By Jacob Seelman, Kickin’ the Tires
Allmendinger made a perfectly timed slingshot through the tri-oval on the 113th and final lap, getting to Mayer’s right before side-drafting him to the flagstand and emerging victorious by a scant .015 seconds.
It marked the 14th Xfinity Series victory of Allmendinger’s career and his fourth of the season, as well as his first win on a superspeedway after leading at the white flag on three prior occasions.
“We’ve been so close to winning one [before today], and I feel like I’ve kept giving them away,” said Allmendinger, who advanced to the playoff Round of 8 with his Talladega victory. “I thought I might have given that one away. I’m still learning, still trying to figure out what too big of a lead is here.
“Man, I just wanted to win on a superspeedway, and we finally got it,” he added. “I’ve watched so many of these. … It seems like the guy in third on the bottom lane, if you lay back enough, you have a run and can get somewhere [at the end]. I didn’t even know if I was clear of [Ryan] Sieg. I just made a hard right to try and win the race.
“We got it. Oh my God. This is Talladega.”
Allmendinger’s winning move came with an assist from fellow Kaulig Racing driver, Landon Cassill, who didn’t make this year’s playoff field but stayed loyal to his title-contending teammate Saturday.
“Honestly, all credit to Landon,” said Allmendinger. “He kept shoving me; he stuck with me. That’s what’s great about Kaulig Racing, because when you have teammates like Landon and Daniel [Hemric], you know that no matter where you go [in the draft], they’re going to go with you. It makes it a little bit easier.
“Landon … he’s going to share [this victory] with me, but I wish that we could both be the winner, because he deserves it more than I do.”
While many predicted that the Xfinity Series playoff race at the 2.66-mile Talladega oval would be a chaotic one, that wasn’t the case, with only three cautions slowing the pace all afternoon.
The only yellow flag for incident waved on lap three when Ty Gibbs spun and nosed into the backstretch wall. Gibbs soldiered on with only minor damage, and after that, stage breaks were the only slowdowns.
That led to a caution-free final stage, with a 58-lap run to the finish featuring green-flag pit stops, a somewhat smaller lead pack down the stretch and a late, yet frenetic, battle to the checkered flag.
Four lead changes in the final five laps set the stage, with Noah Gragson using momentum from the high line to challenge race-long dominator Austin Hill for the top spot on lap 109.
Hill threw a major block on Gragson exiting turn four, stalling both drivers’ momentum out and allowing Mayer to slip through the middle and lead at the flagstand before Allmendinger came into the picture.
Allmendinger and Mayer then traded the lead back and forth on laps 111 and 112, with Mayer leading at the white flag but seemingly getting too far out in front of the pack coming off turn two for the last time.
That allowed Allmendinger to lag back to Cassill’s bumper coming through turn four, setting up a surge in the tri-oval that let the No. 16 Chevrolet Camaro pop out of line at the last possible moment.
Though Mayer tried to stall Allmendinger’s advance, a victory at Talladega eluded him on this day.
“I don’t know if there’s anything I could have done differently,” lamented Mayer. “This was my first time getting to the end of a superspeedway race, coming to the checkered, and it was a good first experience … but we always want more. You’ll take a top-five at a place like this, any day, and going into the day we just wanted to get some stage points and be in the mix at the end.
“We did everything right, but we were just three feet shy.”
Cassill crossed the line third, best among the non-playoff drivers, with Ryan Sieg and Josh Berry finishing fourth and fifth, respectively.
NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman was sixth in a one-off appearance for Big Machine Racing. Gibbs rallied to seventh, ahead of defending series champion Daniel Hemric and Brandon Jones.
Gragson, who was seeking a record fifth straight Xfinity Series victory, closed the top 10.
Polesitter Hill led five times for a race-high 60 laps, but got shuffled to the back of the lead pack in the late stages and finished 14th.
Remarkably, all 38 starters finished the 300-miler, the first time in 34 Xfinity Series races at Talladega that every driver who took the green flag was still running at the checkered flag.
Despite his successful result on Saturday, Allmendinger – who has previously voiced his displeasure about racing in the draft – said his feelings on superspeedway racing haven’t changed a bit.
“Still hate it, still hate it,” the Los Gatos, Calif., native quipped on the frontstretch. “But we got one.”
Allmendinger will take his winning momentum to one of his favorite tracks – the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL – for the final race in the Round of 12 on Oct. 8.
He’s the three-time defending winner of the Drive for the Cure 250 at the 2.28-mile road course.