AJ Allmendinger scored his second-career NASCAR Cup Series win and the first NCS win for Kaulig Racing in Sunday’s Verizon 200 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in dramatic fashion, as he avoided all of the chaos that plagued the finish of the race.
“It was just survival of the fittest,” Allmendinger explained. “We had probably an eighth to 10th-place car. I sped on pit road, and thought we were going to finish 12th to 15th. Then those restarts were just insane. It’s great when you have a car owner, who says just go and get me trophies. He doesn’t care if that car is torn up.”
It looked like it would be Denny Hamlin or Chase Briscoe, who would go to victory lane on an overtime finish, but when Briscoe went off track after being run wide by Hamlin, and then Briscoe spun out Hamlin after returning to the track and then Briscoe was forced to serve a penalty, Allmendinger inherited the lead and he never looked back.
“Oh my god. I was so mad yesterday, I wanted to win so bad,” Allmendinger said. “I mean, this is unbelievable. I couldn’t in my wildest dreams imagine how this just played out.”
At the end of his post-race interview, Allmendinger erupted.
“We just won at Indy! What’s up? Let’s go!”
Ryan Blaney came home runner-up to Allmendinger, while Kyle Larson came home in third.
Chase Elliott finished a solid fourth, despite having the car fall on the jack on the final pit stop of the day. Matt DiBenedetto ended up fifth.
Kurt Busch, Erik Jones, Justin Haley, Austin Cindric and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-10 finishers on Sunday.
The race started off looking like an incredible showcase of road racing skill, but in the final Stage of the race, things spiraled out of control.
When a section of curbing broke in turn 6 with five laps left, it sent William Byron and a slew of other drivers, including Joey Logano and Daniel Suarez, skidding into the tire barriers.
After the track was repaired and the curbing was removed, another big pileup ensued in overtime when Michael McDowell hit the remaining sausage curbing in turn 6.
In the second over-time finish, Allmendinger persevered through the craziness.
For Hamlin, who finished a disappointing 23rd, and lost precious ground to Kyle Larson in the regular season championship battle, it was frustrating, but he understands mistakes happen.
“I mean, I can accept it,” Hamlin stated. “The roles have been reversed other times. I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve been on the giving end of mistakes, I get it. To me, it’s just lack of situational awareness. Obviously, you’re going to get a penalty when you cut the racetrack like he did. I’m not like furious over him. You know, it sucks. It turned our day upside down.”
Briscoe explains of his situational awareness that was brought into question, that he was not relayed that he had a penalty before the contact with Hamlin.
“Obviously, he’s upset. I would have been too. He came down here and asked what I was doing. I don’t think he realized that I didn’t know I had a penalty until we got to turn 10,” Briscoe said. “I asked my spotter after the race. Didn’t ever hear.”
Despite the disappointing finish, Hamlin did lock his place into the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs by virtue of points on Sunday.
With two races left until the Playoffs, Kevin Harvick and Tyler Reddick are the final two drivers in Playoff berth positions, who are looking to lock their spot. Harvick is 95 points above the cutline, while Reddick is 28 points above the cutline.
Austin Dillon (-28 points), Matt DiBenedetto (-145), Chris Buescher (-146) and Ross Chastain (-176) are 17th through 20th in the championship standings heading into Michigan International Speedway.