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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Justin Allgaier on Disney World, first cars and bad pre-race meals

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When it comes to traveling in the NASCAR community, Justin Allgaier calls himself a “weird one.”

“(I) really enjoy traveling and going to the race track and having that normalcy,” Allgaier told NBC Sports this month.

NASCAR has one of the shortest offseason in sports, but Allgaier, who drives JR Motorsports’ No. 7 car in the Xfinity Series, objects to the term “offseason.”

“It should be called the non-racing season because I’ve been home probably less than 15 days since Homestead,” Allgaier said.

Since last year’s finale, the 30-year old driver has raced in Brazil and in the Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In the middle of that he squeezed in a trip to Walt Disney World with his wife and daughter, who is 3 years old.

“I’m glad we did because just watching her give the princesses hugs and seeing the eyes closed and enjoying every moment of the hug, ok, that was totally worth the money we spent to come here,” Allgaier said.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NBC Sports: How old were you when you first to Disney World?

Justin Allgaier: I have no idea how old I was. I know we raced there. I raced quarter midgets there one or two years and was fortunate enough to win there. I can say I actually won a race in Disney (World). That was in the mid to late-90s.

NBC: At the race track they used to have there?

Allgaier: This was actually in a parking lot. It was quite the experience.

NBC: Do you remember the first time you saw for your face or name on merchandise?

Allgaier: Yes, I was probably 7 or 8 at the time. A company we were associated with printed T-shirts. And what’s really crazy about it is that my dad still wears that t-shirt to this day in his everyday wardrobe and it’s lasted. He literally wears it once every week and half to two weeks. It’s so funny to see that shirt because it brings back a lot of really good memories.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JULY 23: Justin Allgaier, driver of the #7 BRANDT Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the Dash for Cash at the NASCAR XFINITY Series Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 23, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
 Justin Allgaier celebrates after winning the Dash for Cash at the Xfinity Series Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 23, 2016. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

NBC: What’s the design of the shirt?

Allgaier: It’s a picture of my quarter midget that I drove and it’s got my name on it. My name’s in purple and it’s got the car which is red, white and blue. To this day it’s still one of my favorite design T-shirts. It’s a true racers t-shirt. it’s got racing style. I just remember, ‘how cool is this I have T-shirt with my name on it?’

NBC: What was your first street car?

Allgaier: A 1995 Camaro Z-28, red. I bought it at an auction.

NBC: How much was it?

Allgaier: $4,000. … I was 14 at the time when I bought it. My dad had promised me that he would buy half of whatever I would want to buy for my first car. That was our agreement. He’d buy half of it. I had up to I think it was $5,000 he would spend. Once he bought that, I had to cover my own insurance, my own gas. That was kind of the deal. I totally undersold it, right? He would pay up to five (thousand), so I could have bought a $10,000 car and ended up buying a $4,000 car, which was not very smart. I remember bidding at the auction and the auctioneer took two or three bids of mine and then he stopped the auction, this is like a car dealer auction, so there’s people everywhere. He stopped the auction and said, ‘Is he allowed to bid?’ My dad said, ‘He’s holding up his hand isn’t he?’ The guy then said, ‘Alright then, let’s keep going.’

So I bought this car and that was my first. My dad regretted it though, because we went outside and they had a little side road you could test drive cars on and not being 16 I couldn’t drive it on the street, but I was able to go drive it on a side road and it had been raining. A Camaro Z-28 is plenty fast enough for everybody, let alone a 14-year-old kid. But I had been racing up until that point, I’d been racing late models. So I gassed this thing up, spinning the tires, sideways, drifting it down this road. My dad realized rather quickly that a Camaro Z-28 was a bad plan for a young kid.

NBC: Have you ever named a car?

Allgaier: Oh yeah, all of my dirt cars get named and always have since I can remember. So last year we had “Darla” from Little Rascals. We had “Happy.” The car I ran at the Chili Bowl this year was named “Aligator.” We’ve had all kinds of them.

NBC: How’d you get Aligator?

Allgaier: Typically we let the car builder, whoever it is, name them. The car builder that built that car, his nickname is “Flea.” That’s what everybody knows him by and he named it for me, he named it “Aligator.”

KANSAS CITY, KS - OCTOBER 15: Justin Allgaier, driver of the #7 BRANDT Chevrolet, races during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway on October 15, 2016 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
Justin Allgaier enters his second season of driving the No. 7 for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)

NBC: You and “Aligator” went for a ride at the Chili Bowl. Your wife posted an Instagram video of your tumble. What was that like from your perspective?

Allgaier: That ride honestly, in the olden days when I wouldn’t have had the safety gear that I had, probably would have hurt pretty badly. I wasn’t even sore the next morning. I didn’t have a bruise, I didn’t have a headache, I didn’t have nothing when I woke up the next day. I was pretty pumped on that fact.

NBC: What’s your least favorite part of race day?

Allgaier: Making time to eat. Because I don’t think about it and then I get to the car and I’m starving. You’re so busy on race day that don’t ever think about it and you got all these things going on. Then I get to the car and we’re starving. So then you try to cram food down, which is never a good idea, or you just don’t eat and you’re miserable. Lunch is probably the worst part of race day.

NBC: What’s your typical pre-race meal or favorite one?

Allgaier: For me, chicken. Any type of grilled chicken. My truck driver Matt is an awesome chef. Not only is he a good truck driver, he’s a great chef as well. He cooks chicken and all kinds of fixens on the side. Usually I’m trying to raid the hauler before the start of the race to get something good. But ideally something that’s not super heavy. I did try Italian Polish sausage one time.

On the way to driver intros I was starving and it was the only thing I could find and I ate two of them on the way to driver intros at Talladega one year. That was the longest, worst race I’ve ever had in my entire life. My stomach and my heartburn was so bad in the car I could hardly even concentrate on driving.

 

Looking at top 10 race start totals among active, full-time NASCAR Cup drivers

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Last Sunday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. made his 600th career start in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, finishing 16th in the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

That achievement made Earnhardt just the second active driver to the reach the mark, following Matt Kenseth, who has 619 starts after the Auto Club 400.

How do those numbers compare to the rest of their competitors? Who is the next driver that will reach a big start mark?

Here’s a look at the top 10 active full-time Cup drivers when it comes to starts in NASCAR’s premier series:

Matt Kenseth – 619 starts

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 600 starts

Kurt Busch – 581 starts (would make 600th start on Aug. 19 in the Bass Pro Shops / NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway)

Kevin Harvick – 579 starts (would make 600th start on Sept. 9 in Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway)

Ryan Newman – 553 starts

Jimmie Johnson – 548 starts

Jamie McMurray – 515 starts

Kasey Kahne – 473 starts

Kyle Busch – 431 starts

Martin Truex Jr. – 410 starts

Kevin Harvick: Kyle Larson is the best driver to enter NASCAR since Jeff Gordon in 1993

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Kevin Harvick made his debut as a SiriusXM Satellite Radio host Tuesday night and made some news by announcing Stewart-Haas Racing was withdrawing its Phoenix appeal.

But those weren’t the most interesting comments made by the 2014 champion, who had a strong opinion on the most recent winner in NASCAR’s premier series.

Kyle Larson is the best driver to come into this sport since Jeff Gordon in my opinion,” Harvick said. “I think Kyle Larson is that good.”

How good is that?

Well, let’s peruse a partial list of drivers (and their credentials) who have entered NASCAR’s premier series since Gordon’s arrival in 1993 and Larson’s in 2014:

Jimmie Johnson: Seven championships, tied for the most in NASCAR history. Also led the points and scored three wins as a rookie. He is the only driver who has qualified for the playoffs in all 13 seasons.

–Tony Stewart: The three-time series champion became the first Cup rookie to win in 12 years (and notched three victories in his first season). The 1997 IndyCar champion is regarded by many as his generation’s greatest.

Matt Kenseth: The 2000 rookie of the year won the 2003 championship and has failed to qualify for the playoffs only once in his career.

Denny Hamlin: The 2006 rookie of the year has made the championship round twice and has won in 11 consecutive seasons in Cup.

Kyle Busch: The 2015 Cup champion has won in 12 straight seasons in Cup and has 171 victories across NASCAR’s top three national series.

Kurt Busch: The 2004 series champion has 29 wins on the premier circuit, finished sixth in the 2014 Indianapolis 500 and also qualified for a Pro Stock event in the NHRA.

Brad Keselowski: The 2012 series champion has 21 victories with Team Penske since 2011 and has emerged as NASCAR’s top restrictor-plate racer.

Joey Logano: Two-time championship round contender and is tied with Johnson for most victories (14) since the 2014 season.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: A two-time Daytona 500 winner missed the last half of the 2016 season but was a title contender in 2014 and ’15.

–Harvick: His performance since aligning with crew chief Rodney Childers at SHR three years ago has been astounding: the 2014 championship, 12 victories and more than 5,700 laps led on NASCAR’s premier circuit.

So given all of those names … what would be the purpose of Harvick’s effusively praising the Chip Ganassi Racing driver?

“He’s just a kid that not enough people know about, but he’s won and wins in everything that he’s ever driven,” Harvick said. “He’s just a racer. … I think he’s laser focused on what he does as a race car driver, and I think he’s the best talent to come through this sport in a long, long time and is going to win a ton of races because he’s that good.”

Hey, wait a minute. When is the 24-year-old’s contract up?

Chip Ganassi notoriously is secretive about the lengths of his drivers’ deals (in IndyCar and NASCAR, particularly because it wants to avoid having its stars poached by other teams). It’s believed that Larson re-signed toward the end of 2015, but it’s unclear how long his deal runs.

That’s why the last part of Harvick’s riff on Larson could have been telling.

“I hope Ganassi has a good contract with him because every team in the garage wants a Kyle Larson. He’s a guy that you can put in your race cars and win races even on a day when they’re not the best race cars. He’s going to make them look good.”

By the way, it also is worth noting that Ganassi was miffed four years ago when Stewart and Gordon had high praise for Larson. The team owner hinted he thought both drivers had motives of courting Larson to join their teams (Gordon openly has spoken about meeting Larson in his Hendrick Motorsports office years ago and pitching him on the organization).

Should Atlanta Motor Speedway have listened to drivers in delaying its repave?

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The delayed repaving of Atlanta Motor Speedway proves that the Cup Drivers Council successfully can lobby for what it wants.

Is that always a good thing, though?

NASCAR on NBC analysts Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte discussed that topic on Tuesday’s episode of NASCAR America (watch video of the discussion above).

“I think they’re the No. 1 factor in this decision,” Letarte said of the drivers. “While I side with the drivers that the old pavement is great for racing, and I’m a big fan of it, I’m not a track owner or promoter. I can’t imagine Atlanta Motor Speedway wanted to spend all that money to repave just because they thought they should. There had to be good reasons behind it.

“I think the global question is, ‘How did we get here?’ It seems to me this is the most public display of the drivers being vocal about a situation, and it ended up going their way. They didn’t want it to be repaved, Atlanta heard them and changed their decision. The question is, is it good for NASCAR to have your drivers that vocal. I’m not sure. Obviously, they are one of the biggest stakeholders and have to put the race on, but should it be a track decision or a driver decision?”

Burton said ultimately the decision should belong to the 1.54-mile speedway.

“The drivers trying to influence the decision, I think that’s a good thing just making the track owner understand, ‘Hey we love this surface,’” Burton said. “But I don’t think Atlanta Motor Speedway said, ‘Hey, let’s spend a couple of million dollars for the heck of it.’”

The risk is if the track falls apart because of its age or if massive delays are incurred by rain (such as Texas Motor Speedway last November).

“If something happens – if a piece of asphalt goes through a radiator (because of a crumbling surface), no word (should come) from the drivers,” Burton said. “The drivers are going to have to be perfectly quiet on that one.”

Said Letarte: “I don’t disagree with drivers being vocal, but be careful what you wish for, because now they got it. They got the old pavement for another weekend. If we get weather, or have an issue and can’t get cars on the racetrack, I hope those same drivers step up and back (track president) Ed Clark, who has now backed them and given them the old pavement for another year.”

Clark told NBC Sports.com’s Dustin Long that the track will make a few sealer patches for the 2018 race, which he expects could be the last on the surface that has been in place since 1997. Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns Atlanta, repaved Kentucky last year and received positive reviews.

“Are you just delaying the inevitable if you’re going to have to pave it in 2018?” Burton asked. “I don’t know what you’re really buying other than one more race. My biggest concern is they wanted to pave it for a reason. They understand that paving racetracks is problematic. This group put a ton of effort into Kentucky so when they repaved Kentucky it wasn’t like the other repaves. They understand the problems with paving new racetracks. My concern is they wanted to do it, now they’re not doing it, is there a problem that’s created that we’re not aware of?

“Give the drivers credit. They brought an issue up. … If the track really had to be paved, I don’t think that Ed Clark or anyone  would say, ‘Just listen to the drivers and to heck with whatever happens.’ I believe the racetrack and owners have confidence that with changes and small improvements, it’s OK not to pave it. So ultimately the responsibility falls on (the drivers). If it doesn’t go well, the drivers have to stand up and back them and say, ‘Thank you for working with us, sorry it didn’t work out, thank you for making it work.’”

Kligerman: May the downforce be with you! Or is the ultimate downforce actually . . . none?

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If you’re reading this, I will assume you are a racing fan. If you’re a racing fan, then you will know the most-watched form of racing worldwide started its season this past weekend  —  Formula One.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the next most-watched form of racing conducted one of its 36 points-paying events in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series.

Both series involve four-wheeled machinery, human drivers and Monster Energy sponsorship.

But that’s where the similarities end. Because the two largest racing series in the world have decided to go in two completely opposite directions in how they want to entertain their fans.

And I am not talking about technology, formats, or grid girls. These two massive series have chosen the opposing ends of the spectrum on something that only 30 years ago was elusive.

Downforce.

In Formula One, the teams and the sanctioning body agreed two years ago to make the 2017 cars “5–7 seconds faster” than their 2015 counterparts. How would they do this? By opening up the aerodynamic rules and therefore adding downforce — tons of it.

In NASCAR, we have done the opposite over the last few years. The level of achievable downforce constantly has been reduced by cutting spoilers and splitters and getting stricter on the aerodynamic rules.

Which brings me to a question I was asked.

This weekend, a friend texted (I know, groundbreaking stuff in the year 2017) to ask, “How do you feel about the cars being stuck to the ground vs. skating around? I think you are on to something where road racing stuck to the ground is interesting and oval skating around is interesting.”

(This also was groundbreaking because someone was asking my opinion. Which comes with a disclaimer: It’s free for a reason.)

But in all seriousness, the question was incredible. The reason was that it was only a mere 30 years ago when the conversation in racing was more about “How fast could cars possibly go?” or “Will humans be able to keep up with the speed of racing cars?”

Now with the advent of technology, we no longer question how fast a car could go, because we know. When the F1 world simply can tweak rules with the knowledge it’s going to be exactly “X” amount faster, there is no more mystery.

As a sport, racing has reached the point where it’s no longer, “May the force be with you.” It’s “How much force would you like?”

This monumental change in philosophy is why, as I write this, there are amateur “aerodynamicists” on Twitter, commentators on YouTube and alleged experts on the Internet telling you whether NASCAR or F1 is right.

On one hand they will tell you the high downforce makes it faster, which is better! On the other, they will tell you downforce is the devil incarnate and should be eliminated from the sport.

The thing is, neither series’ race was particularly memorable.

In Australia, you had a pass for the lead occur when neither driver could see each other (via pit strategy). While the biggest storyline out of the California race was that the driver who seemed forever the bridesmaid finally won.

Nothing of what occurred will be replayed on YouTube illegally for years to come. And I don’t think either showed us a clear-cut path to the elusive “Great Racing!” everyone wants.

No, it’s become apparent that even with all the knowledge in the world about cars and aerodynamics, there still is mystery in what makes a good race occur.

How did I answer my friend’s question?

Fast road racing cars look insane. Meanwhile, sideways and dynamic oval racing looks insane. Speed is tough to see on an oval. It’s far easier to see and appreciate on a street or road course.

That’s why we have what we have.

Road racing needs downforce to achieve incredible speeds and produce what I described watching qualifying from Australia as “Sparking, twitchy, on-the-ragged-edge stuff.” It was obvious the drivers were at the limits of possible control.

While with low downforce in NASCAR, we see far more dynamic slides. The drivers are working harder. And the speeds may be way down as they get into a race run, but it doesn’t hurt the show whatsoever. Seeing cars that visibly move around and make the driver fight is far more interesting than watching a car go in circles on rails.

We never might know which philosophy — low or high downforce – is correct. But the most memorable and best race of any premier series this weekend happened directly between Formula One and NASCAR.

In Qatar, the Moto GP series held its season opener and put on one of the best races I have ever seen in my life.

How much downforce do those bikes make?

Essentially none.