AJ Allmendinger wins rain-soaked NASCAR race at PIR
AJ Allmendinger recovered from several critical mistakes to win Saturday's NASCAR Xfinity Series race, the Pacific Office Automation 147, at Portland International Raceway.
It was the 40-year-old racer's second victory in Portland, following his win in the open-wheel Champ Car World Series 16 years ago.
But, things didn't start well in the three-stage stock car race at PIR.
"I crashed before the race went green," Allmendinger said. "We had to go to the back after qualifying because we were working on the car. We were about a half-lap behind at the start, and I panicked and tried to catch them and went sailing off through turn 10.
"I thought I had destroyed the nose of the car, so I was in the pits before I ever took the green flag."
The NASCAR Xfinity Series scores its races in three stages, each representing about one-third of the total race distance. Drivers earn points towards the season championship according to their position at the end of each stage, as well as for winning the race overall. At the end of each stage, officials bring the field into the pit lane under caution for a fuel and tire stop. Drivers restart the race in their finishing order from the previous stage.
While Allmendinger's crew was cleaning the grass off of his car, the race got off to an exciting start. Light rain had been falling all morning, leaving the track surface wet enough to warrant rain tires.
Riding on cold tires and a wet surface, pole-sitter Anthony Alfredo and several other drivers failed to make turn 1, a 90-degree right-hander into PIR's Shelton Chicane, and the drivers behind them swarmed up to take the lead.
Sheldon Creed in the No. 2 Chevrolet Camaro grabbed an early advantage, but when the drivers sorted themselves out, it was 19-year-old Ty Gibbs in the No. 54 Toyota Supra who came out in front. Gibbs held the lead for the remaining 24 laps of the first stage of the race.
At the restart, Gibbs held the lead for 18 more laps before several rapid lead changes left Myatt Snider in the No. 31 Chevrolet in position to win the second stage. The second stage of the race was characterized by several full course caution flags due to wrecks. As the track dried out, speeds were increasing and teams began to prepare slick racing tires for the second stage pit stop. In the course of the second stage, Allmendinger fought his way back to the top five, but then fell back again.
"I went off three or four more times," Allmendinger said, "and I never imagined with all the mistakes I made that I'd get back to the front. I felt like I was letting us down throughout the race. I was super frustrated, but that's what I love about this race team; they're always here to pump me up."
The drying track and dwindling time left available in the race led many drivers to make runs toward the front of the pack, leading to a series of full-course cautions. With about 12 laps to go, the rain returned and a few drivers made unplanned pit stops to change back to rain tires. With the chaos of repeated crashes and yellow flag periods, it was anyone's race to win.
"In these conditions, it's easy to make mistakes," Allmendinger said. "Late in the race, everybody starts pushing as hard as they can. As frustrated as I was with myself, I was thinking we still had an opportunity."
Allmendinger fought his way back to the front, eventually racing side-by-side with Snider and then taking the lead for the final four laps of the race.
At the flag, it was Allmendinger with a 2.879-second margin of victory over Snider. Austin Hill took third place in the No. 21 Chevrolet Camaro. Josh Berry and Justin Allgaier finished fourth and fifth respectively.
"Once we got back up front, I set it in my mind that with everything I had done to lose this race, I was going to do everything I could to make sure we won," Allmendinger said. "Myatt (Snider) did a great job. I just prayed for no more yellows."
A successful event
This year's Xfinity Series race was the first of three consecutive years of a PIR NASCAR race planned by promoters Green Savoree Racing Productions. The return of the Xfinity Series is contingent on a successful race this year. Even with the inclement weather, the crowd approached IndyCar Series turnout (in September), and enthusiasm was evident throughout the paddock.
"We definitely like racing in this area, and as we saw from the fans here this weekend, they obviously want NASCAR," Allmendinger said from the podium.
"I think it was a fabulous event," said Jerry Jensen, Green Savoree's vice president and general manager for racing in Portland. "We've already heard from NASCAR saying that it was a fantastic race on TV. It was a huge success."
At the evening barbecue and social for the track volunteers, Kevin Savoree was equally cheerful, saying his communication with NASCAR management had been positive.
The event required extensive coordination between NASCAR, Green Savoree and the scores of local racing enthusiasts who volunteer to staff the event.
"I couldn't be more proud of the team effort that went into this," said PIR's manager, Ron Huegli.
Wayne Auton, managing director of Xfinity Series, was also positive.
"I was here in Portland in 2000 at the last (NASCAR) Truck race , and it was real exciting to come back. People out here on the West Coast are excited about this race. We're glad that they like NASCAR out here."
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