As Justin Allgaier parked his No. 7 Chevrolet just past the start/finish line, sitting on Pocono Raceway’s pit road after qualifying, he breathed a sigh of relief — at least momentarily.
A year ago, Allgaier was competing in NASCAR’s premier division, unsure of what the future would hold. However, when Clint Bowyer was announced as HScott Motorsports’ new lead driver for 2016, it left the Illinois native without a ride.
Taking a step back, Allgaier made the move to the XFINITY Series, joining JR Motorsports in the No. 7 car. He took over the ride vacated by Regan Smith, who finished fourth in the standings last year with two victories.
“So far, so good,” Allgaier said Saturday morning. “Everyone at JR Motorsports has done a great job. Making that transition — for me — was something that I wasn’t sure how it would go. Ultimately, coming back with a good team and a great group of partners around us has been awesome.”
Allgaier entered Pocono third in the XFINITY Series standings, two positions higher than Smith was in heading into the 12th race of the season last year. His best finish came at Talladega Superspeedway in April, a race where he survived a last-lap three-car melee on the frontstretch.
However, come Saturday at Pocono, things didn’t go as planned. While running inside the top 5, Allgaier’s car got loose coming off Turn 2 just 20 laps into the event. While he attempted to save it, efforts ultimately failed, putting his bright red No. 7 car into the outside fence and causing an untimely end to his day.
Finishing 39th, Allgaier now sits seventh in the series standings. For the second time in 2016, a solid run was turned into a mangled car inside of the XFINITY Series garage area.
But amidst the two wrecks, Allgaier continues to be optimistic.
Allgaier settled in with JRM immediately, competing in the XFINITY Series for the first time since 2013. With five top 5s and nine top 10s through 12 races, he is on pace to surpass his career highs in each category.
“We’ve been really close [to a win],” Allgaier explained. “We’ve finished second and third. We’ve been near the front and got crashed with a few laps to go [at Richmond]. We feel like we’re really close. JR Motorsports has done a great job this year, obviously getting a few wins. We’re there. We just need to execute and do the things we’ve been doing. If we keep staying in the spot that we’re at, we’ll ultimately be in Victory Lane.”
And Victory Lane is a place that JR Motorsports is accustomed to visiting in 2016. Veteran Elliott Sadler was victorious at Talladega, with team owner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. winning the race at Richmond, along with Chase Elliott’s triumph in the season-opener at Daytona.
Allgaier was tied for a series-high nine top 10s with Sadler and points leader Daniel Suarez heading into Pocono, but now is third in that category. Sitting 23 points behind the championship lead prior to his accident at Pocono, Allgaier feels as though he is in a position to make the Chase and compete for the title.
Said Allgaier: “Our chemistry has been great. We fired out of the box strong. We definitely hit it on all eight cylinders out of the box. We’re working on our cars and making everything better as we go, but we’re definitely doing a good job.”
While the focus is on fighting for the XFINITY Series champion, Allgaier is not missing the Sprint Cup Series.
Allgaier spent five seasons from 2009 to 2013 in the XFINITY Series, earning three victories — one each year from 2010 to 2012. The former Team Penske development driver won the Rookie of the Year award in 2009, eventually finishing a career-best third in points in 2011 with Turner Motorsports.
“I would love to get back to Cup at some point,” Allgaier said. “For the most part, I’m very happy with being here in the XFINITY Series, being with this team and being competitive every week is good.”
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