The new ‘old guy’: Justin Allgaier benefitting from experience as he plays catchup

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Justin Allgaier is quick to admit his new role in the Xfinity Series garage.

“I’m the old guy,” Allgaier told NBC Sports. “Let’s be honest, I really am.”

Well, he’s not that old.

Morgan Shepherd‘s there every week but I’m definitely younger than Morgan,” Allgaier said of the 77-year-old Shepherd.

But when it comes to the championship contenders in the Xfinity Series, Elliott’s Sadler’s retirement from full-time racing at 43 caused the definition of “old” to become considerably younger.

Allgaier, who turned 33 on June 6, is in the midst of his ninth full-time season on the Xfinity circuit.

He is only two weeks older than his JR Motorsports teammate Michael Annett. But among the rest of the drivers in the top 10 in points, his next oldest competition is Christopher Bell and Chase Briscoe, who are 24 years old and were born a day apart.

“It’s weird, but on the flip side I think it’s interesting because I look back at my career and kind of the balance of where I’ve come from and where I’m at now,” Allgaier said. “I didn’t get an opportunity to come to NASCAR until I was quite a bit older than some of these guys. I was 23, almost 24 I guess whenever I got my first (full-time) opportunity.”

The Xfinity Series was a different world when Allgaier made his first career start on Oct. 10, 2008 at Charlotte Motor Speedway driving for Team Penske.

“There was (53) cars that entered and (12) of them were Cup regulars,” Allgaier said. “It was a completely different time. I look back at the broadcast even and I’m like man, ‘I feel like it’s the 80s.’ You know what I mean? It’s really not that old, it’s only 10 years ago, but just the technology of where we’ve come and the cars and the competitors. It has changed a lot.”

A decade later Allgaier is the tenured veteran with 287 Xfinity starts and 10 wins, as well as 76 Cup starts.

“To go from there, nowadays if you’re 23, 24 you’re considered on the older side of even the young guys who are coming up,” Allgaier said. “I think that plays a lot into it for me. … I feel like I’m in the best place I’ve ever been as far as talent and experience and just knowing what I need to do. I can’t complain about my age.”

Actually, he does have one complaint.

“I wish growing up (I had) some of the programs and simulators and training programs these kids have,” Allgaier said. “We have one right now with the Drivers Edge (Development) program at JR Motorsports. I look back on when I was the age of a lot of these kids that are part of that program …  I wish those were available because I feel like the learning curve, what’s taken me 10 years in my career to kind of learn, some of these guys are going to get that same amount of experience in two, three, four years. That’s probably the only thing, but on the flip side, I’ve been blessed with a long career, man. If it ended tomorrow I wouldn’t hold my head over it.”

Ahead of Saturday’s race at Chicagoland Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), Allgaier sees his No. 7 team fourth in the standings to the series’ Big 3 of Tyler Reddick (three wins), Bell (four) and Cole Custer (three).

Allgaier remains winless through 14 races, not too far off of his 2018 record when he won his first race in June at Iowa.

But Allgaier is aware his team is playing catchup and they have been since his Indianapolis win since last July, his last trip to Victory Lane.

“Let’s be honest, from Indy last year until this point right now, it’s been pretty lackluster,” Allgaier said. “For us it’s just finding that little bit of raw speed. That’s hard because we’re not really sure is that aerodynamics, is that suspension, is that engine, is that driving style?

“There’s so many variables … that can alter how fast a car goes and for us we don’t feel like there’s one area we’re getting absolutely beat in. A lot of it is trial and error.

“That’s where I think our team really excels. I’m not doubting that we’ll get there, it’s just finding that sweet spot of where we need to be to make sure we do it right.”

Their improvement has been noticeable. Entering Chicagoland, Allgaier has five top fives in the last eight races. He was in contention at Pocono before he spun on a late restart and finished 11th.

An Illinois native, Allgaier sees Chicagoland – where he has two wins – as a prime place for his turnaround to come to fruition. Even though Allgaier doesn’t view 1.5-mile tracks as a strength, he’s had finishes of third (Atlanta) and second (Charlotte) this year. He also had finishes of 31st (Las Vegas, engine) and 13 (Texas).

“The thing that I love about Chicagoland, you’re able to move around a lot,” Allgaier said. “For being a dirt racer growing up, being able to move around is a big deal. So that helps me tremendously. Then it’s worn out, it’s old, it’s usually really hot, which makes it so much fun.”

And as the “old guy” with a decade of experience, the heat doesn’t quite get to Allgaier, who thinks his best racing comes out in the summer.

“‘A lot of these young guys that necessarily haven’t been in these races where it’s been super hot like this it definitely tests their endurance for sure,” Allgaier said. “For me being around a little while and being lucky enough to deal with some hot days before I feel like this is one of those areas that really kind of makes it fun for me and uses my strengths versus some of my weaknesses.”

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