But Allmendinger made sure his script remained the same.
“I spent a lot of years in NASCAR barely sniffing a win, not even close to it you know?” he said. “I had two wins in 2013 with Team Penske on the road courses and the Cup win (in 2014) and went another five years without really ever coming close. I don’t know when it’s going to go away, so I’m going to enjoy every one I get.”
Allmendinger won the second stage of the race and became the first stage winner to reach victory lane at Michigan.
It looked like that honor might go to points leader Austin Cindric after he won the first stage. But his day ended shortly after the second stage began. Cindric was one of seven cars collected in a crash. Crew workers removed a damaged hood, which covered his windshield, and he returned to the track, earning three more points before ending his day.
Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s career rushing leader, is joining the Xfinity Series as a part owner of Jesse Iwuji Motorsports.
Iwuji is fielding his own team as an owner-driver and now he has Smith on board. Smith joins a growing list of former sports personalities to get involved. The list includes names such as former NFL coach Joe Gibbs and former NBA stars Michael Jordan and Brad Daugherty.
Iwuji is from near Dallas and serves as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve who has been racing part-time in the series since 2018. He’s one of two Black drivers regularly competing in a national series. Bubba Wallace competes in the Cup Series.
Friday night at Daytona.
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