Battle for Xfinity Series regular-season title is on between Allmendinger, Cindric

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Battle for Xfinity Series regular-season title is on between Allmendinger, Cindric
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Two weeks ago, it looked like Austin Cindric was going to cruise to his second consecutive Xfinity Series regular season championship. My, how things have changed.

After winning three races ago at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Cindric had an 82-point buffer on AJ Allmendinger with five races to go in the regular season. Two races later, the No. 22 team is in the hole.

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Cindric won the first stage at Michigan International Speedway — a race Allmendinger won. But on the restart of the second stage, the No. 22 Ford was caught up in a big incident on the backstretch, which began when Ty Gibbs took the air off the rear spoiler of Myatt Snider, who chased his car into Cindric. The wreck collected other playoff drivers, including Justin Haley and Daniel Hemric. The No. 22 car limped around a few laps, but ultimately saw its day come to an end.

Never give up. Just being able to get points,” Cindric said of why he stayed out despite having smoke billow from his car. “Every little bit matters. That never-give-up attitude, though, is what wins championships.”

With Allmendinger winning, the No. 16 team chopped 47 points off of Cindric‘s lead, just 35 out heading into last weekend‘s Wawa 250 at Daytona International Speedway.

There, too, lies a problem.

With just four laps remaining in the opening stage at Daytona, Cindric was running fourth, sitting in prime position to gain a few stage points. However, Snider gave the No. 22 car an untimely bump through the tri-oval, triggering a five-car wreck.

Cindric ended the race 39th, earning just one point on the afternoon.

“That‘s two weekends in a row we‘ve had race-winning capable cars and I‘ve done probably a total of 40 laps in the last two weeks,” Cindric said last Saturday. “Really frustrating to have that situation play out so early. It only takes one sometimes.”

At the time of the incident, Allmendinger was running second and knew he had to go into points-racing mode.

“When I saw the [No.] 22 go out, I knew we had the opportunity to gain a lot of points,” he said. “I tried to be smart but still be aggressive.”

On the last lap, Allmendinger was in prime position to win the race, though his Kaulig Racing teammate Haley scooted by coming off of Turn 4 to score his first win of the season. The No. 16 Chevrolet finished runner-up in all three stages.

Still, it was a strong points day for Allmendinger, gaining 52 big ones on Cindric with a 99-point swing over the last two races. Heading into this Saturday‘s race at Darlington Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), Allmendinger is the points leader for the first time this season, 17 to the good of Cindric.

“Two races ago, I never even thought about it, so it‘s pretty awesome,” Allmendinger said of his points position. “We just have to keep building fast race cars and keep doing what we need to do and finish the regular season off strong, whether that‘s the Regular-Season Championship or not. Other than that, be ready for the playoffs.”

RELATED: AJ Allmendinger talks about Daytona finish

Cindric now sits second in the championship standings for the first time this season. Dating back to last season, the No. 22 team had the championship lead for the previous 25 races. Since last July at Kansas Speedway, Cindric has led the points after 38 of the past 40 races.

But now, he‘s in a points battle for the next three races at Darlington, Richmond Raceway and Bristol Motor Speedway.

“We bring fast race cars, we show up and I show up prepared and felt like we had a shot to win [at Daytona] and felt like we had a shot to win [at Michigan] and most weeks,” Cindric said following Daytona. “I wouldn‘t say Darlington, statistically, is my best race track, but there‘s no reason why it can‘t be. Richmond and Bristol, I like those two tracks. Head down and move forward.”

Between the trio of tracks to close out the regular season, the upper hand likely goes to Cindric. Though Allmendinger has a plethora of experience at the tracks in the Cup Series, he had a combined three starts in the Xfinity Series at those tracks. Cindric, however, has 17, with two second-place finishes both coming at Richmond.