DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Kaulig Racing ruled the stat sheet and ultimately won Friday night’s Wawa 250 at Daytona Int’l Speedway, but the team’s dominant driver didn’t end up in victory lane.
A.J. Allmendinger, who won stage two and controlled the field through the entirety of the final stage, led a race-high 58 laps and was out front at the white flag with teammate Ross Chastain behind him going down the backstretch.
Entering turn three, Chastain got a run in the draft and looked to the bottom of the race track, hoping to make a move right against the double yellow line.
When Allmendinger came down to try and cover the spot, Chastain tagged Allmendinger’s left-rear quarter panel, sending the No. 16 spinning and leading to a multi-car crash in the final corner.
In a flash, Kaulig went from an organization that could have earned a 1-2-3 finish to a team that did win the race with Justin Haley, but had its other two Chevrolet Camaros left in a mangled heap in turn four at Daytona — all because its dominant teamwork went bad at the wrong moment.
Prior to the last-lap crash, Haley won the first stage, while Allmendinger won the second stage and led 40 consecutive laps. The Kaulig cars combined to pace 68 of 100 circuits around Daytona’s 2.5-mile oval.
After being released from the infield care center, Allmendinger tried to understand the situation from his teammate’s point of view, considering Chastain is running full time for a championship and is the only Kaulig driver who has yet to win in the Xfinity Series this season.
However, that still didn’t mean he was happy with losing a potential win in the manner that he did.
“It’s the way it is,” Allmendinger said. “I don’t know. I try to take care of my teammates, but it is what it is, and it was (about) going for the win. Ross is going for the championship and going for the win there. I saw him get low and thought maybe he would take care of me a little bit considering I was there. But he’s going for the win. It is what it is.
“It’s just disappointing because we were going to have another one-two-three Kaulig finish at Daytona.”
Countering Allmendinger’s point, Chastain noted that while he tries to look out for his teammates as much as possible during the superspeedway races at Daytona Int’l Speedway and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, at that point in the race on the final lap, it’s every man for himself.
“It doesn’t matter how many races each of us run,” Chastain said, noting Allmendinger’s part-time schedule. “We’re supposed to go for the win. Team rules are (to race hard) the last 10 laps and we all stay committed. I hate that Justin got shucked out there with five to go.
“But coming to the checkered [flag], what am I supposed to do? Finish second? Not this guy.”
As hard as losing a potential win was on Allmendinger, before he walked away to a waiting golf cart, the 38-year-old still took a moment to offer a big-picture approach on the way the race ended.
“It’s racing. And congratulations to Justin Haley for getting a Kaulig Racing Chevrolet into victory lane,” Allmendinger added, referencing his winning teammate. “That’s the most important thing.”