By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
HOMESTEAD, Fla. — “At the end of the day when you come to Homestead and you’re going for a championship in the Chase format, you put yourself in position and that’s all you can do.” – Justin Allgaier
After qualifying sixth for Saturday night’s Ford EcoBoost 300, many expected Justin Allgaier to be the weak link in the Championship 4. Although he was the lowest Chase contender in the running order after qualifying, Allgaier rose to the occasion when the green flag was displayed.
The driver of the No. 7 Brandt Chevrolet Camaro knifed his way to the third spot by the time the first caution flag came out for a spinning Ryan Reed.
Allgaier was without a doubt the bravest driver in the field all race long as he utilized a line so high on the track that you couldn’t slide a sheet of paper between his day-glow orange car and the outside wall. The 30-year old’s line made his lap times incredibly fast, but a couple of times on the day Allgaier crossed the razor-thin line and tagged the wall.
Despite scraping the wall twice, Allgaier was still very much in the hunt all race long. And for the majority of the event he was the only driver who was able to mount any kind of a challenge to eventual winner and champion Daniel Suarez.
In the second half of the race there was a great battle between Allgaier, Erik Jones and Suarez for the lead.
“Yeah that’s probably the [most fun] part of this race track, is the fact that you can battle,” Allgaier said after the race. “We had some awesome battles over the course of the race. I know before we all put tires on Erik and I had a great battle and it was a lot of fun.”
On his last pit stop of the day during the final caution period, Allgaier’s jack man Andrew Childers slipped and fell, which caused the driver from Riverton, Illinois to lose a position on the track. As a result, Allgaier was lined up on the outside line on the ensuing restart in sixth, which placed him a couple of cars directly behind Cole Whitt, who opted to stay out on 30-plus lap old tires.
When the green flag came back out, Whitt spun his tires and stacked up the entire outside lane. In an instant Allgaier’s shot at victory, and the championship was over. It was a truly devastating turn of events as Allgaier probably had his best race of the 2016 season going. After the race, Allgaier questioned why Whitt’s crew chief would put his driver in that situation.
“From my standpoint, at some point even after you make your decision you look at it and say, ‘here’s the gravity of our situation and we need to make an alteration.’ I know that all of these guys are racing for points and spots and money. I’m not taking anything away,” said Allgaier.
Following the race, Whitt spoke to reporters in the garage area and apologized for spinning his tires on the restart. Allgaier was asked how he would respond to the apology.
“I don’t think you can respond to it unfortunately,” Allgaier stated emphatically.
Even with the late-race drama, Allgaier would finish the race strong over the final handful of laps as he rebounded to grab a sixth place finish. As a result, Allgaier finishes the season as third-place driver in the final NASCAR Xfinity Series championship standings. Despite the disappointing finish, Allgaier took solace in the fact that his team had an incredible season.
“We’ve all gotten along so well and had so much fun this season that you kind of forget the fact that you had a great season,” Allgaier explained. “You get here and you’re so bummed and super disappointed, but we had a great season and it’s just been fun.”
Allgaier will go into his second year with JR Motorsports coming off of a year where he achieved career highs in top-five finishes (13), top-ten finishes (26) and he tied his career-best points finish. Allgaier will look to build on those stellar numbers in 2017.