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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Daniel Hemric fastest in final practice; Kevin Harvick second

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Daniel Hemric turned the fastest lap Friday in the final Cup practice at Kansas Speedway, turning a 177.830 mph lap in his No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

Kevin Harvick was second followed by Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski (who paced the first practice) and Ryan Blaney.

Hemric has yet to announce a ride for 2020 after RCR announced last month that the rookie would be replaced by Tyler Reddick next season.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez and Aric Almirola rounded out the top 10.

Here are the rankings speeds of the other playoff drivers: Denny Hamlin 12th; Alex Bowman 15th; Joey Logano 16th; Clint Bowyer 19th; Chase Elliott 20th; and William Byron 22nd.

Click here to see where things stand in the playoffs standings entering Sunday’s second-round cutoff race at Kansas.

Click here for speeds from the final practice at Kansas.

Click here for the speeds during the first Cup practice of the weekend at Kansas.

Ryan Preece praises team for its work after hauler fire

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Ryan Preece praised his team for converting teammate Chris Buescher’s backup car into Preece’s primary car Friday after the hauler carrying Preece’s cars and equipment caught fire this week en route to Kansas Speedway.

“I know some of the guys haven’t had much sleep, very proud of them,” Preece said.

The team’s hauler pulled over near New Columbia, Illinois, on Thursday after a fire in the rear axle area that spread to the hauler. A team spokesperson told NBC Sports that crew chief Eddie Pardue and a couple of team members flew there to take what could be salvaged before driving to Kansas City.

The team spokesperson said that the lockers and uniforms in the hauler were heavily damaged. Both cars had damage with the backup car suffering smoke damage.

NASCAR allowed JTG Daugherty Racing to enter the garage at 8 a.m. ET Friday — five hours before the garage was scheduled to open — and allowed members from both JTG Daugherty teams to work on the car. Preece said he was there with the team when it arrived and worked on the interior as the crew converted the car.

“We’re in it as a team,” Preece said. “I wasn’t going to show up later in the afternoon. I wanted them to know that I was right there with them. I wanted to help in every way I could.”

Preece said his car was loose in the first practice session Friday at Kansas Speedway. He was 32nd on the speed chart in that session, making it on track about 10 minutes after practice began.

Brad Keselowski fastest in first practice at Kansas; Kyle Busch makes big save

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Brad Keselowski turned the fastest lap with a minute remaining in Friday afternoon’s first Cup practice at Kansas Speedway.

The 176.499-mph lap by the No. 2 Ford of Team Penske nipped a 176.389 mph lap by the No. 10 Ford of Aric Almirola.

Daniel Suarez was third, followed by Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney. Kurt Busch, Paul Menard, Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick and Daniel Hemric rounded out the top 10.

Here’s how other playoff drivers fared during the practice:

Kyle Larson 11th; Joey Logano 13th; Clint Bowyer 15th; William Byron 20th; Alex Bowman 21st; Kyle Busch (who had an impressive save; video below) 22nd; Chase Elliott 23rd.

Click here to see where things stand in the playoffs standings entering Sunday’s second-round cutoff race at Kansas.

Click here for the speeds during the first Cup practice of the weekend at Kansas.

Gray Gaulding out Friday after suspected allergic reaction

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A Stewart-Haas Racing plane made an unscheduled stop in St. Louis on Friday after Gray Gaulding had a suspected allergic reaction.

SS Green Light Racing confirmed Gaulding had an issue en route to Kansas City. A Stewart-Haas Racing spokesperson confirmed that its plane made the unscheduled stop, and that emergency personnel came on board after the plane landed. Gaulding remained in St. Louis while the plane continued to Kansas City.

SS Green Light Racing stated that after arriving at the track, Gaulding went to the infield care center and was not cleared to drive Friday. Gaulding will be re-evaluated Saturday. J.J. Yeley drove the car for Gaulding in practice Friday.