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NASCAR Xfinity playoffs should provide a peek into the future of Next Gen racing

Alex Andrejev, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Auto Racing

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — AJ Allmendinger received a gladiator sword from Bristol Motor Speedway, dubbed “The Last Great Colosseum,” so he didn’t necessarily need more artifacts to commemorate his latest race win. But Allmendinger said that his team’s president, Chris Rice, offered to drop the No. 16 Chevrolet chassis off in his driveway.

“Because that was about all that was left of the car,” Allmendinger said Tuesday, referring to the severely damaged Camaro that the Xfinity Series driver crashed to an overtime victory and regular-season championship last Friday.

Allmendinger declined Rice’s offer for the car, he said, which indeed looked as close to a chassis as it did to a race-winning ride given its precariously hanging bumper. He crossed the finish line just ahead of Austin Cindric as their cars slid locked past the flag for one of the most exciting NASCAR race finishes this year.

Fans simultaneously cheered and booed, and Cup drivers marveled at the lower-level series ahead of their event at the same Tennessee short track the following day.

“I’m jealous of those guys,” Aric Almirola said before Saturday’s Cup race. “You watch Cindric and Sam Mayer have contact and blast the wall and still keep running 1-2.”

“With our cars, we’d have tire rub, cut tires and you’d either be wrecked from your tire rub or you’d have to come down pit road immediately to fix it,” Almirola said. “Our cars are just not as durable.”

 

Almirola is among the Cup drivers hoping that the composite bodies of the Next Gen car debuting in 2022 will remedy some of the contact sensitivity and allow teams to “race more like what we’ve seen with the Xfinity cars — to where they can kind of beat and bang.”

“They can get in the fence and it doesn’t ruin their day,” Almirola said. “They keep going and keep carrying on with their race, so I think that’s something I have my eye on.”

It’s not only the drivers’ potentially elevated sense of confidence in equipment durability that has made Xfinity a must-watch racing series this year. As retired full-time driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. was reminded after his 14th-place finish during a one-off event he entered at Richmond this month, “All these guys got so much heart.”

“They just race so hard,” Earnhardt Jr. said on NBCSN. “And you can tell they’re trying to prove themselves.”

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