ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (AP) — AJ Allmendinger slid past Justin Allgaier with seven laps to go, then defended his lead through a late restart and a pair of nerve-testing green-white-checkered overtime finishes to win Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America.
For Allmendinger, it was another step toward rebuilding his racing career after sitting out part of last season because of a violation of NASCAR's substance-abuse policy. It also was a return to victory lane at Road America for Allmendinger, who won at the four-mile road course in Central Wisconsin in the Champ Car Series in 2006.
Allgaier finished second, followed by Parker Kligerman, Owen Kelly and Sam Hornish Jr.
Billy Johnson led on a restart with eight to go, but he slid wide in Turn 5 and was passed by Allgaier and Allmendinger. Allmendinger then made the decisive move one lap later, snatching the lead from Allgaier at the top of the hill in Turn 6.
He'd have to defend his lead on three more restarts, fending off a charge from Allgaier with three laps to go and then facing two green-white-checkered finishes -- NASCAR's version of overtime.
Allmendinger once again took the lead, only to watch another caution come out for Michael Annett's accident to trigger a second overtime.
With drivers facing concerns about having enough fuel left on the second green-white-checkered restart, Allmendinger held on again to take the checkered flag and stop in Turn 5 to celebrate in front of the fans.
Allmendinger started from pole position and led early, but made a mistake on lap seven and briefly slipped off the track. He regained control and got back on track but lost two places in the process, going from first to third.
That gave the lead to Johnson, a California native with a background in sports car racing. But Johnson was penalized for entering pit road too fast on lap 14, sending him to the back of the field.
Kligerman then slid off track while in the lead on lap 19, allowing Kelly to take the lead with Allmendinger right on his back bumper.
Defending race winner Nelson Piquet Jr. then had a rough moment before the race's halfway point, plowing into the back of Brian Scott's car. Piquet's hood crumpled in the crash, costing him any chance of contention.
Allmendinger then retook the lead on lap 26, bumping his way past Kelly on the exit of Turn 5. Allmendinger pulled away and quickly built a lead of more than two seconds -- and then Kelly lost second place when he came to a stop on the back side of the track, apparently out of fuel. After getting a push back to the pits from a safety vehicle, Kelly was able to get back in the race.
Most of the leaders then pitted with 19 laps to go -- right at the outer edge of most teams' fuel windows, making it unclear whether they had enough to make it to the end.
Allmendinger retook the lead on a restart on lap 34 as Johnson climbed back into contention from his earlier pit road speeding penalty, taking third place on the restart and surging to second on lap 35.
Johnson then would charge past Allmendinger on lap 39 after a restart, muscling his way into the lead as Allmendinger lost several spots. Meanwhile, Kenny Habul caused a moment of levity when he veered off course on the restart and collected a large advertising sign, which stuck to his nose for the better part of a lap before another caution came out.
It was a big step for Allmendinger, whose racing career took a wrong turn last year when he failed a NASCAR drug test, resulting in a suspension and the loss of his ride at Penske Racing.
Allmendinger, who said he took a pill offered by a friend that turned out to be Adderall, was reinstated after completing a NASCAR-affiliated recovery program, and now is getting a limited second chance with the Penske team this year.
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