CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 26:  Justin Allgaier, driver of the #7 Suave Men Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Hisense 4K TV 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 27, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Justin Allgaier

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Justin Allgaier couldn’t wait to tell his dad, Mike, something new he wanted to try.

Justin, who was 5, had just watched his 7-year-old friend, Joey Moughan, race a quarter midget. It was during a night out for Justin and his mother, Dorothy. As he watched other kids his age, including some who were friends, Justin recalls immediately thinking, “I’m in.”

Dorothy was non-committal, offering Justin a, we’ll see what we can do. But Moughan’s father offered Justin the chance to drive Joey’s car, just to see if he even liked it. Mike Allgaier was traveling that week but soon heard all about Justin wanting to get behind the wheel.

“I was going a million miles an hour about how I went to a quarter midget racetrack, and I fell in love with it and that I was going to race quarter midgets,” Allgaier told NBC Sports. “My dad kept saying, no, no, no.”

But Justin had the trump card.

“I said, ‘But mom said,’ and he’s like, ‘Put your mom on the phone,’” Allgaier explained. “I put mom on the phone, and she said, ‘Well I told him that maybe we can get a cheap car and just go putz around, see if he likes it.’ He was like, no. If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it (right). I don’t want to just go in there and just do it for fun just because it’s something that you think might be cool.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Allgaier went on to become a five-time quarter midget champion by age 12. In 2008, he won the ARCA Racing Series championship with the family team. A year later, Allgaier embarked on his full-time NASCAR career in the Xfinity Series earning three wins. After a stint in Sprint Cup in 2014 and ’15, Allgaier returned to the Xfinity Series and is competing for the championship with JR Motorsports.

“My dad was very big on never wanting it to be his decision that I went racing,” Allgaier said. “He would give me every opportunity to do it at a level of what was competitive, but he said if there was something else you want to do, if there’s another sport you want to play, we’re going to do it. So I played baseball and soccer, all kinds of other sports, but nothing ever was near racing.”

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed

NBC Sports: In what way did you grow up around racing?

Allgaier: My parents had both been involved in racing a number of years even before I came along. My dad sold tools for a long time and then got into the parts business, actually built and sold a brand of racecar. Then they got into the tire industry and started selling racing tires. So for as long as I can remember I was wanting to be at the track with my dad at some level and my mom ran the offices around home, and she traveled a lot with him too, but she was kind of the one who held the fort down; I spent most of my time with my mom. She’s the one that got me started in racing. She’s the one that took me to the racetrack for the first time.

NBC Sports: During your ARCA career you worked on your cars, did that give you a greater appreciation of what it takes to be a driver?

Allgaier: I think so. Not only does it help you with your own stuff, but it helps you with the other competitors, putting yourself or others in a position that damages racecars. I’ve watched guys work until four or five in the morning; I’ve watched guys not sleep at all; I’ve watched guys, and myself included, do things that make you go, ‘Oh man, there’s no reason or a way that you should be able to accomplish that,’ and you did. The other part of it is, when you have a job on the racecar, even when you’re not the one driving it, your mindset goes to, I want that racecar to be the best and the safest that it can be for whoever is driving it. I always looked at it as somebody might drive this car, so I have to put my thoughts and efforts into if somebody else is going to drive it, and I think that’s a great learning tool. When you understand how parts work and how they get bolted together and why things fail, I think it gives you a better understanding when you’re in the racecar of how to diagnose certain problems.

My job was always if it fell inside the windows. So mounting a seat or doing all the electrical work or running the fans or doing any of that kind of stuff. I maybe didn’t necessarily have the major suspensions pieces as a part of my job, but at the same time, I was always out there watching them do it, trying to understand how to make things work and how to help them make my racecar better. That’s something that not everyone in our younger generation has currently and I think that a lot of guys that came before me, their only option was to work on their racecars. By the time I came around, it was probably 50/50, and now I would say it’s probably 90/10, and I think that’s a great tool for some of these young kids that want to make it in this sport. I think it’s a great way to learn your racecar and to also learn some valuable lessons in life that you can’t learn in school.

NBC Sports: A few years ago during a prerace feature you gave a tour of your hometown, including your parent’s house where they have a room of racing memorabilia. Do your parents still collect a lot of memorabilia and have they added to it?

Allgaier: Oh yeah, every chance they get they add to it. My mom is constantly reorganizing the room because the amount of stuff that she collects grows, so she has to reorganize the room just to fit everything in. And it’s not uncommon either for my mom to go to a charity auction that I’ve donated stuff to and she’ll buy it. My parents are very sentimental when it comes to not only my racing but just racing in general. My parents have a lot of memorabilia that isn’t mine, has nothing to do with me but is stuff that has meant things to them in the past. We were at the (Motor Racing Outreach) dinner, and my dad bought some die-cast cars; it was Junior Johnson and Bobby Allison, and he’s like, even though I spent more on these cars than their actual retail value, the stories that I have knowing these cars and the era means more to me than the car itself does.

I have almost every helmet that I raced with; there’s only a few that have gotten away that were out of my control. I have a majority of firesuits. I at least have one or more from every year that I raced from the time I was five up until now. When my parents are no longer able to be around and be here with us, I’m very fortunate that they documented a lot of where I’ve come from, and it’s cool to be able to go home and see all that and relive those moments.

NBC Sports: How did the ‘Little Gator’ nickname come about?

Allgaier: When my dad was born they told my grandfather, ‘Mr. Alligator you can come in and see your son now’ because everybody always wants to add a T and drop some letters and add some letters. Our last name is hard enough as it is, but people always think it says alligator. So my dad became gator, and for as long as I can remember going to the racetrack everybody knew my dad as gator, and there were a lot of people that had no idea my dad’s name was Mike. Like no clue; known him for 30 years and didn’t know his name was Mike. We were at the racetrack one time in the ARCA Series, and I was probably eight or nine, and I was walking along with my dad and one of the crew members stopped him and said, ‘This must be the little gator you always talk about racing.’ It kind of stuck. I’m not sure that being called little anything is necessarily the nickname you’d like to have, but I have a more respect for my dad than probably anybody in this world and so if I’m ‘Little Gator’ to him being ‘Gator’ I’m OK with it.

NBC Sports: There’s an artistic side to you when it comes to design, and you’ve mentioned stashing away pens and notebooks in your motorhome, so what are some things you’ve created?

Allgaier: My grandfather and my dad are both closet artists. My grandfather was very, very good at it and he was more into building things, and you never knew what he was going to build out of stuff that you wouldn’t expect. He used to build these little owl sculptures out of tree bark, just random stuff that was really cool. And my dad is a great artist he just doesn’t do anything with it. He always swears he isn’t very good, so he doesn’t do anything with it. So from an early age, I always had a lot of artistic people around me and being into cars I was always a huge fan of the cars up in the Northeast, like the big block modifieds and the tour modifieds. I always thought those cars looked really cool, so I would always sit in class and draw cars and draw paint schemes and numbers and helmets and firesuits. You name it, and I was drawing it.

When I was 12, my dad got tired of paying people to do graphics on our racecars, so he bought a vinyl machine, and he told me that I had to read the entire manual, which was like 10,000 pages, and that I had to do all of these things before I could run it. But once I did that I was going to do all my own graphics. From then on, up until I was fortunate enough to come to Charlotte to drive NASCAR, I did every racecar that I drove; I designed, cut, put them on the racecars, that was my job. So, I love it even to this day. I still try to get as much input as I can, whatever they’ll give me. Most of our teams now have people that do that, so I don’t get as much say as I would like, but at the same time, I’ve been very lucky to have an ability to do it. I’m not as good as it as I would like, but I still enjoy doing it.

Previous spotlight interviews:

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Daniel Suarez

Brandon Jones

Elliott Sadler

Rod Sieg

Chris Gabehart

Garrett Smithley

Brendan Gaughan

Blake Koch

Brennan Poole

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Brad Keselowski Racing announces crew chief assignments

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Brad Keselowski Racing has announced the crew chiefs that will be paired with both of its full-time rookie drivers this season in the Camping World Truck Series.

Austin Cindric, driving the No. 19 Draw-Tite Ford, will work with Doug Randolph. Randolph has been a crew chief for BKR since 2012 and has six wins, including three with Tyler Reddick in the last two seasons. Randolph also has four Xfinity Series wins.

Mike Hillman Jr. will be the crew chief for Chase Briscoe in the No. 29 Cooper Standard Ford. Hillman is a two-time Truck series champion as crew chief for Todd Bodine (2006, 2010). He has 20 Truck Series wins, the last coming in 2013 with Jeb Burton.

“Austin Cindric has already had success in various forms of racing, and has shown a lot of potential in our Ford F-150 race trucks,” said Keselowski in a press release. “I certainly believe that Chase is ready to take the next step in his career, and we’re excited to have him join the BKR family. He won the ARCA championship in his first full-time season, and he’s proven to have the ability to learn quickly and win races. We’re pleased to give both Austin and Chase the opportunity to compete full-time at a high level in NASCAR.”

Briscoe, 22, enters his rookie season after winning the ARCA Racing Series title behind six race wins.

“It’s an absolutely huge opportunity and such an honor to drive for Brad,” said Briscoe in a press release. “The competition level in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is so high, but I’m going to be in the best equipment out there. It’s really cool to once again be working with the Keselowski family. When I moved to North Carolina three years ago, I was helping Brian and Bob in their shop, so things have come full circle. I’m truly blessed with this opportunity, and I hope to make the most of it. At the end of the day, it’s all about winning races and championships, and that’s what I plan to do.”

Cindric, 18, is the son of Team Penske president Tim Cindric. He has six starts with BKR over the last two seasons. His best result is 15th last November at Phoenix International Raceway.

“This is a massive opportunity from Brad and everyone at BKR who trusts me and believes in my abilities as a driver to move on to the next level for a full season,” said Cindric in a press release. “2017 gets more and more exciting for me with every day that goes by. I’ve only done a handful of one-off races in my brief stock car career, so I’m really looking forward to having the same guys by my side week in and week out. I’ve spent a lot of time at the shop the last few weeks and I know everyone is really excited to get back racing.”

The Truck Series season begins Feb. 24 at Daytona International Speedway.

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Kurt, Kyle Busch come up short in Nations Cup finale at Race of Champions

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 04:  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch hugs brother Kurt Busch during the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards show at Wynn Las Vegas on December 4, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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After early exits in the first day of the Race of Champion exhibition Saturday in Miami, Kyle and Kurt Busch returned on Sunday in hopes of winning the Nations Cup for the United States of America, but were swept in the finale by Germany’s Sebastian Vettel.

The brothers, representing Team USA NASCAR, were in Group A with USA IndyCar, USA Rally and ROC Factor Canada.

Kurt Busch’s struggles from Saturday continued in his first race against IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe. The Canadian driver beat Kurt Busch by .002 of a second. The NASCAR representative would bounce back in his next race, beating action sports star and former NASCAR driver Travis Pastrana.

In Kyle Busch‘s first race of the day, he faced and beat karting champion Stefan Rzadzinski of Canada. He followed it up by beating Scott Speed.

After six races, Team USA NASCAR and IndyCar had four wins each and faced each other in the semifinal round. But the Busch brothers prevailed over Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi from USA IndyCar to advance to the Nations Cup final against Vettel, who represented Germany by himself.

But Vettel swept the race, betting Kurt then Kyle Busch to claim the Nations Cup. Vettel swept all of his races, finishing Sunday with seven wins.

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NMPA names Jimmie Johnson Driver of the Year among annual awards

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 18:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 18, 2016 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
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Jimmie Johnson was named the Richard Petty Driver of the Year on Saturday by the National Motorsports Press Association as part of its annual awards banquet.

It’s the seventh time that Johnson – who was named on 62 percent of the ballots cast – has been recognized with the award. He previously won it in 2004, ’06, ’07, ’09, ’10, and ’13.

The award comes after Johnson became the third driver to win a seventh championship in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

The NMPA also named Al Pearce of Autoweek as its annual Pocono Spirit Award winner.

The award, sponsored by Pocono Raceway, “recognizes character and achievement in the face of adversity,
sportsmanship and contributions to motorsports.”

Pearce won for a four-year project that raised $13,000 through the auction of a racing helmet signed by the 20 living World Driving Champions and Phil Hill and Sir Jack Brabham prior their passing. Proceeds from the project went to the Victory Junction Gang Camp, the Kyle Petty Charity Ride, the Jimmie Johnson Foundation and the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation.

Dave Ferroni, the public relations representative for Furniture Row Racing,  was awarded the Ken Patterson Helping Others Award.

Involved in auto racing for more than 30 years, Ferroni was the publicist for the “Miracle on Ice” U.S. hockey team in 1980 before later serving working for Brainerd International Raceway and the National Hot Rod Association. His company, DMF Communications, has also worked with U.S. Army, Miller Brewing Co., Pennzoil, McDonald’s and Valvoline.

The Ken Patterson award is sponsored by Talladega Superspeedway, where Patterson served as the public relations director, and has been given out since 2004. The track will donate $1,000 in Ferroni’s name to the Kenneth Patterson Educational Trust Fund.

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NBCSN to broadcast NASCAR announcement at 6 p.m. ET Monday

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NBCSN will air live a press conference held by NASCAR industry stakeholders to discuss the upcoming 2017 season at 6 p.m. ET Monday.

The announcement will be attended by NASCAR executives, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers, NASCAR team representatives and NASCAR track representatives.

The press conference is being held at the Charlotte Convention Center.