Thursday, 19 September 2019

Allgaier still ‘going for a championship’ despite season rife with bad luck – NASCAR

Allgaier still ‘going for a championship’ despite season rife with bad luck – NASCAR
09 Sep

SPEEDWAY, Ind. – A year ago, Justin Allgaier was squatting down to kiss the fabled bricks after winning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, fulfilling his lifelong dream after a childhood spent making the three-and-a-half hour trek from Illinois to sit in the grandstands countless times as a kid.

The past year, however, has been borderline nightmarish.

The Xfinity Series’ resident veteran captured the victory in last year’s event at the Brickyard, a whopping fifth victory in his best statistical season to date. With a head of steam rolling into the playoffs, Allgaier was the clear frontrunner for the title … eventually won by then-teammate Tyler Reddick.

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A near-comical stretch of bad luck in the ’18 Xfinity Series Playoffs saw him endure multiple wrecks and four finishes of 15th or worse in just seven races en route to a third-place points finish — and see a magical season fizzle out with a whimper.

“Last year, to win five races, I look back and I’m like, ‘Holy crap, that was incredible,’” Allgaier said Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, site of Saturday’s Indiana 250 (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, IMS Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “But on the flip side, we got to the playoffs and it was so lackluster and we did such a bad job in the playoffs that you go, ‘At this point does winning five races really even matter?’”

This season offered a fresh start for Allgaier to shake off the disappointment at the tail-end of last year, and the ship appeared to be righted after a pair of top-three finishes to open ’19.

And then the wheels fell off, almost literally.

Allgaier saw just one top-10 finish over the next five races, culminating in an inauspicious 30th-place result at Bristol Motor Speedway in the spring — despite leading a race-high 138 laps. That’s been a particularly apt microcosm of Allgaier’s season to date. He nearly repeated the effort at Bristol a few weeks ago – leading 131 laps this time – en route to an eighth-place finish after a tire went down while leading in the closing laps.

“Bristol was funny,” Allgaier said. “We ran the fastest lap of the race with 20 laps to go on a restart and then to have a tire have a puncture in it with eight laps or nine laps to go, you look at it and go, ‘How does that happen? How do you get debris to cut the inside of that tire with that few laps to go and there’s no damage to anything else?’

“The way I look at it is God’s got a plan for everything, and if I go to the race track and give 100% every week and I do everything I can do, then the results are what they are. I don’t feel like we’ve done anything that I would go back and say, ‘Hey, I would do something different.’ There’s not a race this season where I’d do anything differently. Every race, I would’ve done the exact same thing.

“The old saying is, ‘I’d rather be lucky than good any day,’ and this year has been a true case of that. We’ve been good on multiple occasions and haven’t had the luck to go along with it. We’ve had fast race cars; we’ve done everything right. We just don’t have anything to show for it.”

The JR Motorsports driver slowly has been putting the pieces back together week by week since, compiling six top-three finishes in the 11 races from Richmond to Watkins Glen. From Kentucky to Darlington, Allgaier has put together the second-longest top-10 streak of his Xfinity career.

The speed’s there. The talent’s there. The veteran mindset is there.

The results are starting to come.

Allgaier was seventh and sixth in Friday’s pair of practice sessions, respectively, and perhaps the winds of change are beginning to blow his way and shift the tide in his favor for once.

MORE: Full practice results

“I hope so. The speed has been way better the last two months. … We didn’t fire off this season where we wanted to be at, there’s no question. We weren’t bad, we just weren’t as good as the ‘Big 3’ (of Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and Reddick),” Allgaier said. “I feel like we’ve definitely bridged that gap. We’ve had cars capable of being as good or better than (they have). We just need that racing luck to go our way. If we can do that, I think we have a valid shot at winning races and ultimately going for a championship.

“Hopefully, you pick up a win here to wrap up the end of the regular season and really kick off the beginning of the playoffs. … Last year, we won five before the playoffs and didn’t win any in the playoffs. This year, maybe we don’t win any in the regular season and we go win five in the playoffs. We’ll see what happens.”



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