By Dustin Albino

WATKINS GLEN, NY — AJ Allmendinger entered the penultimate race of the 2023 regular season at Watkins Glen International with a fresh mindset. Gone was the frustration that was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Speedway Road Course for the entire No. 16 team.

Unlike Indianapolis, Kaulig Racing’s No. 16 Chevrolet unloaded off the hauler at Watkins Glen on Saturday with competitive speed. Allmendinger was quickest in practice and qualified sixth, his best starting position since Sonoma Raceway in mid-June.

The crafty road racer was passed just once on track during the 90-lap race, coming from a hard charging Kyle Larson. Allmendinger couldn’t get the necessary track position to move him to the front of the field, but was in a battle with Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell, and Ty Gibbs for second.

When the checkered flag flew, Allmendinger was ranked fourth. It’s his second top-five finish of the season (Atlanta, July) and his first in five attempts on road courses in 2023.

“It was a top-five car all day and I thought we executed a great race,” Allmendinger said following the race. … “We had a great week from start to finish. We qualified up front and ran up front all day.”

Allmendinger entered Watkins Glen needing a victory, as he sat 87 points below the elimination line. It’s a place he has good history at, winning his first career Cup Series race at the venue in 2014.

It wasn’t a race-winning day for Allmendinger, but he did pass Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott in the standings and now sits 19th. More than a full race of points behind 16th, he has one last opportunity to win at Daytona International Speedway to make the postseason.

“We would have liked to have won the race and made the playoffs,” Allmendinger said, “but I feel like we gave everything we had, made no mistakes and had a great day.”

Allmendinger thought he had a better racecar at Watkins Glen than both Hamlin and Bell. Compared to William Byron, who led a race-high 59 laps, he isn’t sure if he could have outrun the No. 24 Chevrolet had he ever gotten track position in front of Byron.

“It‘s hard to say if we had enough to win, but we were definitely up front,” Allmendinger said.

Nonetheless, Allmendinger was delighted with his team’s performance at Watkins Glen.

“You have to execute from the start of the weekend to the end of the weekend. It was pretty good, for sure.”

The stats for Allmendinger at Daytona are trending upward, too. Dating back to the 2017 Daytona 500, he has five straight top-10 finishes, including placing sixth in this year’s Great American Race.

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