By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
The start to the NASCAR XFINITY Series season had been a brutal one for Justin Allgaier. The Riverton, Ill. native was caught up in one of the many wrecks in the season-opener at Daytona, completing only 28 laps and finishing 30th. The tough luck continued last weekend at Atlanta with a second straight 30th-place result.
“When you’re up, you’re up, but when you’re down, you feel like you’re getting kicked in the teeth,” Allgaier said on the JRM Up Front podcast after Atlanta’s results. “We’re going to hit the reset button, and we have the speed we need in our JRM cars.”
Allgaier headed west looking for some luck at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he had recorded five top-10 results in six starts heading into Saturday afternoon’s 300-lap event.
After qualifying 13th in the No. 7 Chevrolet, Allgaier picked up several positions in the first 40-lap stage of the race and finished fifth. Improving upon Stage 1, he finished third in Stage 2 and more importantly was the highest finishing XFINITY Series regular in both stages, picking up valuable championship points.
Allgaier would continue to run in the top-10 throughout the final stage of the race. The 30-year-old driver lost one spot on the final trip down pit road just inside 40 laps to go when he slid through his pit box. Running 10th when the seventh caution of the race came out for a spin by Ray Black Jr., Allgaier would start his march forward when the field returned to green, quickly advancing four positions before the next caution just seven laps later.
Allgaier ran sixth on the final restart with four laps to go and passed Cup Series regulars Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon to finish fourth.
The top-five finish resulted in the most points earned of any XFINITY driver in the field and a gain of 15 positions in the championship standings to the 11th position.
“We had a really good race today. Everybody at JR Motorsports has worked their tails off over the off-season,” Allgaier said, noting the effort it took for the organization to expand to four cars for the 2017 season.
“Unfortunately the first two races, we’ve not had very good luck and put ourselves in a bad spot. So today, to be able to have a really fast Brandt Professional Agriculture Chevy, to be able to run in the top-five the majority the afternoon, and to be able to double the amount of points we had gained all season just in the segments alone, that was huge for us.”
The momentum from the finish at Vegas bodes well heading to Phoenix next weekend, where Allgaier has four straight top-four finishes in XFINITY Series competition.
“I wish I knew what made us good at Phoenix,” Allgaier said with a smile. “It’s just one of those places that I really enjoy going to where we’ve been very fortunate to have fast race cars. I would say Phoenix and Bristol are the two tracks that I recognize as my favorite tracks on the circuit. Last year we were really fast and had an opportunity really to win the race. Unfortunately we had a fuel issue at the end and we had to start saving a little bit of fuel and were not able to pull off the finish.”