AJ Allmendinger has utilized incredible consistency to claw his way to a 25-point lead in the NASCAR Xfinity Series regular season championship standings after 15 races.
While the 40-year old driver, who has 13 top-10 finishes this season, is the only driver with more than 10 top-10 finishes in the series this year, he is realistic about his team’s speed in relation to his biggest competition for the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship.
“Obviously, we’re leading the points, which is great. If we’re going to be brutally honest, if we had to go race Phoenix tomorrow in the championship, I don’t think we have a shot to win it,” Allmendinger explained during a media availability on Zoom.
However, while Allmendinger, who has two wins this year, feels his team is needing to find a little bit of speed if they want to seriously contend for their first NASCAR Xfinity Series title, he feels they are in a better position this season than last year to get there in time for the Playoffs.
“But with that said, we still have a good amount of time before the Playoffs start. Last year, at this point, we were second in points. Probably felt a little better about our speed. But because of that, and with no practice, we were always afraid to really try anything to try to improve the race car,” Allmendinger recalled. “We thought, ‘Okay, we’re still pretty good,’ you don’t want to hurt that. The great thing about where we are right now is that we know we need speed. So, all of the men and women at Kaulig Racing are working hard, trying different things at every race.”
So, who is the championship favorite at this juncture in the NASCAR Xfinity Series season?
“I think you have to look at all of the JR [Motorsports] cars. They have everyone beat,” Allmendinger emphasized. “What Justin Allgaier did at Nashville, he put an ass-whooping on all of us. We definitely have some work to be done, but that’s what I love about this team. We are working hard and we are improving. Maybe it’s not as quick as we want to be, but we’ll get there and we have time before the Playoffs start.”
While JR Motorsports has been on a tear as of late, Allmendinger heads into a track — Road America — that he considers one of his absolute favorites this weekend.
“Yeah, Road America has always been one of my favorite race tracks in anything I’ve driven in my career there,” Allmendinger said. “Been fortunate enough to race a lot of races there in open wheel, different forms. Won a Champ Car race there, so, it’s a racetrack that is challenging. It’s unique. There’s not a lot of race tracks especially in North America that really are like Road America. With the speeds down the straightaways, you still have really big brake zones. A lot of passing opportunities. A lot of areas to make mistakes.”
With two victories on the year (both at road courses — COTA and Portland), heading into the weekend, Allmendinger has a chance to leave this weekend tied for the Series lead in wins. But while Allmendinger is confident that his No. 16 car will have the pace to win the race, he knows it’ll come down to his team playing the strategy cards correctly, something they’ve failed to do the last two years at Road America.
“The last two years there at Road America for Kaulig Racing, we’ve had really fast cars, we’ve just had a little bit of bad luck,” Allmendinger explained. “I actually went back and watched the race last night to get ready and realized how fast we were last year there and we just had some mistakes on pit road that put us at the back of the field. The way the strategy worked out, we didn’t have tires at the end of the race when a couple of those guys did. And the previous year, we were the same way. I think we were leading and got the strategy wrong. So, we’ve definitely had speed there and we’ve worked hard to improve it.”
Even with the unfortunate circumstances on pit road and strategy, Allmendinger has finished second and fourth the last two years at Road America in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Needless to say, he’ll be in the mix for the win on Saturday.
As a bonus, Allmendinger will also be competing in the NASCAR Cup Series Kwik Trip 250 at Road America this weekend. Allmendinger says that he feels with the unpredictability of the Next Gen car, his Kaulig Racing team has a real chance to surprise and potentially pull off the second NASCAR Cup Series victory in team history.