Pacific Northwest conditions didn’t stop AJ Allmendinger from handling business in NASCAR’s return to the region.
Gliding through rain, Allmendinger’s No. 16 car claimed victory in the Pacific Office Automation 147 in the inaugural NASCAR Xfinity race Saturday afternoon at Portland International Raceway.
Allmendinger’s victory came in a 147.75-mile race that finished in just under 2 hours, 44 minutes and recorded eight lead changes and six leaders. He led only six of 75 lapses. It was his second victory of the season, the 12th of his Xfinity Series career, and his eighth series win on a road course.
“I was making so many mistakes, trying so hard,” Allmendinger said after the race. “I put so much pressure on myself in these races because I know what everyone expects and I know what I expect out of myself, more importantly. But what a win.”
It wasn’t the smoothest race for Allmendinger and his crew at PIR. The team dodged multiple challenges but still managed to pull through the rainy chaos for a victory. Allmendinger went off course at least four times, including one time before the green flag flew. He prevailed and credited his team.
“I’d never imagine that after all the mistakes I made that I would be able to get back up front like that, but that’s what I love about this race team,” Allmendinger said. “They’re always here to pump me up.”
Allmendinger entered Saturday 10th in qualifying and with previous success racing at PIR, winning the 2006 Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland. That victory jump-started Allmendinger’s pro racing career, and he moved to the NASCAR circuit in 2007.
The win also came in NASCAR’s return to the Pacific Northwest after 22 years. The last time NASCAR made a stop in the region was in 2000, when the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races visited PIR and Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Washington.
“This place was packed, it was really cool to see,” Allmendinger said of the atmosphere. “Obviously, we wished we probably had better weather for all the fans, but that’s what racing up in the Northwest is like — there’s always opportunities of rain.”
The Xfinity Series is NASCAR’s only national series stop currently in the Northwest. NASCAR said in September it is taking a wait-and-see approach for more events in the region, but Allmendinger voiced support for more races following the turnout on Saturday.
“It’s important to keep these Northwest fans a part of NASCAR. It’s tough to move the schedules around to every area in the country, but we definitely lack racing in this area,” Allmendinger said. “As we saw by the fanbase, they want NASCAR racing here. … As long as we keep getting big crowds like this, we need to keep coming to places like this.”
But NASCAR’s return didn’t have ideal conditions for drivers for most of Saturday. Drivers faced challenges as rain fell before and during the race, making the track slick and wet. PIR conditions improved by the final stage.
Driving car No. 54, Ty Gibbs, the grandson of Pro Football Hall of Fame coach and NASCAR Hall of Fame team owner Joe Gibbs, sat atop the leaderboard after Stage 1. He fell down the leaderboard in Stage 2 and lost it to No. 31 car Myatt Snider after going off course with Sheldon Creed (car No. 2).
In Stage 3, Snider lost his lead as Allmendinger battled with him near the top and stole the final four laps. He finished second in the No. 31 car and Austin Hill finished third in the No. 21 vehicle.
Allmendinger stays atop the Xfinity Series points leaderboard following his win. He has 573 points, followed by Gibbs (530), Noah Gragson (529), Josh Berry (509) and Justin Allgaier (509).
The track at Portland International Raceway, located north of downtown Portland, dates to 1960 and is a 1.97-mile, 12-turn permanent road course owned and operated by the city of Portland.
A 57-lap ARCA Menards Series West race followed the Pacific Office Automation 147 on Saturday afternoon at PIR.
– Aron Yohannes