Justin Allgaier has been here before. This weekend marks the JR Motorsports driver’s third Championship 4 appearance in the four years that the NASCAR XFINITY Series has been running this format. But, this year feels different.
See, you have to go back to last season as to why. Last year, Allgaier won five times in the regular season. He came into the playoffs with seven top three finishes in nine tries. Unfortunately, they flopped in the postseason and didn’t even make it to the final four.
This year, through the first 31 races, Allgaier had yet to win a race all season long. In fact, his win at Indianapolis in 2018 was his last trip to victory lane. He came into the Round of 8 cutoff race at the ISM Raceway in Phoenix riding a 39 race winless streak. While he had the inside track to gain one of the wildcard spots to the Championship 4 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, he didn’t feel like he’d have much of a shot at a title even if he made it there.
Last year, he thought he did and he didn’t even make it to the final round. Until last Saturday, he didn’t think he stood much of a chance. Then, he went out and won the XFINITY Series race and all has changed. He’s into the final round now and feels like he’s playing with house money at this point.
“Probably more so than any other year of my career,” Allgaier says of the relief of his win last Saturday. “I don’t think you have to win a race to win a championship. I really don’t. I think you can make it through this and not win a race and win the championship. We could have easily finished second today to Cole (Custer) if he would have passed me and we still could have made it to the final round at Homestead and potentially win a championship.
“That being said, we won five races last year in the regular season but got into the playoffs and didn’t win a single race. Mentally, emotionally, that weighs on you. For me personally, this win, I can’t even begin to describe to you the weight that’s off my shoulders. We’re going to have fun.”
See, the “Big 3” of Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer have combined to reach victory lane 20 times in the first 32 races run. Allgaier, now has just one win. He’s playing with house money but driving arguably better than all three of them heading into the most important race of the entire year.
But, if he got passed and finished second or third but still made the championship, he feels like it would have been hard to win a title when they were just that much better. Now, this win is a game changer.
Allgaier, hasn’t finished outside of the top 10 since early July at Daytona, a streak of 16 straight races. He’s also had six top five finishes in his last seven starts too. But, even with all this recent speed, if Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick had chased him down and passed him in the end of last Saturday’s race, Allgaier would have been defeated. How can you win a championship when you can’t win a race?
Instead, it worked the opposite.
Allgaier, beat Christopher Bell when he was at his best in starting on the pole and leading the first 95 Laps overall. He held off Custer (2nd) and Reddick (3rd) for the win in the end.
“Everybody’s talked about the big three all year and obviously they’ve had the best cars every week and have been winning races, but I feel like we go into next week with a new mentality, a new energy and a new shot of winning a championship,” Allgaier said of holding off the “Big 3” for a win. “I’m excited for it.”
Now, the momentum is there. It could have been gone had he been passed, but he wasn’t. He won outright over everyone else. That momentum that could have swung the other way is powerful.
“Yeah the momentum from the win. If I would have gotten chased down by Cole at the end and got passed, mentally that’s going to defeat you. You did everything you can do. You played the strategy the right way. You ran the last restart as best you could. You tried to pass those guys as quickly as you could to get the clean air and not wear the tires out. If he would have ran me down and passed me, it would have been really defeating. He did catch me, but the last five or 10 laps or whatever it was, I just ran as hard as I could.
“It definitely makes next week a lot more enjoyable. It puts us more in the conversation to win a championship.”
Allgaier, has two top seven finishes in his last three Homestead starts. He’s eyeing his first NASCAR championship. It would be an emotional day if he could get there.
Expect Allgaier to run well this weekend for the title, as he has the most NASCAR Xfinity Series starts (nine) at Homestead-Miami Speedway among the Championship 4. The JRM standout has made nine series starts in Miami, posting two top 10s and an average finish of 14.1. In his first Championship 4 appearance in 2016, he started sixth and finished sixth. Then in his second appearance in the Championship 4 in 2017, he started 16th and finished 12th. He finished seventh in last season’s series finale.
JR Motorsports has won three NASCAR Xfinity Series driver championships, all with Sunoco rookies – Chase Elliott in 2014, William Byron (2017) and Tyler Reddick (2018). JR Motorsports began its NASCAR Xfinity Series program in 2005 with driver Mark McFarland and since has won 46 series races; including two this season.