AJ Allmendinger is on a quest to prove he belongs in NASCAR, and he keeps showing his grit week in and week out. While he may not be an ace on the ovals yet, he is definitely an ace on the road courses. He proved that again with a tough-it-out win on the Charlotte Roval.
(Featured Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
After two drivers with decent road course cred won Stage 1 (Tyler Reddick) and Stage 2 (Chase Elliott) the Dinger stole the lead from Ty Gibbs and never looked back leading 46 laps, including the final 33, to the checkers. With Kyle Busch finishing P3, he is eliminated from the playoffs. This was a must win race for Busch, Ross Chastain, Bubba Wallace and Brad Keselowski. Busch is the only one of the four to have led any laps at the Roval the highest scoring in the race. As Busch said, his playoff berth was last at Texas and Talladega.
Allmendinger was experiencing tears of joy on the cool down lap and in celebrating with his team. As he noted, “…it’s a freaking Cup race, man. You don’t know when it’s ever going to happen again.” “This is why you do it.”
All four of the recent past winners led laps on the Roval. Elliott (15), Ryan Blaney (6) and Christopher Bell (9). Blaney and Elliott now head to Las Vegas in negative points territory.
Regular season winner Martin Truex, Jr. finished P20 and is still safely in the hunt due to his season title and playoff points he has racked up, but this is not the race winning team it was earlier in the year. MTJ will need to perform much better than he has been to advance to the final four.
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Next up: It’s Vegas, baby!
As luck would have it, Kyle Busch is the top ranked driver over the last 7 races. Winning at Vegas would put Busch in the role of spoiler and don’t think he wouldn’t enjoy that. Former teammate MTJ is second and with one more Top 10 but two fewer Top 5 finishes. As I noted, MTJ will need to find some mojo to stay in the hunt. He has had two P7 finishes in the last two Vegas appearances.
The past winners are the hot driving William Byron (spring 2023), Joey Logano (fall 2022 & spring 2020), Alex Bowman (spring 2022), Denny Hamlin (fall 2021), Kyle Larson (spring 2021).
Kyle Larson is the top ranked driver on intermediate courses since 2020, just edging out Denny Hamlin. Both drivers easily pace the field with 7 wins each and are close together in Top 5 and 10 finishes.
Ross Chastain has a couple of top finishes in the last two Vegas races as does Alex Bowman. Again, both drivers would love nothing more than play spoiler.
This spring saw Byron dominate the field leading 176 laps. Last fall, Logano won leading 32 laps with Chastain leading a race high 68 laps. Tyler Reddick (32), Daniel Suarez (31), Ryan Blaney (39) and Bubba Wallace (29) also led laps in a more balanced race. Las Vegas is kind of a track where you could see a multiple leader race but don’t be surprised if someone hits on the set up and leads 100 or more laps. If you are leading 100 or more at Vegas, odds are you are going to win the race.
Things of note: How the field stacks up
You’ll see a lot of the contending drivers in this list with a few drivers that could act as spoiler, namely Harvick, Logano and Busch.
Since 2020, Kyle Larson is the top ranked driver at Homestead, the middle race of this round. And believe it or not, AJ Allmendinger is second ranked. Hamlin, MTJ and Byron round out the Top 5. Larson, Hamlin and Byron have each won in the last three races there.
In career Homestead stats, Kevin Harvick is top ranked followed by MTJ, Elliott, Hamlin and Larson. Harvick, Larson and MTJ have 1 win each, while Hamlin has 3.
In the final cut off race at Martinsville, Logano, Blaney, Elliott, Larson and MTJ are best since 2020. Elliott and Larson each have a win but MTJ has 2.
In their careers on Martinsville, Blaney is tops but has no wins, Hamlin has 5, Logano 1, Busch and Keselowski each with 2. MTJ has 3 wins but is 12th ranked.
Since 2020, Logano is top ranked with 2 wins followed by Harvick, Blaney, Elliott with one win and Kyle Busch. Larson and Byron follow the Top 5 with one win each.
Career Phoenix stats place Harvick at the top with 9 wins, Busch with 3, Hamlin with 2, Larson with 1 and Blaney. MTJ is a distant 15th ranked but with a win.
Logano has 3 Phoenix wins and could be considered a spoiler if they get the set up right. Since 2020, Phoenix is his best rated track.
What’s your thoughts? Leave them below in the comments section, and be sure to check out my past columns.