Justin Allgaier’s resurgent season ends in championship disappointment

Matthew T. Thacker/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

Justin Allgaier had seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series crew chief Chad Knaus atop the pit box and all of the momentum of his best NASCAR XFINITY Series season to date going into Saturday’s Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

In the end, it wasn’t enough.

Piloting the No. 7 Chevrolet, Allgaier was a championship afterthought from the time the green flag waved until the checkered flag flew to end Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300. The 31-year-old finished a lap down in 12th, far behind JR Motorsports teammates William Byron and Elliott Sadler as they fought for the championship in the top five.

Allgaier ultimately finished his championship pursuit in third, with Byron claiming his first XFINITY Series title.

“Unfortunately when the race started tonight we knew something was way off,” Allgaier said. “We just struggled from the drop of the green.”

Entering on the heels of a two-win regular season, Allgaier was among the favorites to claim his first XFINITY Series title. The Illinois native took care of business in the opening two rounds of the playoffs to clinch a spot in the Championship 4, and entered the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway with high hopes after falling just shy of a title last season.

But when the time to race finally came, Allgaier was left searching for answers.

With regular crew chief Jason Burdett suspended for a lug nut infraction at Phoenix Raceway, Allgaier was left to lean on interim crew chief Billy Wilburn and Knaus to carry him to a title.

Whether attributable to the crew chief change or not, Allgiaer never seemed to have the car he needed. He showed glimpses of short-run speed, but struggled over the long runs that played out throughout the evening.

“There were moments of brightness,” he said afterward. “There was a few restarts where we picked up quite a few spots and thought that maybe we had a shot to get up there and battle it out. But ultimately on the long run we just really started dropping speed and we just way too loose to be able to drive at the end of some of these runs.”

Had a host of cautions filled the second half of the 300-mile Florida race, then Allgaier could potentially have risen into title contention. But instead the race went green for the entire final 104 laps, and Allgaier failed to find a rhythm.

If last year’s Championship 4 result was heartbreakingly close for Allgaier, then this season’s was disappointingly distant.

“Really disappointing,” Allgaier said. “As Daniel (Hemric) said, you work hard all year to get to this point. Obviously the goal at Daytona is to have a shot when you get to Homestead. You want to have a shot to go for a championship.”

Luckily for Allgaier, he’ll get another chance at redemption next season. But the incoming three-month offseason that separates Homestead from the season opener at Daytona International Speedway will be filled with regret and thoughts of what could have been.

“I know that next year’s going to be equally as much of a challenge and I’m looking forward to it,” Allgaier said. “Just disappointed that we didn’t have the night tonight that we needed.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *