By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
AJ Allmendinger experienced the worst of the weather conditions on his way to a top-five finish in the NASCAR Cup Series at Circuit of the Americas.
The road course ace spent much of the EchoPark Texas Grand Prix inside the top-10. The heavy rains and spray coming off of the NASCAR Cup Series cars limited the visibility. Luckily for Allmendinger, the No. 16 Hyperice Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE was not among those collected in accidents in the treacherous conditions.
Two major incidents occurred around the Los Gatos, Calif. native. Ryan Blaney was rear-ended by Christopher Bell on the backstretch. In the blinding spray, Bubba Wallace then hit the slowing car of Kevin Harvick. Allmendinger was just ahead of Blaney at the time.
On the restart, Martin Truex Jr. flew by Allmendinger and into the back of Michael McDowell. Truex was also blinded by the spray. As Allmendinger drove by the damaged No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry, Cole Custer sped into the accident. Also lacking visibility, Custer’s No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford Mustang nearly flipped Truex’s car. Drivers from both accidents emerged unharmed.
“The toughest thing is that it’s raining in general,” explained Allmendinger. “I go back to the 2019 Rolex 24, it’s the same deal. When you get back a couple of cars in these cars because they’re so heavy, you put up so much spray. Once you get about four or five cars back in line, you can’t see. Think about driving 170 MPH blind, closing your eyes, and that’s what it feels like sometimes. That’s the toughest thing.”
After the back-to-back incidents, NASCAR red-flagged the race to clear the standing water. Officials also changed the restart procedure from double-file to single-file for the remainder of the race. Allmendinger finished the second Stage in eighth.
The final Stage saw the conditions briefly improve. Allmendinger moved forward in the Kaulig Racing machine. A cycle of green flag pit stops moved the 39-year-old up to sixth on the running order. A late race pit stop by Kyle Busch moved Allmendinger up to fifth as heavier rains moved in.
In the final laps Allmendinger and others started to hydroplane on the backstretch. As the visibility worsened NASCAR officials were forced to throw the caution. When attempts to clear the standing water proved to be in vain, NASCAR ended the race.
“Driving the racetrack, that’s fine, I feel safe,” admitted Allmendinger. “Right at the end I started hydroplaning down the backstretch, that was a bit sketchy. Even with that, I could control it. It’s just when you get behind three or four cars that you’re blind. You literally can’t see for three quarters of the racetrack. On top of that the windows started to get fogged up and you just can’t see. I wish the weather was better, I hope we come back (to COTA).”
With the race shortened due to the heavy rain, visibility, and standing water, Allmendinger earned a top-five finish. The fifth-place finish is the first top-five for the Matt Kaulig-owned team in the NASCAR Cup Series. The top-five is Allmendinger’s 12th top-five in his Cup Series career and 32nd across NASCAR’s three National series.
Kaulig Racing is running a part-time schedule in the Cup Series. The next Cup race for Allmendinger is to be determined. Next for the veteran driver is the NASCAR Xfinity Series Alsco 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by NKP / NKP Photo