AJ Allmendinger, right, and Austin Cindric slide sideways across the finish line in Bristol. (Photo by Logan Riely / Getty Images)

By Deb Williams | Senior Editor

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Classic is defined as an exceptional example of a particular style and there is no doubt that this year’s Food City 300 finish at Bristol Motor Speedway will be regarded as such for generations.

The blows of AJ Allmendinger and Austin Cindric then sliding sideways across the finish line for race victory and the NASCAR Xfinity Series regular season championship was reminiscent of the arrival of the Dale Earnhardt-Terry Labonte Cup in 1995. The final two rounds of Friday night’s Xfinity event mirrored those races that propelled NASCAR to popularity in the 1980s and 1990s.e and final warning flag, an arrival embodying Bristol was imminent.

However, those final two laps for Allmendinger and Cindric represented more than two drivers battling for a race victory and a regular season championship. He showed the talent of two men of different generations with different backgrounds, but with one thing in common: the thirst to win.

Allmendinger has previously driven for Roger Penske, the current owner of Cindric’s team. However, Allmendinger’s tenure with the Penske team was cut short when NASCAR ruled in July 2012 that Allmendinger had violated its drug addiction policy. At that time, Allmendinger, who started his career in open-wheel cars, did not have a clear idea of ​​his future in motorsport.

There was a race for the 2013 Indianapolis 500, a success in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and finally a 2014 Cup victory at Watkins Glen with JTG-Daugherty Racing. However, after Allmendinger’s release from that organization in late 2018, he sprinkled the TV commentaries with part-time rides. Enter Kaulig Racing, which gave him the opportunity to race full time this year in the Xfinity Series and a chance to compete in a NASCAR Championship. It is a story of redemption and perseverance.

Cindric, 23, has also taken a rather roundabout path to his current position as defending Xfinity Series champion. He’s been through sports cars, an IndyCar development series, Global RallyCross, and NASCAR’s Camping World Truck series. He became known as an avid road racing enthusiast, but few believed he could win on an oval. Cindric studied and became a successful oval track racer, a prerequisite for acquiring a NASCAR championship.

“Austin Cindric has made me improve my game all year round,” said Allmendinger, 39, who won a Cup and four Xfinity races this year. “He made me a better racing driver. He made me a lot better than I thought. He pushes me to be better every weekend.

This year’s race weekend trip for both men means flying on the same plane.

“They’re sitting at the front of the plane. They make us sit in the back of the plane, so I have sarcastic comments every time I walk past AJ when we step on the plane, ”said Cindric, who has five wins this year and has been booed and cheered by fans during his post-race TV interview.

“I usually try to think of my rebuttal because he usually gets the first and the last word, and I try to silence him before he has the last word.”

The return trip from Bristol has probably been one of the most interesting this season. After all, when it came time for Friday night’s final restart, Cindric, who had been leading since lap 243 in the scheduled 300-lap race, picked the outside for the restart with Justin Allgaier choosing to stay behind. Allmendinger took the inside lane next to Cindric.

When the green flag was waved, Cindric and Allmendinger raced side by side. They bumped into the exit of turn four as they made their way towards the white flag. When Allmendinger bounced off Cindric, Allgaier shot inside Allmendinger and made it three wide as they accelerated towards the first corner. In the first round, Allmendinger hit back inside Allgaier, once again going three wide with Cindric on the outside. Allgaier collided with Cindric at the exit of turn two, Allmendinger took the lead inside and Riley Herbst followed Allmendinger.

Allgaier then bounced off Herbst as Cindric pulled his Ford to close over Allmendinger’s bumper. Coming off turn four, Cindric dove inside Allmendinger, they slammed and slid sideways under the checkered flag with Allmendinger having the advantage. They crashed into the inside wall, then Allmendinger sped down the track, picking up two more cars.

By late Saturday afternoon, the final two laps of Friday night’s Xfinity race had received over 31,000 views and on You Tube. And without a doubt, those who witnessed it had told it over and over again to their friends. These last two laps were classic Bristol and created an event that will be remembered for generations, but for both riders it will always mean more than a checkered flag.

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 18, 2021

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