CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — AJ Allmendinger charged into the semifinal round of the Xfinity Series playoffs with an overtime victory Saturday in the elimination race on The Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Allmendinger improved to 3-0 on the hybrid road course/oval added to the NASCAR schedule in 2018. He wasn't in the inaugural race, won by Chase Briscoe.
Allmendinger took the lead for the first time with 20 laps remaining and had the win in sight — he had a nine-second lead — when Tommy Joe Martins brought out the caution with four laps remaining. It pushed the race into overtime for a two-lap sprint to the finish and Allmendinger got the jump on the restart and cruised to a 3.192-second victory over reigning Xfinity Series champion Austin Cindric.
“I knew (the caution) was coming out. I knew it wasn’t going to go simple like that,” Allmendinger said. “It's special to win this race three years in a row. This car was stupid fast. The big picture is the championship but getting another win — three in a row here at the Roval — it means the world to me.”
Allmendinger, the regular-season Xfinity Series champion, collected the checkered flag and gave it to a young fan in the Charlotte grandstands wearing an Allmendinger shirt. It was Allmendinger's fifth win of the season, tying his career high set in 2006 when Allmendinger raced in Champ Car.
He's won eight times on road courses across NASCAR's Cup and Xfinity Series. Six of those wins are in the Xfinity Series.
The crowd chanted “AJ! AJ! AJ!” for the popular journeyman who was partially retired in 2018 and is now racing for his first NASCAR championship. He turns 40 in December.
“It was three years ago when I didn’t know what the heck I was going to do,” said Allemendinger. “Never give up because the moment you give up is the moment you never had a chance to begin with.”
Allmendinger was entered in Sunday's elimination Cup playoff race and goes into the event coming off a win on the last road course on the schedule, at Indianapolis in August.
“The road course races we've done, we've had a lot of speed,” the Kaulig Racing driver said. "Today was the important day, tomorrow is the fun day. I respect the guys who are going out there with a lot more on the line tomorrow. I'll be careful around them.”
Jeb Burton, Myatt Snyder, Jeremy Clements and Riley Herbst were all eliminated from playoff contention as NASCAR cut the Xfinity field from 12 to eight. All four eliminated started the race on The Roval below the elimination cutline.
Cindric was the only driver locked into the next round after non-playoff drivers Josh Berry and Brandon Brown won the first two playoff races. With the win, Allmendinger reclaimed the lead in the Xfinity standings.
Allmendinger and Cindric move on to the semifinals along with Daniel Hemric, who finished third, Justin Allgaier, Justin Haley, Noah Gragson, Brandon Jones and Harrison Burton.
Harrison Burton at 15th was the lowest-finishing driver to advance.
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports