Portland Is Where It Starts Getting Serious for AJ Allmendinger, Kaulig Racing’s Standard-Bearer
It’s a doubleheader weekend for AJ Allmendinger, this time with his assignments a couple of thousand miles apart. But it’s the 1.97-mile circuit in Portland on Saturday that matters more.
That’s because Allmendinger works for the team that espouses a trophy-hunting mindset, and Portland starts a sequence that could deliver the 40-year-old NASCAR veteran his biggest trophy yet.
It’s a busy weekend in Oregon and Illinois for AJ Allmendinger
NASCAR drivers routinely pull double duty on weekends since even Cup Series competitors can race in a limited number of Xfinity and truck series events each season. In fact, Ryan Preece pulled triple duty last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway by competing in all three of NASCAR’s signature series.
Kaulig Racing is calling upon AJ Allmendinger to double up multiple times this season. Aside from competing full-time in the Xfinity Series, Allmendinger shares duties in the No. 16 Cup Series car with Daniel Hemric and Noah Gragson.
It’s Allmendinger’s turn this weekend, and it’s hardly a routine assignment. Though the Xfinity Series generally follows the Cup Series from track to track, that’s not the case this time. Allmendinger will race on the 1.97-mile Portland International Raceway road course on Saturday and fly into the St. Louis airport afterward to compete on Sunday at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in Illinois, just over the state line from Missouri.
Portland starts an important sequence for AJ Allmendinger
AJ Allmendinger has been racing in NASCAR’s three national series since 2006, making a combined 468 starts. While he hasn’t enjoyed much success on ovals, Allmendinger is consistently strong on road courses like the one in Portland, which is hosting the Xfinity Series for the first time.
Both of Allmendinger’s Cup Series wins were on road courses, including last year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Of his 11 Xfinity Series victories, seven have come on road courses. That includes this season at Circuit of the Americas, a win that has helped him to the top of the point standings.
The Portland race starts a busy and pivotal sequence for Allmendinger, who’s looking to run up as many playoff points as possible to position himself for an Xfinity championship after finishing fourth a year ago in his first full-time season.
Portland starts a sequence in which four of the next nine Xfinity races are on road courses, meaning “Dinger” has the potential to pile up wins and further distance himself from Noah Gragson, Ty Gibbs, Justin Allgaier, and Josh Berry atop the talent-laden leaderboard.
Kaulig Racing is looking for its first championship
Kaulig Racing has been running cars in the Xfinity Series since 2016 and joined the NASCAR Cup Series as a full-time team this season. The outfit owns a healthy 16 race victories already, but its best season showing has been third place by Justin Haley in 2020.
Haley has moved up to full-time duty in the Cup Series this year, but Kaulig reloaded by bringing in veteran Landon Cassill and defending Xfinity champion Daniel Hemric, who competed for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021.
Hemric is 10th and Cassill 11th in points, which is mildly disappointing. So, it could very well be up to Allmendinger if the organization that openly discusses trophy hunting is going to capture its first championship.
“I’m not ecstatic where our Xfinity program is. I’m just going to be honest with you,” Kaulig Racing president Chris Rice admitted in a recent interview with Sportscasting.com. “I feel like we’ve got a lot of room to continuously grow. And we are working night and day. I mean it, and I’m being serious.
“We’re working night and day to turn that around to where we can contend for wins. You know, I feel like AJ should be contending for wins each and every week. It shouldn’t be just the road courses. … I think we lost just a touch of speed (from last year). We’ve got to figure out how to get back.”
Allmendinger can help the team find its way beginning Saturday.
All stats courtesy of Racing Reference.
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