Race Weekend Central

Justin Allgaier Holds Down Fort for Kyle Larson, HMS with 13th-Place Showing in Coke 600

CONCORD, N.C. — With the job that he was given for Sunday’s (May 26) Coca-Cola 600, Justin Allgaier more than delivered.

Mother Nature did not.

In a perfect scenario, Kyle Larson would’ve run all 1,100 miles of the Memorial Day Double. But rain showers delayed the start of the Indianapolis 500, and it soon became clear that Larson would either have to leave Indy early for the 600 or miss the start of the 600 to complete Indy.

He chose the latter. Allgaier was on stand-by for Larson in Charlotte this weekend, and he got the nod to take the green flag with the NASCAR Cup Series field — it was a call that even surprised Allgaier himself.

“To be honest, I think even at like 3:00 [p.m,], I was pretty confident there was no way I was going to be driving today,” Allgaier said.

Larson qualified 10th for the 600 on Saturday (May 25), but Allgaier had to drop to the rear at the start of the race for the driver change. It was a struggle at the start of the race, as Allgaier initially hovered around 35th in the opening laps.

“I was pretty confident that I was going to be dead last after the first five laps,” Allgaier said. I mean, you talk about — it was like I was in Europe going on the wrong side of the road.”

But as the laps continued to click away, Allgaier found his groove, worked with crew chief Cliff Daniels and began logging fast laps, even unlapping himself before the end of stage one.

“Cliff Daniels did an amazing job to get me up to speed,” Allgaier said. “We were able to look at the SMT and get the car where I needed to be at, and then just balance. We worked on the balance throughout the course of the run there. To be able to unlap myself was probably the highlight of the night to be honest with you, to pass a Hendrick Motorsports teammate (William Byron), to pass Ty [Gibbs], which I have a lot of respect for on the racetrack, was really, really nice, and it just kind of helped elevate the way the race went.”

While making his way through the field, Allgaier also expressed the urgency to keep the car in one piece for when Larson showed up.

“If I crash the car, it doesn’t matter when Kyle gets here,” Allgaier said. “If I crash the car, the Double is over. The last thing I wanted for Kyle was to land in Charlotte and be like, ‘oh, by the way, we wreckered that thing into the garage, and you have nothing to get into.’ Whether it was halfway that he was going to get in it, or even before this, my job was to get the car to Kyle in a capacity that he could go try to win the race, whenever that was.

“I think that that’s where like the fill-in role is really weird. If we come on a race weekend and if you were maybe in a fill-in role where somebody is hurt and they’re not racing that weekend, you can kind of lay caution to the wind a little bit and go try to run up front and to maximize the car. Today I think you saw some of those restarts losing spots because I wasn’t willing to put myself in some positions that I knew were not 100 percent passes, and I got some damage on the front straightaway on one of them.

“To be honest with you, it probably went the other way. I almost got more nervous, because now I’m getting run into, and the last thing I need is the left rear tire to go down because of damage and crash. All that being said, my job was to give Kyle the best race car he could have to go try to win the race, and I think we did that, and so that’s where my reservations came from today.”

At approximately lap 115 in the Coke 600, the checkered flag waved for the Indy 500 and Larson’s open-wheel debut. He ran top 10 for much of the first three-quarters of the race, but a late pit road speeding penalty dropped him to 18th at the finish.

See also
Kyle Larson Gets 18th in 1st, but Maybe Not Final, Indy 500

As Larson got on the plane to North Carolina, Allgaier kept advancing through the field, making it to the top 20 midway through stage two. He then made it to the top 15 at the start of stage three, and he was running 13th when a caution came out for rain on lap 245.

It was precisely at this moment that Larson had landed and made his way down pit road to the No. 5 team’s pit box. Allgaier climbed out of the car and had a moment with the crew as Larson got prepped to take over, all to the cheers of the crowd.

“I walked over to all the crew members and gave all of them a handshake and a hug and told them all thank you,” Allgaier said. “They have made this so easy. I was more focused on that and giving them the credit they deserved.

“One of them actually picked me up and gave me a big hug, and it was pretty special in that moment. I’ve had the No. 5 guys as my pit crew in years past on the No. 7 team on the Xfinity side, have a great relationship with them. But the time and effort — we were at the shop until 9:00 p.m. one night this week just going over seatbelts, and all of them were there.

“To be able to come through today and do all the right things, I felt like that was cool. … I just wanted to do my job and have fun with it.”

After 249 laps, Allgaier’s night in the Coke 600 was complete. His only Cup start with HMS prior to Charlotte came in the 2020 Brickyard 400, and it ended before it began in a multi-car pit road crash on lap 17. He then shined in his second opportunity with the team that came nearly four years after the first. He held down the fort, and he was more than gracious to hand the keys over.

“I know the car has the potential to go try to win this race tonight, and it would be a disservice to Kyle, to Cliff, to everybody on this No. 5 team, everybody at Hendrick Motorsports [if I continued],” Allgaier said. “If they’ve got somebody like Kyle on the ready that can go do this, you’ve got to go try to win the race, and they have the opportunity to do that. …

“I wanted to get to the top 10. When the rain came, I felt like we were finally on that verge of being able to break into the top 10, and that’s what I’ve really wanted. I was feeling good. Everything was great. But at the end of the day, that wasn’t my job.

“I said it earlier, if it was three laps to go and Kyle was here, we were going to switch out with three to go. I didn’t mind that. I knew what my job was, and I feel like I executed that tonight.”

As the fans, media and teams waited out the rain, all the attention turned to how Larson would perform once he got back in the car at the end of the delay. The rain had cleared by 11:00 pm, and all indications pointed to the Coke 600 resuming later that night.

See also
Coca-Cola 600 Ending Suprises Everyone, Even the Winners

And then, in a move that stunned everyone and angered plenty of others, the race was called due to humidity that was going to delay track drying well into the early hours of Monday morning (May 27), even though the threat of rain was over. Christopher Bell was the winner of the Coca-Cola 373 1/2, and the same storm cells that delayed Larson’s start to the Indy 500 ended the Double and his Coke 600 before he could even take pace laps in the car.

The decision to end the race early was a controversial one, and in a day with so much fanfare following Larson’s Double and a Coke 600 that has delivered on action in the Next Gen, everyone is stunned, in disbelief and wondering what could’ve been.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch and is a three-year veteran of the site. His weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” He also writes commentary, contributes to podcasts, edits articles and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage.

Can find on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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Christian Andrews

WHAT THE F***?!?! I WILL KILL WHOEVER ENDED THE RACE,I AM PISSED!!!!!!!!

Elaine Hughes

Justin Allgaier is a qualified driver to be in any type of race. I wish him the best.

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