Heading into this weekend’s race at Talladega Superspeedway, Justin Allgaier is coming off a dominating performance, leading 157 out of 254 laps at Richmond International Raceway, ultimately coming up one position short of securing his first career multi-win season in the XFINITY Series.
Allgaier’s laps led was a personal milestone in any racing series. But being given the opportunity to compete with JR Motorsports is just what the 30-year-old needed to revive his NASCAR career.
Heading into 2016, Allgaier’s first season back in the XFINITY Series, he was coming off of two full-time seasons in the Cup Series for HScott Motorsports. In 2014, the No. 51 car finished 29th in the championship standings, and in 2015, 30th, with one top-10 finish at Bristol Motor Speedway.
When Allgaier took a step back to XFINITY in 2016, he came out swinging, ultimately making it to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway and finishing third in points.
Allgaier never recorded a victory in 2016, though he did have a trio of second-place finishes. Earlier this season at Phoenix International Raceway, he took the No. 7 car to Victory Lane, and picked up his first win since in NASCAR since 2012 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.
Winning was something Allgaier didn’t know if he would ever see again.
“Every week,” Allgaier told Frontstretch at Richmond, regarding if he thought he may never win again. “That was one of the things that was probably the hardest. Sometimes, you never really know when that next opportunity could, or is going to come.
“For me, not that I didn’t think we could do it, but you start questioning yourself. After so many races you go ‘man, is this ever going to happen?’ Especially on the Cup side, what we were trying to accomplish and the struggles that we were up against were so insurmountable, you kind of beat yourself down without even realizing you are doing it.”
Allgaier’s short stint in the Cup Series could be viewed in a couple of different ways. There were no real expectation as he was joining a team that was essentially brand new, running only 11 races in 2013 with Allgaier, Kyle Larson, Michael McDowell and Ryan Truex.
But his rookie campaign and the 2015 season were tiring years for the Illinois native.
“In some ways I think the Cup side helped me, but in a lot of ways I think it hurt me,” Allgaier said. “Being in the wrong position at the right time, there was a lot of circumstances that kept it from being what it probably should have been, or what it could have been. Not because of people or effort, and that’s probably the hardest part. When you put in the effort and you see everyone around you putting in the effort and the results don’t come, that’s miserable.”
Prior to his rookie season, Allgaier had been around the top divisions of NASCAR since 2005, running a partial Camping World Truck Series schedule, but 2008 was his big break as he competed in four races for Team Penske, with The Captain moving him to full-time for 2009.
After competing in two full seasons for Team Penske, Allgaier made a stop at Turner Scott Motorsports for three years before jumping to NASCAR’s top series with Harry Scott.
One would think after spending two miserable seasons in the Cup Series, Allgaier would give up, or at least not be the same.
“I don’t regret anything because I think every situation, every obstacle, every moment in your life prepares you for the next,” Allgaier said. “Did I enjoy it like I wanted to? Absolutely not. That was tough, but I think it taught me a lot about who I am as a person. It taught me how to be a better husband, a better father and in general a better person.”
This season, Allgaier is joined by teammates Elliott Sadler and Michael Annnett, who have also transitioned back into the XFINITY Series after competing in the Cup Series. Out of the three drivers, Allgaier spent the least amount of time at the top level, but since the three former Cup Series regulars have joined JRM, they have talked a lot about their past struggles.
“Michael [Annett] and I talked a lot this year about not necessarily what to do and how to do it, but overcoming those obstacles that we’ve had the last couple of years and how to reset yourself and learn how to race again,” he said. “It’s not easy at all. Mentally and physically it’s exhausting. I know that sounds crazy, but I think sometimes you talk to the guys that have been on both sides of the fence and say ‘man it’s really hard to race and get by and manage a not-so-good car in the Cup Series than it is to drive a good car and be up front and be competitive.
“Just because you’re fighting for your life every week. You’re fighting for your job, fighting for your sponsors and you’re fighting so hard just to stay relevant. It’s different from when you’re up front and running competitive because your energy levels are up high, your emotions are high and you’re ready to go at every tack. When you’re down and you’re beat down, it’s hard sometimes to focus yourself and go back and want to go back to the race track every week.”
With the early season success for Allgaier and JRM, he is becoming a likely a candidate to go back to the Cup Series. However, over the past six seasons, Sadler has finished no worse than sixth in XFINITY Series points, including three runner-up finishes. That hasn’t been enough to get him back to the top level.
There are certainly differences between Allgaier and Sadler. Age is one of them, as he is 30 years old, and Sadler 42. But once a driver is cycled out of the Cup Series, it’s extremely hard to get back to the top level.
With all the speculation, Allgaier doesn’t want to make the same mistake twice.
“I don’t know if I would ever go back to the Cup Series just to go back to the Cup Series because, at the end of the day, I’m a competitive person and I want to be up front and I want to be up front and winning races,” Allgaier said with hesitation. “That being said, if a opportunity opened up to go back to the Cup side in a quality car, yeah I would do it in a heartbeat.
“I’m very happy here at JR Motorsports, these guys have been great to work with and great to be a part of. As long as that opportunity can stay going I would be perfectly content and happy and enjoy staying here and competing for championships.”
Through eight races, Allgaier is sitting second in points to Sadler, 41 markers back. He started off the season with back-to-back 30th-place finishes, getting involved in two early crashes. But since then, the performance has risen at JRM and he looks to be one of the early season favorites for the championship.
Through eight races, Allgaier has already led a career-high in laps (242). In addition to leading 157 circuits at Richmond, the No. 7 car paced the field for 85 laps at Phoenix. In terms of XFINITY Series regulars, after those two performances Sadler led 40 laps at Daytona, the next most by a driver in the preliminary series.
“It’s great being on top and running well, but at the same time, you still have to be on offense and you have to be pressing, make your cars better and make your program better. That’s something that we do here.”
About the author
Dustin joined the Frontstretch team at the beginning of the 2016 season. 2020 marks his sixth full-time season covering the sport that he grew up loving. His dream was to one day be a NASCAR journalist, thus why he attended Ithaca College (Class of 2018) to earn a journalism degree. Since the ripe age of four, he knew he wanted to be a storyteller.
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