FORT WORTH, Texas – Justin Allgaier‘s first Sprint Cup race was at his home track of Chicagoland Speedway in September 2013.
But the driver didn’t fully come to terms with being in NASCAR’s top series until February of the following year. It came when he was introduced to fans on the frontstrech of Daytona International Speedway prior to the Daytona 500.
The native of Riverton, Ill., about to start his first full season for HScott Motorsports, thought to himself, “This might be the coolest thing I’ve ever been able to accomplish.”
Two years and almost 75 starts later, the 29-year-old driver is nearing the end of his tenure with HScott Motorsports. Allgaier calls his last two starts in the No. 51 Chevrolet before he departs for the Xfinity Series and the No. 7 owned by JR Motorsports as “bittersweet.”
“Obviously, getting to this level is something I’ve wanted to do since I was 5,” Allgaier told NASCAR Talk at Texas Motor Speedway last Saturday. “I was fortunate two years ago to have that opportunity and to really grow a race team.”
Allgaier got his chance after three full seasons in ARCA and five in the Xfinity Series, where he earned three wins and 29 top-five finishes. Then came the opportunity to drive in the Sprint Cup Series for Harry Scott Jr.
“When I started at HScott Motorsports, technically almost three years ago now, it was in its infancy,” Allgaier said of the program that evolved out of the ashes of Phoenix Racing. “We didn’t have cars, we didn’t have equipment, we didn’t have all the things that we needed to go do this.”
Now the team is to a place where it’s a prime spot for Clint Bowyer to spend a year before moving on to Stewart-Haas Racing to replace Tony Stewart in the No. 14 in 2017.
“We’ve grown it into what I feel like is a really successful, strong little team,” Allgaier said. “Granted there’s always room to grow, there’s always thing you can do to be better. But it was cool to see the growth. I would say for me, these final three, there’s been no regrets to this point and you go out there and give it 110 percent for these final three and have a lot of fun with it.”
Through 73 starts, Allgaier has earned only one top-10 finish. That came earlier in 2015 at Bristol Motor Speedway when he drove the No. 51 to eighth at the half-mile track.
But what made the night even more memorable was who he made the race difficult for: Jeff Gordon.
“He was behind me for about 150 laps and it was him, myself and Jimmie Johnson and we literally were racing each other like crazy for 150 laps,” Allgaier said. “It was cool because you have a guy like that that you respect and runs up front and then him to not be able to pass you, it’s like, ‘alright, I’m doing my job well today. That’s a good thing.'”
At the end of the season, Gordon will retire from the Sprint Cup and Allgaier will take a step down to Xfinity. But Allgaier doesn’t view it from that perspective at this point in a career that’s included seven years in NASCAR’s top two division.
“I don’t necessarily look at it as a step down, I look at it as a step in the right direction,” Allgaier said.
Part of what makes driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s Xfinity team right for Allgaier is knowing how competitive it’s been. It won the 2014 title with Chase Elliott and this year has five wins and Elliott is second in the points standings.
“Let’s be honest, it would be like here in the Sprint Cup series getting the opportunity to go drive the 48 or the 24 or the 88,” Allgaier said. “It puts you in that elite group over there that you’re able to go out there, know you can compete and win races.”
But knowing he’ll have a team to call home next year doesn’t mean Allgaier is abandoning a philosophy he carries with him in every race of every season.
“You never know if the race you’re running right now could be the last one or the next one,” Allgaier said. “I always do my best to try and look ahead and say, ‘OK, if I stopped racing tomorrow, would I be satisfied with what I’ve accomplished?’ And the answer’s always yes.”