NASCAR decision draws criticism ahead of Richmond race

A.J. Allmendinger, Kaulig Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)
A.J. Allmendinger, Kaulig Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images) /

A.J. Allmendinger’s decision not to participate in qualifying for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway has raised some eyebrows.

Kaulig Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger finds himself sitting in 17th place in the NASCAR Cup Series point standings as the highest-ranking driver below the playoff cut line with just five of 26 races remaining on the regular season schedule.

However, he has made the curious decision to forgo taking part in Saturday’s practice and qualifying sessions for Sunday afternoon’s Cook Out 400 at Richmond Raceway so that he can drive the No. 10 Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing in Saturday afternoon’s Xfinity Series race at Road America.

Some fans have criticized the full-time driver of the No. 16 Chevrolet for saying he “doesn’t care” what people think of his decision, with others even suggesting that Kaulig Racing should put someone in the car who does care and isn’t acting in his own self-interest.

But all of this criticism is an overreaction, which is nothing new on social media.

Looking deeper at the decision, it’s not hard to see how this actually benefits A.J. Allmendinger’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff prospects in the long run.

Allmendinger is a much stronger road course driver than he is an oval driver. Of his 17 career Xfinity Series wins, 11 are road course wins, including one at Road America. Both of his two Cup Series wins are also road course wins.

Richmond Raceway is also one of Allmendinger’s worst tracks. In his 11 most recent starts there, he has finished no higher than 13th place, and that 13th place effort in April 2015 is his lone finish of higher than 20th during that stretch.

So rather than focusing on a losing battle, he is giving himself additional time on a track with left and right turns, and that could prove huge as the Cup Series regular season comes to an end.

Two of the final three races on the Cup Series regular season schedule are road course races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Watkins Glen International, the two tracks at which Allmendinger owns Cup Series wins. Allmendinger knows that his best bet to get into the playoffs is probably by winning one of these two races.

Is there a case to be made that he should put full focus on the Richmond Raceway weekend to do his best to have a solid points day in relation to the playoff cut line? Absolutely. But even that might not result in much.

On the flip side, by competing in an extra road course race, he is giving himself an advantage over every other Cup Series driver who is not doing so in the coming weeks.

Will there probably be other Cup Series drivers who compete in the Xfinity Series races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Watkins Glen International? Absolutely. In fact, Kyle Busch is already lined up to drive the No. 10 Chevrolet at the latter.

Allmendinger isn’t currently in line to compete in either, so making another road course start in the meantime, even at another venue, could prove significant as he targets a trip to victory lane later in the Cup Series season to qualify for the playoffs.

And let’s also not forget one obvious fact: it’s not like he is skipping Sunday’s Cup Series race entirely. He could still show up and score a decent number of points at Richmond Raceway, even without being at the track on Saturday afternoon.

Saturday’s Cup Series practice and qualifying sessions are set to air live on USA Network beginning at 12:35 p.m. ET. Derek Kraus is set to fill in for Allmendinger behind the wheel of the No. 16 Chevrolet in these sessions.

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The Road America 180 Xfinity Series race is set to be broadcast live on NBC from Road America beginning at 3:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, July 29, and the Cook Out 400 Cup Series race is set to be broadcast live on USA Network from Richmond Raceway starting at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 30. Begin a free trial of FuboTV now and don’t miss either event!