LEXINGTON, Ohio (AP) — A.J. Allmendinger rallied from a penalty, benefitted from a late caution and used a sweeping three-wide pass for the lead to win the Xfinity Series race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Saturday's victory was Allmendinger's second of the season and came on what Kaulig Racing considers its home track. Team owner Matt Kaulig is from Akron, roughly 90 minutes away, and he jumped off the pit wall to hug Allmendinger after the win.
Kaulig then sought out Justin Haley and kissed him on the cheek in appreciation of the 1-2 finish for the race team.
“This is Matt Kaulig’s Super Bowl,” a breathless Allmendinger said.
Kaulig was joined on the pit stand Saturday by Indianapolis 500-winning team owner Michael Shank, another Ohio native who has a long relationship with Allmendinger. Shank has used Allmendinger as his endurance driver in sports car racing for 15 years, and Allmendinger anchored Shank's breakthrough 24 Hours of Daytona victory in 2012.
“We're at Matt Kaulig's home race, we've got three Ohio sponsors on the car, we got Mike Shank here — Indianapolis 500-winning team — and he came here to see me,” Allmendinger said. “It's just such a big deal. I always want to win, but here I put a lot more pressure on myself.”
Allmendinger had to rally after a pit-road penalty dropped him to 19th near the end of the second stage. He had worked his way up to third but still trailed reigning Xfinity Series champion Austin Cindric by 13.2 seconds when he got a lucky break with seven laps remaining.
Jeb Burton spun and got his car stuck in gravel to bring out a caution and bunch the field back up. Cindric chose to restart on the outside with Ty Gibbs on his inside, and Allmendinger lined up in third one row back.
Allmendinger dove inside on the restart with four laps remaining and easily cleared both Cindric and Gibbs in a three-wide pass.
“I was going to fight until the checkered flag flew. I knew I had the best car," Allmendinger said. “I was shocked that Cindric took the outside. I barreled it in there when I saw a gap and I came out on the other side clean.”
Cindric was bounced around like a pinball, knocked off course and fell to 26th. One more caution set up a two-lap overtime shootout and Cindric rallied to a 14th-place finish.
“K.” he tweeted after the race.
Gibbs finished third and also wasn't pleased, tweeting: “I want a redo.”
They both fared better than Noah Gragson, who wrecked out of the race entering the very first turn seconds after the green flag flew. He said he'd spend the rest of the afternoon at his merchandise hauler meeting fans instead of battling for his first win of the season.
“It's been a rough start to the year so far, I don't really know what to do anymore,” Gragson said. “I've been trying everything. Hopefully it will turn eventually.”
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