Allmendinger hits the gas, wins at Mid-Ohio
By Scott Held
Special to NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
LEXINGTON, Ohio -- AJ Allmendinger wondered if he had enough fuel after a few extra laps were added to Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series stop at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, but why worry?
His No. 22 Ford Mustang had enough left in the tank.
Allmendinger spent most of Saturday afternoon in front, then held on for an extra few laps to earn his second career NASCAR Nationwide victory in the Nationwide Children's Hospital 200, the series' first-ever race here.
Allmendinger had a comfortable lead over pole winner Michael McDowell but had to sweat out a green-white-checkered finish after Kenny Habul triggered a course-wide caution on the penultimate lap.
It was no problem as Allmendinger sprinted away on a lap 93 green-white-checkered restart and stayed in front for the final two laps.
McDowell was second and Sam Hornish Jr. assumed the series points lead after finishing third. Max Papis and Brian Vickers rounded out the top five.
"The car was just amazing," said Allmendinger, who won for the same team in his only other start June 22 at Road America. "It was so good those last 20 laps."
It wasn't too bad in the first 74.
Allmendinger started second and needed only eight laps to take the lead after the green flag. He led 27 straight laps midway through the race and was in front for the final 29. He led 73 of the race's 94 laps.
McDowell led the next most, eight.
Allmendinger lost the lead after a lap 58 pit stop and took it back five laps later. He kept his No. 22 Ford Mustang in front of the pack after a lap 67 restart and cruised to his second NASCAR Nationwide road-course win in as many tries this season.
He was worried about the last few laps -- Allmendinger said he thought it took the car a couple of laps to feel comfortable -- but did the same thing he did on five other restarts where he had the lead.
"The preferred line was the inside line and by the time I got clear, AJ was a few car lengths ahead," McDowell said. "The 22 really had the car to beat."
Allmendinger isn't competing for the series title but those that are saw all sorts of changes at the top.
Hornish started the race three points behind series leader Austin Dillon but left Mid-Ohio with a 13-point lead with 11 races remaining. Dillon, who finished 21st, dropped into a tie for third with Regan Smith, who spun early in the day and fell out of contention.
Elliott Sadler jumped ahead of both of them to take over second in the standings by two points. Brian Vickers remained fifth in the standings, right where he started.
The top five are separated by a total of only 18 points.
Hornish avoided trouble that helped keep Smith and Dillon out of the top 10 but almost lost his spot near the top in the final lap. He and Owen Kelly came together in turn 3 but Hornish kept his line and streaked away while Kelly, who briefly was third, spun and finished the race 23rd.
"He left the door open and kind of closed it," said Hornish, who led three laps and appeared to have a car that could contend with Allmendinger's early in the race.
Smith had two spins and Dillon started near the rear of the field after Jason Bowles qualified his car while he practiced in Tony Stewart's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series No. 14 Chevrolet at Michigan International Speedway.
McDowell led the first eight laps from the pole but gave way to Allmendinger, who dominated large stretches of the third and final road race on the NASCAR Nationwide schedule.
McDowell, in only his fifth NASCAR Nationwide start of the season, secured his second career Coors Light pole with a fast lap of 96.256.