By Adam Carabine
It certainly wasn’t the way they’d planned it, but AJ Allmendinger and his #16 Kaulig Racing Chevy Camaro found its way to victory lane, despite multiple issues.
After a strong showing in practice, things turned for the worse during qualifying. Allmendinger was not pleased with the car, and the team opted to make unapproved adjustments to fix things. The team reportedly made 31 different adjustments on the car ahead of the race – though even just one would have voided his qualifying and sent him to the rear.
Things got worse from there. In the warm-up laps before the green flag, more chaos ensued, perhaps best summed up by Allmendinger himself: “[The to-the-rear penalty] required us to let all the cars [pass me before the start of the race], but nobody would pass. By the time they were going green, we were half a lap behind them. So I panicked and tried to catch them and went sailing off in turn 10 and I thought I destroyed the nose of the car. I was in the pits before ever taking the green flag, went a lap down, went off [the track] 3 or 4 more times.”
After a caution gave him the free pass, to put him back on the lead lap, Allmendinger just worked to keep making up spots. “I’m super hard on myself, especially at these road course races, and I felt like I was just letting us completely down throughout the course of the race, so I was very frustrated at myself, and once we got back up front there, I said it in my mind, with everything that I’d done to cause us to lose this race, I was going to do everything I could to make sure we won it.”
And win it he did. The final restart came with 4 to go. Leader Myatt Snider led the field to the start/finish line, but had lost the lead to Allmendinger by turn 5. He explained his thought process through the final laps, “The car wasn’t the best, but we got up front, and I got confidence in myself that I could make it happen, that I could do it.”
Allmendinger’s win will go down in history, as this was the first National Series race at Portland International Raceway. It also mirrored a win he had at this track 16 years ago in a Champ Car. When asked about returning back here to win again, he said “To be able to A – still be a part of motorsports 16 years later, and B – be with a great team like Kaulig Racing that allow me to be who I am, and know that when I’m pissed off, it’s because I care and I’m mad at myself and to be able to win the first race, there’s only one chance to win the first race for a series at a place.”
While the victory will be remembered for years to come, the celebration will have to be short-lived, as Allmendinger will fly to St. Louis to participate in the “Enjoy Illinois 300” at WWT Gateway with the Cup Series. On whether the win at Portland impacted his preparation for WWT, he joked, “I’m not going to lie, with like 40 to go, I thought maybe Matt [Kaulig} won’t have me race tomorrow because I sucked so bad today, he doesn’t want me in his car.”
He addressed the struggles his Cup Series team has been having in practice and qualifying in St. Louis without him: “We’re struggling in St. Louis as a company right now it looks like, so [I’ll] just try to go make the best of it. […] It’s completely different, we go there tomorrow and run top-20? That’s like a win for us right now.”
Racing fans will be watching Allmendinger and Kaulig Racing try to continue their momentum in St. Louis tomorrow. As for a potential return to Portland? The Xfinity Series has an option with the track for 2 more years. Despite the poor weather, the stands were packed, and it was noticed by the race winner. “We saw the crowd. It’s important to keep these northwest fans a part of NASCAR. It’s fun to be here. Anytime that you go to the racetrack and you see a huge crowd, [and] it’s going to be tough to get out of the parking lot, that’s a good thing. That’s what this industry needs. As long as we keep getting big crowds like this, we need to keep coming to places like this.