It goes without saying that when AJ Allmendinger gets behind the wheel of a NASCAR Xfinity Series entry at a road course, he is the favorite for the victory. As was the case in Saturday’s Pit Boss Grills 250.
However, for the first time in what seems like a while, the Los Gatos, California native had an honest challenger, in the form of the NASCAR Cup Series’ hottest driver, William Byron, who dipped down to the Xfinity Series to drive for Hendrick Motorsports.
In the midst of the battle, the attention cast onto the series regulars for the opening five weeks of the season, was primarily shifted to drivers making guest appearances in the second-tier series, such as Allmendinger and Byron.
Winning the pole for Saturday’s event at Circuit of The Americas, Allmendinger was untouchable for the opening portion of the event, as many expected him to be based on his prior record, and speed shown in Friday’s practice.
Though, there was some adversity for Allmendinger, piloting the No. 10 Chevrolet Camaro for Kaulig Racing, after making a pit stop after the conclusion of the first stage, and getting stuck at the rear of the pack after a caution came laps later.
As we’ve seen in previous Xfinity Series road course events, being in the middle of the pack is cause for concern, as was the case for Allmendinger, who got caught up in a mid-pack melee on the ensuing restart, damaging his Celisus-sponsored entry.
Restarting outside the top-30, Allmendinger methodically worked his way through the pack, eventually getting through the pack, and into the top five to collect stage points by the conclusion of the race’s second stage.
After several more restarts, Allmendinger was able to recoup his track position and begin challenging for spots inside the top-five, before getting into the battle for the lead with Sheldon Creed, which ultimately saw the Richard Childress Racing driver spun around with 14 laps to go.
From there, it was a tense battle between the two NASCAR Cup Series regulars, which saw Allmendinger and Byron accordion the interval for the lead around one second for several laps.
However, in the final five laps of Saturday’s Pit Boss Grills 250, Byron was able to find a second wind, closing in on the No. 10 over the course of the final laps, and getting to within a half-second coming to the white flag.
Ultimately, it was a bobble by Byron in the esses that caused the multi-time NASCAR Cup Series winner to jump out of the gas, letting Allmendinger accumulate some breathing room, which he utilized to win by nearly nine-tenths of a second.
Ty Gibbs, who also dropped down to the Xfinity Series for the first time in 2023, finished in third, with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Sammy Smith coming home in fourth. Justin Allgaier completed the top five.
Daniel Hemric finished sixth, while JR Motorsports teammates Sam Mayer and Josh Berry both rebounded from early-race incidents to finish in seventh and eighth. Rounding out the top-10 were Sheldon Creed and Riley Herbst.
Leaving COTA, Austin Hill holds a 15-point lead on Riley Herbst in the NASCAR Xfinity Series point standings, as the series prepares to visit Richmond Raceway next weekend.