Father time: Dad’s gift grows more special each day for Justin Allgaier

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It had been nearly a year since Justin Allgaier went to Victory Lane when he returned to that hallowed ground in May at Darlington Raceway.

For as meaningful as it was to win again in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, this was different from previous triumphs.

Between smiles, cheers and hat changes, Allgaier repeatedly pulled and tugged at the left cuff of his firesuit. 

“I didn’t realize the significance,” he told NBC Sports, “until I kept moving it. And kept moving it. And kept moving it.”

Then he understood why.

And what was missing that day.

His father.

A SPECIAL GIFT

Allgaier beams when he hears tales of what his dad, Mike, was like decades ago. Mike was in the tire business and went to various racetracks, supplying competitors. 

He chuckles at the tale of his father hauling race tires in a horse trailer because that’s all he had. Or the time his father strapped a load of tires to the side of the car that he drove to the track.

“I remember him talking … about how they literally would work an event just to even come up with enough money to pay the gas to get back home,” Allgaier said. 

It was that type of work ethic that has been a part of Mike’s makeup. Allgaier says those who have known his father for years will tell him that nobody worked harder than Mike.

Something else about Mike in those days: It wasn’t uncommon for him to break a watch and go to a jeweler to pick up a replacement at a reasonable price. But then Mike would be back seemingly a month or two later after breaking another watch. The cycle repeated for years.

Mike and the jeweler became friends over time. The jeweler even helped Allgaier’s parents find a new home. 

One day about 40 years ago, Mike was helping the jeweler move some things when the jeweler took off his Rolex watch and gave it to Mike, telling him: “You’re never buying another watch ever again.”

Mike wore that watch nearly every day after that.

Then one day, the watch stopped. 

It was the same day that Mike found out that his friend, the jeweler, had died.

THE REQUEST

Mike Allgaier later walked into the jewelry store that his friend, who died, had run. He told an older woman behind the counter how special the watch was and the story of how it was given to him by the jeweler.

He didn’t realize he was talking to the jeweler’s mom. 

“She started crying,” Mike told NBC Sports. “Then I started crying.”

The watch was repaired and Mike continued to wear it. 

Years later, Mike and his wife were cleaning their home when he asked his son a question.

“Of all the things that your mom and I have collected over the years and have … What’s something that you want whenever we’re gone?”

Allgaier immediately responded.

“Truth be told, you only have one thing that I want.

“I want your watch.”

It was the one item that had been with his father through those early years of struggle. It was there when Allgaier was born, when his father took him to watch races and later took him to go racing. 

The watch was more than a timepiece. It was a symbol of friendship, fatherhood and hard work. 

“I think for me, the dedication of him wearing the same watch every day,” Allgaier said of why he wanted the watch. “I’m a watch fan. I love watches. I own a number of watches. I think some of that has to do with the fact that he wore this watch all the time.”

The watch’s longevity made it, in a way, a companion to many of the mundane moments of life and many of the special moments. It connected past with present.

“Very rarely you find people have that attachment to one thing over that many years – furthermore, that it survived that many years,” Allgaier said. 

“My dad was hard on his watch, I can assure you that. There were many days I would watch him load and unload tires from the tire store and work on race cars and work on semis and do whatever he needed to do to get the job done, and this watch went through all of it. It got beat up and banged and just kept going.”

Justin Allgaier holds the watch that was his father’s and given to Justin. (Photo by Dustin Long)

FAMILY SPORT

Allgaier’s love of racing goes back to his father’s work in the industry, selling tires at tracks and in the ARCA series for years.

After Allgaier won the Xfinity race at Indianapolis in 2018, he became emotional in his interview with NBC Sports, recounting how his father drove him 3 1/2 hours each Wednesday from their Illinois home to the speedway during the winter for classes that would make Allgaier a better driver outside the car.

“Dad, I got to do this to help my racing career,” Mike recalls his son saying at the time. 

“I’ll make you a deal,” his dad said. “I’ll make the effort and get you over there and back, if you make the effort to do the job.”

They went for three years. One time, the weather was so bad that the meeting was canceled. Mike got the call while less than an hour from Indianapolis.

“All right,” the caller told Mike, “we’re having the meeting then.”

And they did.

During those trips, the routine often was the same. Allgaier would do homework in the car on the way to track and sleep on the way back home.

Those trips were just among the many father and son shared. 

At one point, Allgaier and his dad would go from their Illinois home to Charlotte, North Carolina, and Allgaier would race a Bandolero car. Then, they would head to Indiana for Allgaier to race a Kenyon midget. The weekend would feature micro sprint races Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, Allgaier would race a late model.

“For me,” Allgaier said, “racing has always been a family sport.”

SURPRISE

When Allgaier turned 35 in 2021, his dad gave him what he always wanted.

The watch.

Mike told his son that he’d rather give Allgaier the watch now than for someone to hand it to him after his father’s passing.

“I can watch you enjoy it just as I enjoyed it,” Allgaier recalls his father telling him when he gave him the gift.

His father does.

“When I wear my watch, I’ll catch him looking at it, and I think in some aspects, he’s just ultra-proud that he was able to pass something down that I cherished.”

Mike and Justin Allgaier before the June Xfinity race at Nashville – Mike’s first race since suffering health issues in March. (Photo: Harold Hinson)

Allgaier wears the watch most days.

“Every time I look down at it, I just think about the memories my dad and I had over the years,” he said. “Me growing up and just thinking about that watch and how many times I was worried he was going to lose it, or I was worried it was going to break. All these little things that as a kid, you think about, and now to be an adult and have this watch and to know the story behind it is really special for me and something I’ll cherish every day until the day I’m gone. 

“Hopefully one of these days, I can pass it down to one of my daughters and they can have as much enjoyment out of it as I do.”

Allgaier often wears the watch even when he races. He wore it when he won at Darlington earlier this year to break his 364-day winless drought. 

It was the watch that he kept fiddling with as he repeatedly adjusted the left cuff of his fire suit and provided a stark reminder of his father’s absence. 

HEALTH SCARE

The night before the Xfinity race in March at Circuit of the Americas, Allgaier noticed something wasn’t right with his father. 

What he didn’t know was that fluid was filling in his father’s head and building pressure.

What Allgaier saw was that his father had trouble remembering where he was or where he was going. His depth perception was off and he struggled to walk.

Allgaier got his father with NASCAR medical officials. They advised him to take him to an emergency room. Allgaier was there into the early morning hours when the issue was discovered. Surgery would be needed. 

Suddenly, Mike would not be at his son’s races. Through more than 30 years of racing, it was Mike who had been to most of his son’s races. He was there for the wins and losses.

Now, Mike needed time to take care of his health issue and then recover. He wouldn’t be traveling.

He wasn’t there at Darlington.

“It makes you realize, when they’re not there for something, how much you’re going to miss them for everything,” Allgaier said of his dad not being at Darlington for the victory. 

“There’s been plenty of things in my life that my dad has missed milestone-wise just because of life. But I’ve been able to pick up the phone and call him and tell him about those things, or I’ve been able to enjoy those moments with him after they happened. 

“I know that, someday, that is not going to happen. Having that (win at Darlington without him) made me realize how big of a moment it is, how much I’m going to miss those times when he’s not there.”

WINNING AGAIN

The surgery went well. Mike said he longer has the painful headaches that have plagued him for years. He feels good. He’s back at the track, watching his son race.

Mike’s first race back was in June at Nashville Superspeedway. That’s a special track for father and son. Allgaier has always wanted the guitar the track gives to the winner but had never won there. 

Until this year.

Allgaier had one of those days racers hope for, but rarely experience. He had the dominant car. Allgaier led 134 of 188 laps and won by 4.5 seconds. 

There to greet him in Victory Lane was his father. 

“You don’t get races like that very often,” Allgaier said. “To see him in Victory Lane, to have him help me hold the guitar in victory lane, he’s known how much I wanted that guitar. 

“I could tell he knew how much it meant to me, but I also knew how much it meant to him.”

NASCAR Awards to air at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Joey Logano didn’t need much time to answer the question.

Who would the two-time Cup champion want to introduce him at the NASCAR Awards?

Racing icon Mario Andretti, Logano immediately said. 

And there was Andretti on the stage at the Music City Center introducing Logano, the 2022 Cup champion. Watch that and the rest of the night’s festivities at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock. You can order Peacock here.

MORE: See the red carpet scene

MORE: Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

NBC Sports’ Marty Snider and Kim Coon co-hosted the show along with Fox Sports’ Kaitlyn Vincie. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck champions were honored. Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, whose father died hours after Gibbs won the Xfinity title last month, received a standing ovation and thanked the industry for its support.

The highlight of the night for Logano was having Andretti on stage to introduce him.

“He’s just been a great role model for me, not only as a racer, but as a person for so long,” Logano said afterward. “I had his picture on my wall. I looked at Mario Andretti before I went to sleep every night as a kid. I thought it was the coolest thing that he signed it to me.”

NASCAR Awards and Champion Celebration
Cup champion Joey Logano on stage with racing icon Mario Andretti during the NASCAR Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Logano and Andretti have gotten to know each other through the years. Logano ran a throwback car that honored Andretti at Darlington Raceway in 2015 and 2021.

But none of that compared to being on stage with Andretti.

“That’s still like a pinch-me moment,” Logano said. “It’s Mario Andretti. He’s the man. The fact that he knows my name I think is really, really cool.”

Catch the NASCAR Awards at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community showed its support Thursday at the NASCAR Awards for the Gibbs family, grieving the death of Coy Gibbs on Nov. 6. 

During his interview on stage, car owner Joe Gibbs thanked the NASCAR industry for its support. (The NASCAR Awards show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock).

Coy Gibbs, son of Joe Gibbs and father of Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, died hours after seeing Ty Gibbs win the series title last month at Phoenix Raceway. Coy Gibbs, 49, was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, introduced Ty Gibbs at the NASCAR Awards and noted that “everyone gathered tonight is all a part of the NASCAR family, and I know I speak for everyone that the entire NASCAR family is 100% percent behind this young man.”

Ty Gibbs received a standing ovation.

“Thank you,” he told the crowd, “that means a lot.”

Ty Gibbs spoke for less than a minute, thanking his team, sponsors, fans and the NASCAR community.

He closed his speech by saying “And thanks to my family. I love you. I hope everybody has a great offseason. Enjoy it. Thank you for all the support. Thank you for all the claps. I really appreciate it.”

Ty Gibbs spoke to the media earlier Thursday. Asked how he was doing, he said: “I’ve been doing good. Thank you for asking and definitely appreciate you guys. We’ve been doing good, doing a lot of stuff this week. … It’s been fun to experience this stuff.”

Asked about Joe Gibbs addressing the organization after Coy’s death, Ty Gibbs politely said: “For right now, I’m not going to touch on any of that subject at all. I’m just going to stick with all the racing questions and go from there.”

Cup champion Joey Logano said he spent time with 20-year-old Ty Gibbs on Wednesday at the champion’s dinner.

Logano said he told Ty Gibbs that “we’re here for you. You need something reach out.”

Brennan Poole joins Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for 2023

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Brennan Poole will join Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity season, the team announced Friday.

Poole will drive the No. 6 car for the full season. Currey returns to the team’s No. 4 car for the season. Currey scored five top-15 finishes last season for the organization.

JD Motorsports is planning to run the No. 0 car next season. No driver or sponsor has been announced for that ride.

“We’re full throttle here and getting ready to go,” Davis said in a statement from the team. “Bayley and Brennan are signed on and looking forward to chasing races and points next year. We’re actively moving along looking for sponsor commitments and for drivers and sponsors for the No. 0 car.”

“We’ve always taken the approach here that we want to go after the series with multiple cars, and that’s how we’re looking toward 2023. The new schedule is very interesting and provides new challenges to our drivers and team members.”

The 2023 Xfinity season begins Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.

Friday 5: Will Kyle Busch become NASCAR’s Tom Brady, Peyton Manning?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The weight of an unfulfilled season, deciding where he’d race in 2023 and the impact on his Truck Series team are off Kyle Busch.

It’s back to racing for the two-time Cup champion, who seeks to reignite his career at Richard Childress Racing this season.

Busch performed his final duty representing Joe Gibbs Racing at Thursday’s NASCAR Awards (show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock) and it’s now all about helping RCR win its first Cup championship since 1994.

MORE: NASCAR Awards red carpet scene

Busch will be with Richard Childress Racing this weekend at Circuit of the Americas for World Racing League endurance events. Busch said the team has turned an old Cup car into an endurance car for the event. Last year, RCR won an eight-hour endurance race there with Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick and Kaz Grala.

Busch seeks better fortunes at RCR than what he’s had recently at Joe Gibbs Racing.

He has one Cup win in his last 53 starts — 14 drivers have won more races than Busch in that span, dating back to the July 2021 race at Road America.

His 17 top-10 finishes this past season were his fewest since scoring 16 top 10s in 2015. 

He was running at the finish in 29 of 36 points races — the first time he’s been running at the finish in fewer than 30 races since 2015. Two blown engines in the opening round of the playoffs led to failing to advance to the second round for the first time in his career. 

“It’s obviously been a challenging, not just this year, but the last little while,” Busch said Thursday at the Music City Center. “So, it’s kind of maybe a blessing in disguise, honestly, where it might just be time for a fresh start, time for something new, time for something different.”

He looks to future NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning for inspiration.

Brady won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots before  joining Tampa Bay and winning a Super Bowl in his first season with the Buccaneers.

Manning won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts before joining the Denver Broncos and winning a Super Bowl there in his final season in the NFL.

“I’m kind of looking at it as a Tom Brady, Peyton Manning aspect where they left great teams, great organizations where they won championships and they were able to win a championship somewhere else,” Busch said. “I’d like to think I still have that opportunity to be able to do that at RCR.

“I look at the opportunity with the new Next Gen race car as an easier move to make now with that vs. years past with previous generation cars.”

He says that because with the previous generation of cars, there was a greater separation between teams because NASCAR did not regulate as much of the car. With the the Next Gen car, teams have the same parts. Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano that his team still has much to learn about the car and maximizing setups. 

Even with his struggles at the end of his tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch says he doesn’t go to RCR with a chip on his shoulder. 

“I don’t think I have anything to prove or I need to have a chip on my shoulder,” Busch said. “I just want to go out there and run well again. … I felt like we had a lot of strong runs this year. There were like six races I can count that we could’ve, would’ve, should’ve won and we didn’t whip is very frustrating. 

“We were so good at giving them away that I need to get back to I’m so good at stealing them and earning them.”

2. Special delivery 

Among the perks with winning a Cup title is getting the Champion’s Journal. Jimmie Johnson started the tradition after his 2010 championship. The existence of the journal remained a secret until 2017 when Johnson posted a picture on social media of him handing the journal to Martin Truex Jr.

The journal passes from champion to champion with the current champion holding on to it for a year and adding an entry for the next champion before handing it to them. Logano will receive the journal from Kyle Larson. 

“I can’t wait to read it again,” Logano said before Thursday’s NASCAR Awards. “I’m telling you, it’s probably one of the coolest things. Jimmie deserves all of the credit for coming up with the idea. 

“I wish it started sooner. It’s so interesting. Some drivers are very detailed what they write to the next champion and some are kind of quick and simple. It’s very interesting to read it. It’s cool. It’s a real secret. It’s kind of like an unwritten rule, you can’t take pictures of it and post it. It’s a thing that only the championship drivers know and have read and seen.

“Every time I get it, I’m so nervous. I’m like don’t spill anything on this thing, don’t lose it. It would suck to be the guy that loses that. That would be bad. I’m putting it right in the safe.”

Logano won his first Cup title in 2018. He then gave the journal to Kyle Busch, the 2019 series champion.

“It’s something you put a lot of thought into, at least I did,” Logano said of what he penned. “I wrote a letter to Kyle. You put a lot of thought into it. It’s something that will be there as long as our sport is around. I hope so at least. It’s a really great tradition.”

3. Fun factor 

The day of last year’s NASCAR Awards, William Byron said he wanted compete in more races outside NASCAR in 2022. 

Byron, who seeks to make Sunday’s prestigious Snowball Derby Super Late Model race, has fulfilled his goal, winning, gaining confidence but also having fun.

“What I got out of it was immediate fun, sort of relief,” Byron said of racing various Super Late Model races this year. “It was not racing the Cup car. It was different. It was not as stressful working with the team and things like that because there’s not as much on the line. There’s still prize money and things, and honestly you’re there to have fun. I enjoyed that.

“As I got going in it, I realized how productive it really was for me to do it, how much I was learning. As I did it more often throughout the season, I learned little nuances that were helping me get back in the Cup car with a better skill set.”

That element of fun stood out to Byron. Cup racing is full of pressure with the multi-million dollar sponsors, expectations to win and all the people at the shop relying on the car’s performance. That’s significant pressure, on top of what any driver puts on themself.

“There’s a lot of guys that you are trying to provide for and do a good job for,” Byron said of Cup racing. “There is a weight to that. You want to perform for those guys that work non-stop at the shop. There’s just a much broader net that you are casting as a driver. Whenever you go to the short track level, it’s you and six to 10 guys working on the car. … There’s natural pressure with what we’re trying to do at the Cup level because it is the No. 1 motorsports in the U.S.”

4. Looking for a ride

Ross Chastain says he’s been “trying for years” to get a ride in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway without success but that hasn’t deterred him.

“I’ve met with the president of IMSA,” said Chastain, who finished second to Joey Logano for the Cup title this season. “I’ve met with team owners. I’ve talked to drivers. I just can’t find my way in yet. I haven’t found the right person yet to either tell me how to do it or give me the opportunity. I could show up with sponsorship and get a ride, but how do I get in as a race car driver? I haven’t found that spot yet.”

Chastain said he’s reached out to some this offseason with no luck. 

He said the prestige of the season-opening IMSA event (Jan. 28-29, 2023) draws him but he also wants to gain more experience racing on a road course — even with his win at Circuit of the Americas this past season. And Chastain is not picky on the type of ride he’d like to have for that race.

“I’m not even looking to be in the top class. I want to find a mid-pack Xfinity team of the Rolex and go run there and experience it and then just to be around those road racers that do it year around. I know I could learn something. … I just want to race.”

5. Indy 500-Coke 600 double

It has been eight years since Kurt Busch competed in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, the last time the feat has been accomplished. 

Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson are among those who have expressed interest in running both races in the same day but don’t appear to be in a position to do so in 2023 because of the limited IndyCar rides available. 

Roger Penske, owner of the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said he could see Jimmie Johnson attempting it this year, and others as soon as next year. 

“It’s about having the car and the manufactures, whether it’s Chevy and or Honda,” Penske said, referring to the IndyCar manufacturers. “All would be interested to see somebody run the double. Maybe Jimmie is going to do it, which would be great. 

“He has the experience. He did very well on the ovals. … It’s my understanding that he’s going to run potentially the 600 as one of his races (with Petty GMS). We’ll see.”