Justin Allgaier wins, advances to Xfinity championship race
All season long, Justin Allgaier wanted a win, needed a win – and finally he got the win he coveted in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff race at ISM Raceway.
One season after winning a career-best five races, Allgaier and his No. 7 JR Motorsports team notched their first checkered flag of 2019 and it was huge, moving him into next week’s championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Allgaier led 85 laps and joins Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick in the title race.
“It’s just incredible, man,” Allgaier told NBC Sports. “To do what we’ve done all year, to have the speed that we’ve had but not been able to pull it off has been disappointing, but these guys have rallied behind it. We said when we came here that we needed a win to get to Homestead and we got it.
“Not only is it a chance for the championship but to get the momentum from a win. That’s special. The weight on your shoulder, you can’t even begin to describe it.”
Added Reddick, defending Xfinity Series champion: “When I heard we were one lap to the good (on fuel), we figured where we’re at, might as well just be smart. We could win a race or we could run out of gas and not go to Homestead. We didn’t lose sight of what’s important.”
Chase Briscoe, Michael Annett, Austin Cindric and Noah Gragson were eliminated from the playoffs.
“I don’t want this one race or whole round to define who we are,” Briscoe told NBC. “We proved especially the last half of the season we’re capable to being that fourth guy, just didn’t get it done.”
The top 10 finishers in Saturday’s win were Allgaier, Custer, Reddick, John Hunter Nemechek, Zane Smith, Cindric, Justin Haley, Briscoe, Annett and Gragson.
Bell looked like he would seal a perfect weekend with a win. He was fastest in both of Friday’s practices and started Saturday’s race from the pole. He dominated the first two stages of Saturday’s race, leading all but one of the first 90 laps.
But Bell, who won this race last fall, was caught speeding on pit road at the end of Stage 2 and was sent to the back. While he started making progress, he spun after a tire went down on Lap 117 of the 200-lap race and finished 16th.
“I don’t think we could have beat the 20 today, but when he made that mistake, we capitalized on it and that’s what it’s all about,” Allgaier said of Bell.
Stage 1 winner: Christopher Bell (21st stage win of season)
Stage 2 winner: Christopher Bell (22nd stage win of season)
Who else had a good race: Give credit to John Hunter Nemechek and Zane Smith for their fourth- and fifth-place runs, respectively.
Who had a bad race: It’s a rarity that Bell has a bad run, but finishing 16th was definitely not the finish he wanted. But two things that were self-inflicted (speeding on pit road and a spin) sealed his bid to cap off what had been up to the end of Stage 2, a perfect weekend.
Notable: At 33, Allgaier has age and experience going for him heading to Miami. His other three rivals are all under 25: Bell is 24, Reddick 23 and Custer 21.
What’s next: The season-ending Xfinity Series championship race takes place next Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.