Saturday's motors: Allgaier ends skid, gives JRM its 3rd straight in Xfinity

Associated Press

Darlington, S.C. — Justin Allgaier put JR Motorsports in victory lane for the third consecutive week in the Xfinity Series by winning at Darlington Raceway on Saturday.

Allgaier ended a 34-race winless streak when he passed AJ Allmendinger to start a two-lap sprint following a caution and cruised the final 2.7 miles to give team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. another victory in NASCAR's second-tier feeder series.

Justin Allgaier (7) celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Xfinity auto race at the Darlington Raceway on Saturday, May 7, 2022, in Darlington, S.C.

Noah Gragson won two weeks ago at Talladega Superspeedway and Josh Berry won last week at Dover Motor Speedway. Allgaier was a nonfactor at Talladega and a runner-up a week later.

This was a minor breakthrough, even though it was Allgaier's 17th career victory in the Xfinity Series. It was his first one in a year, with the last one also coming at Darlington. He's been in the mix plenty since, just not the first one across the finish line.

Allgaier treated this one like it's been a while, too. He thanked everyone he could think of, grabbed the checkered flag and walked the outside wall while shaking hands and celebrating with fans.

“Got the job done,” said Allgaier, who was forced to start the race from the back of the field. “I'm super pumped. ... We've been doing this way too long. You know how this feels, and this feels great to get back to victory lane. We'll hopefully carry this momentum on for a few more weeks."

Allgaier had little resistance for the win. He lined up outside Allmendinger on the final restart with much newer tires and zipped by the leader as the green flag dropped. No one got near him over the final two laps, either.

Gragson finished second, followed by Riley Herbst, John Hunter Nemechek and Sam Mayer. Allmendinger faded and finished eighth.

Allmendinger and Tyler Reddick looked like they might vie for the win before Reddick blew a tire with six laps remaining, hit the wall and brought out a caution. That essentially made Allmendinger, the only one at the front of the pack on worn tires, a lame duck for the final restart.

Chevrolet took home seven of the top 10 spots, including all three from Kaulig Racing. It was Allmendinger's 11th consecutive top-10 finish for Kaulig.

The series takes a week off before returning at Texas Motor Speedway on May 21.

Logano takes NASCAR pole; Elliott, Harvick, Hamlin to rear

Former NASCAR Cup Series champions Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick will start at the rear of the field Sunday at Darlington Raceway.

Denny Hamlin will be back there, too.

Elliott and Harvick had Saturday in practice. Hamlin had problems in qualifying later in the day.

All three will have lots of ground to make up on pole-sitter Joey Logano. Logano reached 170.720 mph and turned a fast lap of 28.805 seconds to clinch the top spot in qualifying, edging Kyle Larson.

Larson will start second, one row ahead of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Christopher Bell and Martin Truex Jr. Brothers Kyle and Kurt Busch will share the third row, assuming Kyle makes the race. The younger Busch is awaiting the birth of his second child through a surrogate mother.

Trevor Bayne is on standby in case Busch has to leave Darlington for the birth. Busch shared tips with Bayne following his qualifying run.

“I think it's always a hard decision, but I think you can live down missing a race but you'll never live down not being there for the birth of your kid,” Busch said.

Busch says his wife, Samantha, feels like the husband in a child birth because she's not carrying the child and is unable to feel all the internal body changes that come with pregnancy.

“If she's the husband, I guess I'm the next step down from that, whatever that is. I'm not sure,” Busch quipped.

Busch and everyone else up front enjoyed problem-free qualifying runs. Elliott, Harvick and Hamlin couldn't say the same.

Elliott crashed because of a flat tire and damaged the front of his car, forcing his team to scramble to get a backup car put together.

It was the latest setback Elliott, who was scheduled to drive in the Xfinity Series race in a fifth car for JR Motorsports but did not make the race when qualifying was canceled by rain Friday.

Harvick blew a left-rear tire in practice and did enough damage that he was unable to make a qualifying attempt.

Hamlin, who won last year's Southern 500 at Darlington, damaged the diffuser during his qualifying run. Replacing it forced him to the rear of the field.

New car gets first Darlington test

Darlington, S.C. — It’s Next Gen vs. Old School when NASCAR’s new racer takes on its oldest superspeedway at Darlington Raceway on Sunday.

“It kept me up this week thinking about that,” said Ross Chastain, who has won twice this season. “The Cup car right now is just so volatile to drive, especially the first few laps of practice, and I don’t expect Darlington to be easy.”

It rarely is over 72 years of racing.

The adage is that only the most experienced pilots succeed at the track called “Too Tough To Tame.” Only a handful of racers – Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson – took part in a tire test here last month, according to track president Kerry Tharp.

Tire falloff seemed as severe as always, Tharp said, although defending Cup champ Larson had some difficulty finding a balance at the test.

“Kyle spunt and hit wall a couple of times,” Tharp said.

Erik Jones, who won here in 2019, believes things can’t be much different from always. Darlington is always a handful as drivers are forced to run close to the wall – and avoid the dreaded “Darlington Stripe” – to compete.

Turns 1 and 2 are shaped differently from 3 and 4 (the result of a minnow pond that builder Harold Brasington contractually could not fill in), meaning racers can’t rest easy entering the corners.

“I expect a lot of sliding around, just like always,” said Brad Keselowski, the former NASCAR champion who won the Southern 500 here in 2018.

The Next Gen reviews have been positive in the first half of this season. There have been nine drivers winning the first 11 races, with only Chastain and William Byron taking the checkered flag more than once this season.

Chances are strong it will be a Hendrick Motorsports driver out front at the end of Sunday’s 293-lap race.

Chase Elliott won Dover’s rain-delayed race, becoming the last of Hendrick’s four entries to win a race this season. He likes what he’s seen of the Next Gen car so far and expects his team to have another strong showing at NASCAR’s most unconventional track.

Elliott said he hadn’t been able to put a complete race together until last week’s win at the Monster Mile. “We just have to better execute for the entirety of the event,” he said. “I think as long as we’re doing those things we can run and compete with the best of the garage.”