Saturday's motors: Allgaier holds off Truex to win Atlanta Xfinity race

Paul Newberry
Associated Press

Hampton, Ga. – Justin Allgaier snatched the lead after Martin Truex Jr. made a mistake on pit road, and then held off his furious charge at the end to win the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday.

Allgaier’s celebration was marred by a scuffle on pit road between Noah Gragson and Daniel Hemric, whose cars had gotten into each other on pit road during the race.

NASCAR driver Justin Allgaier celebrates after a win after a NASCAR Xfinity Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Hemric came over to confront Gragson while he was doing an interview. Gragson took several swings, but appeared to miss before crew members and officials stepped in to separate the drivers. Neither was hurt.

Truex, racing in the second-tier series for the first time since 2010, dominated the first two stages and seemed headed for an easy victory until he got caught speeding on pit road.

The 2017 Cup champion had to drop to the back of the field as a penalty, but he quickly snaked his way through the field. Truex got within a half-second of the lead in the closing laps, but Allgaier pulled away for a 1.449-second victory in his JR Motorsports Chevrolet.

The victory was a big relief for Allgaier, who struggled mightily through the first four races before finishing eighth last week at Phoenix.

He used that momentum to take the checkered flag for the 15th Xfinity victory of his career ahead of Truex. Harrison Burton was third.

“We didn’t start off the day like we wanted to, but the guys persevered,” Allgaier said. “They made some great adjustments on pit road.”

Truex started from the 18th position in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota but needed only seven laps to claim the lead in his his first Xfinity Series race since the final event of the 2010 season at Homestead.

Truex had 13 victories in the NASCAR feeder series, the most recent coming on April 29, 2006, at Talladega.

“I had a lot of fun,” said Truex, who won series championships in 2004 and ‘05 to propel his move to the Cup series. “Obviously, we were really strong in the first two stages. Then I screwed up and sped on pit road. I probably gave away any chance for the win.”

Gragson, who bounced back from an early wreck to take a fourth-place finish, was caught off guard by Hemric’s confrontation.

“I don’t know why he’s mad,” Gragson said. “I was behind him coming into pit road and he’s in our pit box, so I had to come around him. I’m not really sure why he was there.”

Gragson took a verbal shot at Hemric, who has yet to win in any of NASCAR’s top three series.

“I would feel bad if I was in his shoes, too, based on what he’s done in his career,” Gragson said. “I’ll just move on, keep on fighting. Man, what a day.”

Hemric blamed Gragson for the pit-road incident.

“There’s a hole in the nose of my car and he got popped in the eye,” said Hemric, who finished ninth. “From where I stand, we’re in good shape.”

Josh Berry’s day ended with a spectacular spin. He lost it coming out of turn four and plowed into the grass at the head of pit road, his splitter digging into the ground to send turf flying.

Berry was able to climb from his car, which sustained heavy damage.

A big wreck on the final lap of the first stage collected Gragson and several top cars.

Brandon Jones got a good run along the wall coming off turn two, powering past Brett Moffitt running in the middle of a three-wide pack.

As Jones surged by, Moffitt tried to tuck in behind him but appeared to clip Jones’ back bunker, sending him into a spin that also damaged the cars of Gragson, A.J. Allmendinger and series leader Austin Cindric.

Like Gragson, Allmendinger also fought back from the early trouble to take a strong fifth-place finish. Cindric settled for 13th.

Trucks

Kyle Busch raced to his 60th NASCAR Trucks Series victory with a dominating performance Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Busch pulled way over the last 30 laps and finished more than 4 seconds ahead of the field.

“It’s always cool to get back to victory lane,” he said.

Busch has been there plenty of times in Atlanta, where he claimed his sixth Trucks victory to go along with four other top-10 finishes. He did a burn-out at the finish line in front of the socially distanced crowd before taking his customary bow.

The Kyle Busch Motorsports team also picked up a third-place finish from series leader John Hunter Nemechek, a fulltime competitor in Trucks.

“It’s good to see John Hunter come home with a top-three,” Busch said. “Obviously, him racing for a championship, that’s important.”

Nemechek, as the points leader, started from the pole coming off a March 5 win at Las Vegas, where he held off his car owner to take the checkered flag.

Busch got him back in Atlanta.

“I was hoping to beat Kyle, but I didn’t have anything for him at the end,” Nemechek said.

Austin Hill was second in his best showing of the season.

“That last restart we had, I was trying to save my tires a little bit,” Hill said. “The pit crew did an awesome job today, but I gave that gap up and I could never close it. I needed to be a little quicker.”

Hill, from Winston, Georgia, won’t get another chance to win at Atlanta this season. The track’s second NASCAR weekend in July includes only the Cup and Xfinity series.

“I love Atlanta Motor Speedway,” he said. “I just wish we could have gotten the job done and wish we could come back. This is a fun place to run.”

Johnny Sauter was fourth followed by Sheldon Creed in a Chevrolet – the only non-Toyota truck in the top five.

Cup Series

NASCAR is returning to its roots.

Even as the good ol’ boys attempt to break with the uglier parts of their history – most notably, the Confederate flag – the sport has embraced a more traditional footprint with its 2021 schedule.

That includes Atlanta Motor Speedway, which on Sunday is hosting the first of two Cup races.

NASCAR will return to the track in July – the first time since 2010 that the 1.54-mile tri-oval has staged a pair of events.

The drivers are certainly pleased to be making a couple of visits to one of their favorite stops, a treacherous, high-speed layout that produces some of the best racing on the Cup circuit.

“Atlanta has always been a track I enjoyed,” said Martin Truex, coming off a victory in last week’s race in Phoenix. “It’s a very fun racetrack, being able to run all over the track, just the tire wear and all those things, are things I enjoy behind the wheel.”

Nearly two decades ago, NASCAR began an effort to expand its fan base by staging more races beyond the seven states – North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Florida – that had long dominated the schedule.

But with attendance dipping at many tracks and big TV ratings harder to come by from an increasingly fragmented audience, the governing body decided to shake things up by turning to its past.

The coronavirus pandemic muddled the effort in 2020, but this year’s schedule includes 19 races in those seven traditional states – the most since 2003.

Atlanta has returned to having two Cup dates. So has South Carolina’s Darlington Raceway, which was limited to one race from 2005-19. Nashville is back on the schedule for the first time since 1984.

To accommodate the changes, NASCAR dumped Chicago and Kentucky. Dover gave up one of its two races. The first race scheduled in California in February was moved because of COVID-19 restrictions, but NASCAR still has a June stop in Sonoma on the schedule.

Reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott is thrilled to have two chances to win at what he considers his home track.

“It’s always going to be a special place for me,” he said. “I spent lot of time racing Legends cars and things like that down there. For sure, I would love to go have a good run.”

If it doesn’t work out this time, he’ll get another chance in July.

Yep, Atlanta is a two-race track again.

“I’m looking forward to racing there twice this year,” Truex said.