AJ Allmendinger is leading the driver points race in the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series, which is coming to Portland on June 3 to 4 for the Pacific Office Automation 147 race weekend. The event will be the 40-year-old racer's first time competing in Portland since he won the 2006 ChampCar race at Portland International Raceway. He made time this week to discuss the upcoming Xfinity race.
"We have a great fan base in the Northwest," Allmendinger said, "So, for people that haven't been able to see a NASCAR race up close and personal, you're going to see a lot of action. If you go to the IndyCar races and that's what you're used to, IndyCar always puts on a great show at Portland, but you don't get a lot of wheel-to-wheel contact or especially with our cars, door and bumper contact."
As a stepping stone to NASCAR's top Cup series, Xfinity drivers are known for making an all-out effort to win and for delivering an exciting show. The Portland race is unusual in that NASCAR races comparatively few tracks with both left and right turns. Racing a road course like PIR creates different challenges for drivers and cars.
"We use a different type of chassis for these races," Allmendinger explained. "From the outside view, it doesn't look any different. But I've been in NASCAR for 16 years, and the cars have changed a lot. They actually handle, and they brake fairly well for as heavy as they are. Compared to when I first started in NASCAR, they're a lot more fun to drive on a road course. But they're still big race cars so the braking zones are long, so you get a lot of passing and a lot of action. Turn one on the start and the restarts is going to be absolute chaos and insanity every time! It's gonna be a lot of fun."
Having won in ChampCar at Portland, Allmendinger has track experience that many of his competitors lack, but the large Xfinity car is quite different from the heavy downforce open-wheel cars he was driving 16 years ago.
"[Experience] doesn't hurt, right? But I don't think it gives me this huge advantage over everybody else. That's never been there because the cars are completely different. It's been 16 years since I've been there, but I still do remember the race track. So there are little nuances, but we all get a practice, and we'll all figure it out. But at the end of the day, when you have great memories going into a racetrack, it always helps. I'm really looking forward to showing up there with the memories that I've had in the past."
As the series points leader, Allmendinger has to watch his rear-view mirrors, and plan a strategy to be at the front of the pack at the end of the 75-lap race.
"It starts with practice," he said. "If we think we have a fast car that can win this race, we base our strategy off of that. If we think we're a little bit behind, we might have to use a different strategy. But practice and qualifying dictates how it goes."
The Xfinity Series scores drivers in three stages per race. At Portland each stage will cover 25 laps of the race. Drivers earn additional points for winning the race overall.
"Sometimes you've got to give up one stage to set yourself up for the rest of the race," Allmendinger explained. "But that all kind of flows with how the race is going and where we're running. So we'll make that decision after practice and then we'll maybe have to change that during the race and see how it goes. Our ultimate goal is to stay up front because I think if you get back in the pack, it's going to be a really big challenge."
One difference between the Xfinity Series and other NASCAR races is that the teams have rain tires, and will race rain or shine. With the Portland event scheduled for early June, a wet race is a distinct possibility.
"I'm not hoping for rain," Allmendinger declared. "It's not something that I get pumped up for, but I also have confidence that if it does rain, we can go out there and win the race. I'd more hope for the fans that we get a great weekend. All of you that live up there know that it can change at any point. So let's just pray for sunshine."
As a new high-profile event on Portland's racing calendar, the future of the NASCAR weekend depends on fan turnout. NASCAR drivers are among the best ambassadors in the racing world for their series.
"I hope you come out because it's going to be a great show," Allmendinger said. "These cars are really cool, and it's crazy how fast they go. There's a lot of talent in the Xfinity series, so it's going to be a great race. NASCAR always does a great job not only with the race itself, but with activities for families when we're not racing. I'm very happy that NASCAR made the decision to go to Portland with the Xfinity Series."
The NASCAR Xfinity Series Pacific Office Automation 147 takes place June 3 to 4 at Portland International Raceway. Tickets and information are available at www.portlandgp.com.
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