Justin Allgaier Humbled by Substitute Role in Coca-Cola 600

By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor

CONCORD, N.C. – There was no bigger fan of Justin Allgaier’s than Mother Nature in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Justin allgaier had a strong run in the coca-cola 600 as mother nature spoiled kyle larson's plans to run 'the double. '
Photo by Blake Ulino/Kickin’ the Tires.

As a bleak forecast in Indianapolis, IN turned more and more into a reality, Hendrick Motorsports called on Justin Allgaier to fill in for Kyle Larson at the start of NASCAR’s longest race of the year. Larson had planned on running ‘The Double,’ having qualified fifth for the Indianapolis 500.

The full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver remained in Indiana despite the NTT IndyCar Series weather delay, though Allgaier, who eventually finished 13th, still didn’t expect to be climbing behind the wheel of the No. 5 HendrickCars.com H1100 several hours before the scheduled green flag.

“To be honest, I think even at like 3:00 I was pretty confident there was no way I was going to be driving today,” Allgaier admitted. “With everything happening the way that it did, being able to be here, I’ve said it when I was here the other day, the attention to detail that Hendrick Motorsports has, being prepared for kind of all scenarios, and we were that tonight.”

The NASCAR Xfinity Series regular started from the rear of the field due to rules about pre-race driver changes. Allgaier briefly went a lap down after green flag pit stops before he raced his way back onto the lead lap, passing then-leader Ty Gibbs. The Riverton, IL native slipped back down a lap as his teammate, William Byron, and Gibbs battled for the lead.

As he got acclimated to driving the NASCAR NextGen car, Allgaier’s speed improved. That allowed the 37-year-old to surge forward. As he did, Allgaier passed his teammate and unlapped himself in the process. He remained just ahead of the lead battle when the caution waved for B.J. McLeod’s spin on Lap 87.

“Starting the race, I was pretty disappointed in myself just getting acclimated,” Allgaier said. “Kyle’s seat is so different from what I run, and the steering. Cliff Daniels (crew chief) did an amazing job to get me up to speed. 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, to pass Ty, 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.”

Justin allgaier had a strong run in the coca-cola 600 as mother nature spoiled kyle larson's plans to run 'the double. '
Photo by Blake Ulino/Kickin’ the Tires.

Where Allgaier struggled was on restarts. The differences in aerodynamics between the Cup car and Xfinity car were dramatic. It wasn’t until the third stage of NASCAR’s marathon race that he began to move forward, entering the top-15. Around the same time, Larson, who finished 18th in Indianapolis, was landing at Concord Regional Airport just north of the speedway.

The team planned to have a driver change at the completion of the third stage. However, lightning and rain forced the race to be red flagged. Several hours later, officials declared the race to be official, without Larson ever having the chance to run a competitive lap in the race.

“Restarts were definitely tough just with the aero,” Allgaier explained. “You guys all hear about aero blocking and aero wash and all those things every week from all the Cup drivers. You don’t need to hear it from me. But as somebody coming from the Xfinity Series, it was pretty wild how much different it was in traffic.

“To be able to kind of make our way up through there, we had great strategy and got ourselves up into 13th or whatever and felt like there was some good potential to go even further. But I told Cliff on the radio, I feel like Kyle getting here and getting in the car, even having to start in the back, I feel like he’s going to be able to slice through traffic. This Hendrickcars.com Camaro was so good. You get opportunities very rarely in life to drive something that’s that good, and it truly was that.

“It was really, really special and something that I’ll take for a number of years as I walk away that was a good opportunity.”

Larson, for his part, was understandably disappointed by the ordeal. While NASCAR has yet to announce whether he will receive a waiver to remain eligible for the playoffs, officials have only denied waiver requests four times, twice for missing races due to lack of sponsorship and twice for substance abuse policy suspensions.

The 13th-place finish was Allgaier’s best in the Cup Series since the 2015 Martinsville Speedway playoff race. It was also just his 25th lead lap finish, having driven for a variety of teams in the past with different levels of competitiveness.

Allgaier’s 13th-place finish keeps Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 5 team at the top of the owner points standings. Hendrick leads Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 11 team by 18-points. Larson, meanwhile, dropped from the points lead down to third after not starting the race.

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