Justin Allgaier balancing teammate dynamic while fighting for wins
Through three races, JR Motorsports has been the class of the Xfinity Series field and its drivers sit first, fourth, fifth and ninth in points.
Yet the four-car operation remains winless. Noah Gragson, Justin Allgaier, Josh Berry and Sam Mayer have each contended for wins and led laps, but none has gone to Victory Lane this season.
What’s worse: those races have featured disgruntled teammates. On a restart with 20 laps to go last weekend in Las Vegas, Allgaier lined up as the leader in the outside lane with Gragson tucked behind him. But instead of a helpful push from his teammate, Allgaier found himself stuck in the middle three-wide exiting Turn 2 while Gragson motored to his outside for the lead.
One week earlier, Allgaier found himself in the outside wall at Auto Club after slight contact from Berry at the exit of Turn 2 (coincidentally, also with 20 laps to go).
Balancing each teammates’ emotions while also contending for victory has been an “interesting” dynamic for the veteran of the team in Allgaier.
“Very rarely do you have all four cars or all the cars in one organization that are equally capable of running up front and battling for wins,” Allgaier said in a Wednesday Zoom availability. “And I think managing that, it’s been a challenge because obviously, we all want to win for our teams and for our sponsors and for everybody. But managing that, I think, is a really tough situation, especially knowing that we could easily have four cars in that (Championship 4) when it comes down to getting later into the year when we go back to Phoenix.”
The choose rule dictated the final restart with five laps to go last week in Vegas. As the leader, Gragson opted for the outside lane while Ty Gibbs chose the inside of the front row. Daniel Hemric in third followed Gragson high. In fourth, Allgaier found himself in a box.
If Allgaier went to the outside lane, he would be third in line and have at least four cars to carve through. The inside gave him the chance to line up right behind the front row and more realistically fight for the win -- even if it meant pushing a rival car past his teammate.
“When Daniel chose the outside, really, at that point, the only option was to take the bottom behind Ty,” Allgaier said. “The options were either go to third or fall all the way back to sixth.”
In the end, it was Gibbs who pulled through for the victory, thanks in large part to a helpful push from Allgaier’s Chevrolet.
Allgaier, now winless in his last 27 starts, couldn’t help but notice frustration from fans on social media who thought he ditched Gragson to work against him. In reality, Allgaier, who led a race-high 62 laps, was fourth and was trying to maximize his results.
“One of the things that we’re very adamant on (at JRM) is we’ve got to push each other and help each other,” said Allgaier, who finished fifth in Vegas. “But at the end of the day, when it comes down to trying to win a race, you got to go out there and if you feel like you have a shot at winning the race, you’ve got to do everything you can to try to win. ...
“I felt like at the end of the race there, we still had a shot at trying to win. And not that I didn’t want to see (Gragson) win -- I was hoping that he would win. But at that point, my best option was to push (Gibbs) not even just to try to get the win, but to limit the damage of how far back we fell in that last restart.”
Gragson is the series points leader after an astounding start to the season with finishes of third (Daytona) and two runner-up efforts (Auto Club, Vegas). Fourth is Allgaier, fifth Berry and ninth Mayer.
The series shifts to Phoenix, which has historically been one of Allgaier’s best tracks. As noted in a JRM press release, Allgaier ranks first in laps led (493), laps run inside the top 15 (4,264) and in fastest laps run (298) according to NASCAR’s loop data statistics.
Don’t let his winless streak fool you either. Since last winning in May 2021 at Darlington, Allgaier has netted 16 top fives and 23 top 10s, including a current streak of 15 straight. His last finish worse than 12th came at Mid-Ohio in June 2021, when he finished 35th.
The last time Allgaier had 15 consecutive top-10 finishes, back in 2019, the Illinois native didn’t win either. But he did score his 16th straight top 10 with a win the next week at Phoenix.
This year, though, Allgaier feels he’s been the organization’s weak, citing poor qualifying (an average start of 17.7) and the speed with which adjustments need to be made between practice and qualifying. That hasn’t dampened his expectations heading back to Arizona.
“Phoenix is kind of the one place that everybody feels at home,” Allgaier said, “whether that’s Jason Burdett, my crew chief, or any of our guys on our team. ... We’ve all got a great comfortability whenever it comes to going to Phoenix, and I think we have the opportunity to go there and to run good.
“It’s obviously changed a lot since they originally put on the PJ1. Now we have the resin. It’s going to be interesting to see kind of what it races like. But I think, as a team and as an organization, that’s been a great racetrack for us, and especially our No. 7 team. So, we’re going to go there, we’re going to give it the same effort we’ve been giving it all year.”
The Xfinity race is set for Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET on FS1.