In up-and-down season, Justin Allgaier gets reward in special helmet

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Justin Allgaier is having an odd year in the Xfinity Series and he’ll end that year with an odd, special helmet.

At first glance, the JR Motorsports driver is having arguably the best season of his NASCAR career.

Through 14 races he’s the only Xfinity regular with two wins – his second win in 2017 didn’t come until race 26.

Allgaier leads the series in laps led with 458 (Kyle Busch is second with 225), and with seven top fives he’s in position to exceed his 2017 total (10).

But then you take a closer look.

Allgaier has four DNFs, three more than at this point last year. His average finish is 12.7, compared to his total of 11.5 at this point a year ago.

Also he enters Saturday’s race at Chicagoland Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) sixth in the standings, a result of a 25-point penalty following his Dover win for a post-race inspection violation. He would be fourth without the penalty.

“The good stats are better than they’ve ever been,” Allgaier told NBC Sports. “But the bad stats are really hurting us. .. I’ll be honest, I’ve made some mistakes this year that I have been frustrated at myself for making. But on the flip side of it, I think the speed has come because we’ve laid it all out on the table. We’ve pushed ourselves to be the best team we can be. I think from my standpoint those crashes have been tough.”

Three of Allgaier’s four DNFs have been the result of crashes. Those came at Daytona and in consecutive weekends following his Dover win at Charlotte and Pocono. He finished in the top 10 in both stages at Charlotte and Stage 2 at Pocono before his wrecks.

“I think I’ve learned more this year in the DNFs and the odd races than I’ve probably learned in the last four or five years in all of the good races,” Allgaier said. “The worst part is those bad ones, the running position of where we were running whenever we crashed would have easily takes some of the heartache out of what we’ve had to go through. I think that’s what makes or breaks a season, is being able to overcome those bad days and push yourself forward. Our team has been very resilient. I’m excited about the playoffs. We’re in the playoffs, we can keep pushing hard. I think once we get to the playoffs, I think we’re going to have a great shot at making our way back to Homestead and trying to go for that championship again.”

Ahead of Allgaier in the standings are Christopher Bell, teammate Tyler Reddick, Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer and points leader Elliott Sadler.

Bell and Reddick are the only drivers out of that group who have won this season.

Even with his two wins and other impressive stats, Allgaier feels his No. 7 team is overlooked compared to the younger drivers and his teammate in Sadler.

“Oh, 100 percent,” Allgaier said. “But I’m OK with that. I’m not the type that needs the glitz and the glamour really of being the favorite. … I think a lot of times I work better whenever there’s no pressure. You just go out there and you do your job and if you run good, you run good.”

All the pressure on Allgaier to make the playoffs has been eased following his win at Iowa two weeks ago. Allgaier’s team had briefly qualified through his Dover win before NASCAR’s penalty.

Allgaier isn’t the only one happy that he’s actually in the playoffs. His daughter Harper has a special reason to see her dad going for the championship.

Last year, during his team’s celebration for winning the regular season-finale at Chicagoland, Harper surprised Allgaier with a helmet she painted for him to use during the seven-race postseason.

Affinity for artwork runs in the family. Allgaier is a graphic design enthusiast who made the decals for his own race cars throughout his career. He caught the bug from his father, who taught him to draw in 3D, and his grandfather, who made figures out of tree bark and even made a drawing of him winning the Daytona 500.

Allgaier promised Harper he’d let her design his helmet again this season if he made the playoffs.

“I’ve basically told her she has free rein,” Allgaier said. “I’ve always been into that. I’ve always been into my helmets. To see my daughter kind of take that serious and really enjoy that time was cool to me. I’m open to whatever she wants to try to do. I think it’s going to be really cool whatever they come up with. We’ll see how it plays out. I know she’s already got some ideas. She wants a unicorn on there, which I thought was a little interesting. She wants lots of glitter. I feel the next one is going to have lots of glitter on it.”