By Justin Allgaier‘s own definition, 2019 has been a “terrible” and “miserable” year for the Xfinity Series driver.
That’s not the kind of descriptive words you would expect to hear from one of the four drivers who will compete for the Xfinity title Saturday in Miami (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
But in the immediate aftermath of his win last weekend at ISM Raceway – which snapped a 39-race winless streak – that’s exactly how the JR Motorsports driver summed up the previous 31 races.
He did so while referring to his career-best stretch of 16 straight top-10 finishes.
“I still view this as a terrible year,” Allgaier said. “I don’t mean that in a bad way. Right, but compared to last year we just executed better. We had speed when we needed it. And things fell our way. The definition of luck is when opportunity meets preparation. The weekends we’ve been prepared, the opportunity hasn’t been there. The weeks we’ve had the opportunity, we may not have been prepared. Today we had both.”
The veteran missed out on the Championship 4 last year, a result of a “miserable” experience in the playoffs where he was eliminated in the second round despite five wins in the regular season.
Now he’s back in the final round for the third time in four years and feels he and his No. 7 team are “peaking at the right time” as he prepares to face off against the “Big 3” of Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and defending champion Tyler Reddick.
Together the “Big 3” have won 20 of 32 races this year.
“A lot of the story lines this year have been surrounding the other three contenders and they’ve been really strong and they’ve won a lot of races,” Allgaier said in a media release. “You can’t count us out. We’re going into this weekend with a new mentality and a new energy and we’re going to have a shot at winning a championship.”
Allgaier admitted Saturday he could have “easily” made the championship round had he finished second at ISM Raceway. But going to Miami with a win on his record has a dynamic impact on his mindset.
“If I would have gotten chased down by Cole (Custer) at the end and gotten passed, mentally that’s going to defeat you, right?” Allgaier said. “I think winning a race definitely makes next week a lot more enjoyable, and I think it puts us more in the conversation for maybe having an opportunity to go for a championship.”
Just like it was difficult for him to break the “Big 3’s” dominance in the regular season, Allgaier acknowledges the task before him Saturday if he wants to give JR Motorsports its third consecutive Xfinity title and its fourth in six years.
Reddick and Custer have won the last two races in Miami. Allgaier has never finished better than sixth in nine Xfinity starts on the 1.5-mile track.
“It’s going to be hard to beat them, there’s no question about it,” Allgaier said. “So I’ve got to do a better job of figuring my program out and what I can do to be a better asset to our team.
“I’ve been in this scenario a couple of times. This week’s going to be full of studying. Because I know we’ve got three competitors that I’m racing against that equally are ready to compete next week. Mentally they’re ready, they’re physically ready, they’re (in) fast race cars. They’ve had the speed all year in their cars. They’ve made a lot of mistakes. But they’ve had the speed.”
But Allgaier insists after his “miserable” year there’s “no pressure” on him in his effort to finally break through for a NASCAR title.
“It’s funny because the last couple of years, the years I’ve put the most pressure on myself are the ones that have been the worst,” Allgaier said.
One sign of his mindset?
Right before he left victory lane Saturday, his crew chief Jason Burdett jokingly asked him what they were going to do the following weekend in Miami.
Replied Allgaier: “We’re going to have fun.”