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Justin Allgaier puts close Daytona loss, missed title behind him ahead of new Xfinity season

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Justin Allgaier doesn’t let the closest loss of his NASCAR career keep him up at night.

At least not since November.

“After Homestead, none,” Allgaier told NBC Sports on Thursday in a phone interview.

Last July, Allgaier missed out on winning the Xfinity Series’ July race at Daytona International Speedway by the slimmest of margins thanks to a delayed caution for a crash on the backstretch on the final lap.

Instead of Allgaier earning his fourth Xfinity win, it was Aric Almirola who celebrated in victory lane with his first.

“I would say I kind of carried that, even though I wasn’t supposed to or I didn’t want to, I carried it to Homestead,” Allgaier said.

The Illinois native admits lingering feelings on the loss went against the counsel of his wife, Ashley Allgaier.

“My wife is pretty good about ‘when we drive to the airplane, when you get on that airplane, whatever happened today is gone,'” the driver said. “My wife is very, very good for me in a lot of ways. She’s a very, very good at keeping things level. Not letting the highs get too high and not letting the lows too low.”

Homestead represented one of those highs.

The 30-year-old driver, despite not winning in 2016, was one of the four who raced for the Xfinity title in its first season with the elimination playoff format. Competing against his JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler and Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez of Joe Gibbs Racing, Allgaier said it was the best race he’s ever been a part of.

“The fact that it came down to end of the race and all four of us going for the (championship) were battling it out, that was just a cool day,” Allgaier said. “That whole weekend was cool.”

While Suarez won the race and title, Allgaier finished the year third in the standings, which matched his result from 2011.

Since then, Allgaier has been busy. He went to Brazil immediately following the season to compete in the Porsche GT3 Cup. He then ran in the Chili Bowl Nationals where he won a heat race and also went for a tumble.

In the middle of that, Allgaier took his wife and daughter to Walt Disney World for the first time. With 15 days until the first Xfinity Series practice at Daytona, Allgaier estimates he’s spent less than 15 days at home since the biggest race of his career.

“My mindset is actually really good,” Allgaier said. “I hate that it’s called the offseason. It should be called the non-racing season.”

Allgaier is entering his second season with JR Motorsports in the No. 7 Brandt Chevrolet and his seventh full Xfinity season since 2009. Allgaier spent his offseason in a “really good place.”

“(I) haven’t thought about the what ifs, coulda-woulda-should ofs,” Allgaier said. “I look at 2017 as a new page, new chapter. It’s just like when you go to school. You get a new page in a notebook or you get a new notebook and you’re like ‘nothing in that other notebook makes a difference. … It’s going forward and I think that’s always been the case.”

When Allgaier started his 2016 “notebook,” he didn’t know he would eventually make one Cup start, in the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway in relief of his former HScott Motorsports teammate Michael Annett. It was Allgaier’s 76th Cup start after his two seasons with HScott and four starts in 2013.

Driving the No. 46, Allgaier started 39th and finished last after getting caught up in Lap 358 crash.

If it winds up being his last Cup Start, Allgaier is “100 percent” satisfied with what he accomplished at NASCAR’s top level.

“There’s tons and tons of race car drivers who would love the opportunity to just go into the pits of a Cup series race,” Allgaier said. “I can say I’ve been able to line up against some of the best races in the world, beat some of them at times. Obviously, the last (Cup start) didn’t end the way I wanted it to end, but at the same time … I’m not disappointed at all with my Cup career as a whole. I’m just blessed to be doing what I’m doing.”

Allgaier starts his 2017 Xfinity “notebook” on Feb. 25 at Daytona.

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Erik Jones fastest in 1st of 2 Cup practices at Fontana; Harvick, Ragan hit wall

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NASCAR Cup rookie Erik Jones was fastest in the first of two practice sessions Saturday at Auto Club Speedway in preparation for Sunday’s Auto Club 400.

Jones drove his No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota to the top of the speed charts at the Fontana, California track with a best lap of 187.251, the only driver to exceed 187 mph.

Jones was followed by Chase Elliott (186.843), Ryan Newman (186.732), Jimmie Johnson (186.384) and Brad Keselowski (186.292).

There were two incidents of note during the session:

* With just over nine minutes remaining in the practice session, Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet hit hard into the outside retaining wall, sustaining damage on the right side.

However, the team chose to repair the damage rather than go to a backup car.

Prior to the incident, Harvick’s car was sixth-fastest (186.128 mph).

* In the final two minutes, David Ragan spun and impacted the Turn 3 wall. It appeared something came loose from under Ragan’s car before impact.

Given the amount of damage, Ragan will likely have to go to a backup car.

Click here for how Saturday’s first of two practice sessions played out:

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Danica Patrick: ‘NASCAR makes a really big mistake of fining for some stuff’

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Danica Patrick wants her money back. Or she at least wants to know what it bought.

Fined $70,000 over the past 17 months for intentionally wrecking a rival driver under caution and tossing and walking onto the track to gesture at another, Patrick was asked Friday at Auto Club Speedway how she felt about Austin Dillon avoiding a fine for crashing Cole Custer under caution at Phoenix.

Give me my money back,” the Stewart-Haas Racing driver said. “I think NASCAR makes a really big mistake of fining for some stuff, especially something that happens in the car because it makes for good TV, just like fights and all that stuff.  We can handle it.

“I think it’s a mistake.  I might be speaking too much, but I’ve been fined a few times, and I think that it makes for good TV, and I think that we handle it out on the track ourselves.”

NASCAR has said it funnels the fine payments to the NASCAR Foundation, which supports several charitable organizations.

Patrick would prefer NASCAR avoid fining everyone but is curious about how the money gets earmarked.

“I would actually rather know what it did,” she said. “I would actually love to see like the playground that got built for it, or homeless people that got food.  I would like to see actually what the money does for fines because it’s supposed to go to charity, right?  So what does it really do?  I would like to see that.”

Today’s Xfinity race at Auto Club Speedway: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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After four races, Xfinity Series regulars have won twice (Ryan Reed at Daytona and Justin Allgaier at Phoenix) and Cup drivers have won twice (Kyle Busch at Atlanta and Joey Logano at Las Vegas). The Xfinity Series regulars will look to take the lead in that category at Auto Club Speedway.

Here are the particulars for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Stu Crum, COO of Service King, will give the command for drivers to start engines at 4:07 p.m. ET. The green flag is scheduled for 4:16 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 150 laps (300 miles) around the 2-mile oval.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: The Xfinity garage opens at 10 a.m. The drivers meeting is at 2:15 p.m. Driver introductions are at 3:35 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Karen Waldrup will perform the Anthem at 4:01 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race at 4 p.m. Its coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race on radio and at mrn.com. MRN’s coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts 63 degrees at race time with a 7 percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: Austin Dillon took the lead on a wild final lap and went on to win. Kyle Busch led and cut a tire. Daniel Suarez took the lead but ran out of fuel. Busch managed to retake the lead. Dillon got by Busch for the lead in Turn 4 after hitting the wall. Busch finished second and Darrell Wallace Jr. was third.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying at 12:30 p.m.

NASCAR’s Saturday schedule at Auto Club Speedway

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The Xfinity Series ends its part of the “West Coast swing” today with the Service King 300.

But the day is filled with Cup Series practice and Xfinity qualifying prior to the race.

Here is the full schedule for the day with TV and radio info.

All times are Eastern.

Saturday, March 25

10 a.m. – Xfinity garage opens

10 a.m. – 6 p.m. – Cup garage open

11:30 a.m. – 12:25 p.m. – Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

12:30 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying; single vehicle/two rounds (FS1)

2:15 p.m. – Xfinity driver-crew chief meeting

2:30 – 3:20 p.m. – Final Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

3:30 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

4 p.m. – Service King 300 Xfinity race; 150 laps/300 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)