Justin Allgaier is optimistic about his 2016 season – and he should be.
After eight races, the new JR Motorsports driver has collected two top fives and six top 10s in the No. 7 Chevrolet. Not only is Allgaier currently seventh in the NASCAR XFINITY Series point standings, but he is also fourth in driver rating, third in fastest laps run, and first in quality passes among series regulars.
Translation: ‘Little Gator’s’ still got it.
Allgaier is in a much different position than he was in the past two seasons when he drove for the underfunded HScott Motorsports in the Sprint Cup Series. In two full years at the Cup level, Allgaier logged just one top 10 and had a disappointing average finish of 26.8.
While Allgaier knew his team was doing everything they could, it was simply time for a change.
“I loved the team that I was with; they worked their butts off to make sure that we built the best racecar we could have every week to go to the racetrack,” Allgaier said, adding, “Unfortunately, we didn’t have success; we didn’t have the speed on a regular basis that put us in a position to be competitive. We were a decent car, but we were never up there battling for wins and championships. As a competitive person and as a racer, that’s something I certainly wanted to get back to.”
That desire for victories and having a competitive ride led him to Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s organization. In 2014, JR Motorsports brought home the XFINITY Series championship and finished runner-up with Chase Elliott behind the wheel.
When Allgaier found out JRM was searching for a new driver, he took it upon himself to make his interest known. He called the partnership “a perfect storm.”
“When we found out JR Motorsports had an opening and was looking for somebody for the next season, we were trying to find out if I would even be a candidate, or if they would entertain the idea of putting me in a racecar,” Allgaier said, “It just worked out. Dale and I had a conversation in the back of a truck while riding around for driver intros one week — we qualified right next to each other — and that really got the ball rolling.”
His return to the XFINITY competition has been full of positives thus far, and Allgaier is impressed with his team’s ability to find a setup that works every weekend.
“One of the things we do really well is that we don’t deviate from standard,” Allgaier told POPULAR SPEED. “We’ve got a great baseline setup that we’ve run at all the racetracks this year. There’s a lot of crew chiefs and teams that are very ‘trick of the week’ oriented and want to come up with the latest, greatest setup that changes everything, and they do something totally different each and every week.”
For Allgaier, the familiarity with how his car will handle gives him peace of mind.
“From a driver standpoint, it’s hard to try something new every week. It’s important to me to go out on the track and know immediately what the car’s going to do off the truck,” Allgaier said.
That consistency has kept the No. 7 team in the hunt nearly every week. The driver is in awe with the amount of dedication his team has put in since they unloaded at Daytona International Speedway.
“One of the cool things for me is that the guys at JR Motorsports are obviously very talented at what they do. That was one of the goals when I came back [to XFINITY], to be with a solid race team,” Allgaier said. “From when we got on the racetrack at Daytona for the first race . . . I felt like they’ve given me 110-percent. They’ve put the best racecars that they can on the track, and it’s fun to go out there and drive it. It’s fun to go out there and know your car is going to be the way you want it.”
A lot of the success can be attributed to crew chief Jason Burdett. Their personal relationship — combined with Burdett’s leadership skills and racing mentality — unifies the entire team.
“Jason is a racer. He understands it. His son actually runs quarter-midgets, and I got to know them a little bit when I got a mini outlaw car that I was racing a few years ago,” Allgaier explained. “The other part of it is Jason is a great team leader. He’s one of those guys that goes out there every week and is completely focused on what it takes to go out and be competitive and run up front, but he’s also one of those guys with great leadership skills and helps everybody understand their job plays an integral part in what we’re doing.”
Despite the on-track speed they’ve shown, the No. 7 team is evidence that few partnerships come to fruition in the early stages. While running second in the late stages of the Toyota Care 250 at Richmond International Raceway, a crash relegated Allgaier to a 35th-place finish. Even with a “frustrating” ending, the team knows there are several things within their control that can guide them to victory lane.
“We’re working on our cars on a regular basis, going to the wind tunnel, going to the shaker rig, and working on the pull down,” Allgaier said. “Our team has a great relationship with Chevrolet, and they’ve done a great job trying to help us. It’s just a collective effort to try and make our program better. Like I said, we’re getting better and better every week. We’re doing that well, but there are still areas we have to make better.”
With his team working endlessly to build better cars, Allgaier believes he can shoulder more of the load as a driver.
“Probably one of the biggest things this season is pit stops. I can always do better on pit stops,” he said. “Another thing is just relaying information. As Jason and I work together more, I figure out what his terminology is and what he wants to hear, how I can explain things better and help him understand things better. If we can do that, we’ll obviously have a great relationship as we move forward.”
At the end of the day, Allgaier says it all came down to winning races, and ultimately, a championship. And while the team has experienced some growing pains, he is confident they’ll come out on top.
“We all jelled very well together right off the bat, and we went to the racetrack for the first time, and we were successful,” Allgaier said. “We haven’t deviated from that a whole lot. We’ve just gone out and done what we needed to do.”
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