The NASCAR Xfinity Series headed to Mid-Ohio on Saturday for a trip around the Midwest road course. Incidents brought out the caution flag early and sent one driver to the infield care center, but the remaining competitors put on a fascinating show. AJ Allmendinger ultimately won a tightly contested battle, holding off teammate Justin Haley and ARCA Menards Series star Ty Gibbs en route to his second win of the season.
The Kaulig Racing driver started the day strong by winning Stage 1, but he had to make a comeback late in the race. NASCAR dropped Allmendinger to 24th after he failed to spend 50 seconds on pit road during a green-flag pit stop. Despite losing his position, the veteran driver still made a furious push through the field and benefited from some late cautions.
With the win, Allmendinger solidified his spot as a championship contender. He will now strive to reach Victory Lane once again as the Xfinity Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday, June 12. He is one of only three drivers with two or more wins, joining Austin Cindric (three) and Justin Allgaier (two).
A Caution and a Collision Ruined the Defending Champion’s Day
Team Penske’s Cindric entered the race at Mid-Ohio as one of the favorites to win. He won at the road course in 2019 and took home the Xfinity Series championship trophy in 2020. Cindric is in the midst of his final full-time season before departing for the Cup Series, and he already has three wins to his name. However, two big moments resulted in him missing out on another trip to Victory Lane.
Cindric had a commanding lead over the field as the end of the race approached, and it appeared that no driver would have the opportunity to catch him. However, Kaulig Racing’s Jeb Burton got stuck in the gravel and brought out the caution flag. The drivers lined up for a restart, and Allmendinger forced his way to the front of the pack.
The move, which ultimately ruined Cindric’s day, featured drivers going three-wide around a turn. Allmendinger muscled his way to the inside of Ty Gibbs, making contact with the No. 54 Toyota Supra and pinching it against Cindric’s No. 22. The eventual winner reached the front of the pack while cars behind him swerved. Haley’s No. 11 swung to the right and collided with Cindric, sending him spinning into the grass. The defending Xfinity Series champion dropped to the middle of the pack and then ultimately finished 14th.
Noah Gragson’s Season of Struggles Continue
Prior to the trip to Mid-Ohio, JR Motorsports driver Noah Gragson met with Heavy and other members of the media to discuss the 2021 season. He explained that the team has dealt with multiple issues during the first portion of the schedule and that they were at the bottom of the proverbial wheel.
“It’s really not been our best year. We’ve had a lot of good runs. … I talked to my crew chief, and he said that we are at the bottom of the wheel,” Gragson told Heavy. “It needs to come back around [to the top], full circle. I don’t know if we need to change anything or anything needs to be done. I mean, we have speed. It’s just that — I don’t like to compare it to luck — but just the wrong place at the right time has been the definition of this year.”
Despite putting in extra hours and striving to rebound from a string of bad runs, Gragson dealt with even more issues at Mid-Ohio. He slid off Turn 2 into the grass and dirt, causing severe damage to the No. 9 JRM Chevrolet Camaro. A piece of the body flew off high into the air while smoke began pouring from the rear of the vehicle. Gragson’s day came to an end even before he completed the first lap.
The JRM driver entered the race ninth in the points standings and in need of a strong finish to keep his push for the playoffs alive. Instead, his day came to an early end. Gragson remains above the cutoff line, but time is running out for him to lock up a spot in the championship chase.