AVONDALE, Ariz. — A seventh time in the Championship was not the charm for Justin Allgaier as he finished second in the final NASCAR XFINITY Series standings after finishing third in Saturday’s finale at Phoenix Raceway.
It marked the second time in his long XFINITY career he came up a spot shy of hoisting the trophy as Cole Custer ended up winning it all after being the first man taking the checkered flag. Allgaier crossed the line in third, barely losing the runner-up spot by 0.007 seconds over Sheldon Creed.
Both men had a lengthy 202-lap race, but bigger hurdles had Allgaier giving it his all. On the second lap of the race, Allgaier was battling John Hunter Nemechek for position and as they entered the first turn, a slight tap sent Allgaier around.
Such incident brought out the first caution of the race as Allgaier had to work his way from the back while the other Championship 4 contenders remained in the top-10.
“I about cleared myself and John Hunter. I guess I thought it was going to stick,” said Allgaier. “I think my lap was like his last restart. I drove in there expecting it to stick and it didn’t quite. I had two options, run right in the side of him which I think we did touch a little bit but I was going to clean us both out or spin it out.”
Fortunately for the 37-year-old racer, he was able to make quick business on the competition and rose his way into the top-10 well before Stage 1 concluded.
For the remainder of the race, Allgaier tried hard on trying to be in the hunt for the championship. However, he remained behind Custer and Nemechek for most of the night as those two led a combined 162 laps whereas Allgaier led none.
To his advantage, Allgaier would get a couple breaks where he would make his presence known when it mattered most. After a late-race caution involving Dawson Cram making contact with Anthony Alfredo on Lap 196 sent the race into overtime, something Allgaier didn’t want to see, it allowed him one more shot of dethroning Custer, who was the race leader up to that point.
Once the race resumed, Allgaier muscled his way into the race and championship-winning battle with Custer and Nemechek, even going four-wide into the third turn. Saturday was not meant to be for the JR Motorsports driver.
Dealing with yet another gut-wrenching title loss, Allgaier isn’t sure if such chance would ever happen again. Nonetheless, he is pleased with the No. 7 team’s resiliency of staying in the zone despite the early setback.
“I think the resiliency is I didn’t get hit by anybody so that makes it a plus,” Allgaier said. “But just all night we battled back through there. We were on an old set. We actually put that set we spun on back on it so you second-guess some adjustments.
“I felt like for me we were a little too loose on the short run. I was bummed to see the last caution. We were gaining three to five tenths a lap on both Cole and John Hunter, and it was going to — like if you looked at the way it was going to shake out, we were literally going to be right on their bumper whenever we got to the end of the race.”
Further along with Allgaier’s gracious perspective, he realizes the challenges and changes involving his No. 7 team.
“I felt like we did all the right things. We just had way too good of a long run car and not quite good enough on the short run,” Allgaier continued. “I can’t say enough about everybody at JR Motorsports. 360 some days ago we hit the reset button. We literally took people and changed roles and changed teams and nobody that was on any car was on somebody else’s car the year before.
“We called a huge audible. And it takes a lot for a team to reorganize and reshape and come back, and put yourself in position at Phoenix.”
Heading into 2024, it is slated to be Allgaier’s 14th season in NXS. After ending this season with four wins, the second most in his career, there are no signs of him slowing down anytime soon. Nobody knows how 2024 will shape up, but the goal will remain the same for Allgaier.
“When you start out at Daytona, your only goal is to make a Final 4, and it’s one race. We could have wrecked on lap 2 and been out or we could go all the way down to the end,” said Allgaier. “I’m probably going to second-guess the amount of space that I gave Cole on that last restart, getting into 3.
“But on the other side of it, Cole’s car was so good on the short run. It was so hard to hold him off. Even when we got three wide down the back, I’m like, ‘Man, it’s everything I’ve got.’
“I was blown away that he even got to my left rear off of 2. All in all, it was a good night for us. Disappointing, but I walked out of here last year really bummed about the way the night went because I felt like I didn’t do a good job. I walked out of here, I gave 100 percent. We did everything right. Just didn’t work out for us.”