A.J. Allmendinger survives wild finish to win Indy road course Cup race
The inaugural race for the NASCAR Cup Series on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course looked poised for a straightforward finish.
But with nine laps to go in the 82-lap scheduled distance, a debris caution wiped out Kyle Larson’s lead of over four seconds on Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott.
And with that, things got wild.
Two major crashes in the same spot on the 14-turn circuit pushed the race into double overtime. On the second OT attempt, Chase Briscoe went off course in Turn 1 while racing for the lead with Denny Hamlin, was given a stop-and-go penalty for said infraction, and then turned Hamlin around in Turn 10.
Taking advantage of the madness? A.J. Allmendinger, the full-time Xfinity Series regular for Kaulig Racing who took the lead coming to the white flag and went on to claim his second career Cup victory.
Ryan Blaney finished second. Larson and Elliott wound up third and fourth, respectively. Matt DiBenedetto completed the top five.
“This is unbelievable,” Allmendinger told NBC Sports. “In my wildest dreams, I couldn’t imagine the way that just played out. ... It was survival of the fittest. We probably had, like, an eighth- to 10th-place car. I sped on pit road. I thought I was gonna finish 12th to 15th. And then those restarts were just insane.
“It’s great when you have a car owner (Matt Kaulig) that just says, ‘Go get me trophies.’ He doesn’t care if that thing’s torn up.”
Allmendinger’s car wasn’t torn up at race’s end. But a lot of other cars were, thanks to the two late pileups.
Off the restart with six laps to go in the scheduled distance, Martin Truex Jr. spun in Turn 6, but the race stayed green.
Then one lap later, the inside curb covering Turn 6 came up. It had already been repaired several times during the race after pieces of debris got stuck underneath it.
William Byron hit the curb hard and spun out. Other drivers behind him did so as well. Some hit the outside barriers, including Joey Logano, whose car went hard into a tire pack.
The incident brought out the red flag for 19 minutes, 13 seconds. During that period, track workers removed the inside curb at Turn 6 and rebuilt the tire pack.
Nine drivers were officially involved according to NASCAR. There were no injuries.
“I’ve never had that experience - it basically felt like I hit a wall,” Byron told NBC Sports. “I came through that corner the same every single lap. We were running fourth there behind Larson, and he gets over the curb in the exact same spot, and something, after he hit it with his right rear, it peeled up.
“As soon as I got there, I hit something and it just threw me completely off-line. ... I wasn’t off-line at all (entering the turn). I was actually safe because I saw what happened to (Larson). It looked like he jumped in the air with his right-rear (tire), and I was like, ‘Let me try to get a little bit further left.’ Obviously, I just nailed something that just came up off the track. Just a bummer.”
After the race returned to yellow-flag conditions, James Davison’s car then dropped fluid on the track. The subsequent clean-up extended the race into overtime.
The first OT attempt ended in calamity, again at Turn 6. As Bubba Wallace went off-course, Michael McDowell went airborne over a different, horizontal curb to the inside.
The subsequent, seven-car crash saw Wallace escape the spinning McDowell (Wallace was then penalized for short-cutting the course). But others, including Cole Custer and Richard Childress Racing teammates Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon, were swept up.
This incident brought out the red flag again for four minutes, eight seconds. There were no injuries.
That set up the second OT attempt, where Briscoe’s hopes of scoring his first career Cup victory - one year after his Xfinity win on the Indy road course - went awry with his penalty and clash with Hamlin.
Hamlin ended up 23rd at the finish, three spots ahead of the penalized Briscoe in 26th.
The two men later met on pit road to hear each other out. After they parted ways, Hamlin said he felt that Briscoe turning him wasn’t intentional, but believed Briscoe showed a “lack of awareness” in continuing to race him after he’d been penalized.
“I don’t think he was malicious,” Hamlin told NBC Sports. “I’ve raced with him for a year now. He’s not that kind of person. But it was just bad judgment.”
Unlike Hamlin, who said he was notified of Briscoe’s penalty “right away,” Briscoe maintained he didn’t get word of it until reaching Turn 10. He then tried to stop there since he didn’t know if “it’d make up for it or not.”
“I get why he was upset,” Briscoe told NBC Sports. “I would’ve been upset too. But Denny’s been in my situation where you’re trying to go for your first win. He asked why I didn’t wait. I felt that was my best opportunity to win the race, if I could get under him there.
“I knew A.J. was going to be quick either way. I had older tires, so I had to get going when I could. I’m sorry it ruined his day. That was never my intention.”
STAGE 1 WINNER: Tyler Reddick
STAGE 2 WINNER: Tyler Reddick
WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Erik Jones finished seventh to claim his first top 10 since the Bristol Dirt race in March.
WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Hamlin’s best opportunity to finally post a win in the 2021 season went by the boards in the second OT attempt. Even so, he was still able to clinch a spot in the playoffs on points.
NOTABLE: Allmendinger’s win was the first for Kaulig Racing at the Cup level.
NEXT: Aug. 22 - Michigan International Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN)