Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – CHARLOTTE, NC – Will this finally be Justin Allgaier’s year?
The 36-year-old Illinois driver has filled the seat of the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet for seven seasons, including the current one. From a numerology standpoint, that’s a good omen, but omens only go so far.
Allgaier has qualified for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4 Round in four of the previous six seasons, but his best finish in the final standings is second behind series champion Austin Cindric in 2020.
This year, Allgaier enters the Playoffs third in the standings, 28 points above Jeremy Clements and Sam Mayer, who are tied for eighth. JR Motorsports has enjoyed a singularly productive season, winning 12 of the first 26 races and putting all four of its full-time drivers in the Playoffs.
But, as Allgaier points out, there are no “gimmies.”
“This is the best position I’ve ever been in,” Allgaier said during Xfinity Series Playoffs Media Day at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. “But nothing’s guaranteed… I learned a long time ago that the more and more you feel like the universe owes you something, the less and less you really succeed.
“I think, for me, we’ve put the work in. We’ve put the effort in. The definition of luck is when opportunity meets preparation. We’re more prepared in 2022 than I’ve ever been. We just need the opportunity. And if we get the right opportunity, we will go win a championship.”
Allgaier will have plenty of competition, most notably from teammate Noah Gragson, who leads the standings thanks to six victories, and from five-time winner Ty Gibbs and regular-season champion AJ Allmendinger.
“We have a great group of drivers this year for the Playoffs,” said Allgaier, who won three times during the regular season. “We just have to go execute, do our job, and if we do that, I think we’ve got a good shot.”
Brandon Jones striving to stay in the present during Playoffs
You could forgive Brandon Jones if his attention is somewhat divided as the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs approach.
Jones is trying to win a championship in the No. 18 Toyota at Joe Gibbs Racing, where he as driven for five season and where he has accumulated all six of his career victories.
But Jones also knows that he’ll be racing for a new owner and manufacturer in 2023 when he succeeds Noah Gragson in the seat in the No. 9 Chevrolet at JR Motorsports.
“It’s a little difficult,” Jones said of the challenge of deferring thoughts of his future plans during his current run for the title. “Right now, I’m trying to figure out how to pull information over. Obviously, I’ve built such a large notebook at Joe Gibbs Racing.
“I came into that organization as a 15th-place driver, and now I’m a race-winning driver. No doubt in my mind that’s how far we’ve come at Joe Gibbs Racing, how much information they’ve been able to give me.”
Jones wasn’t talking about taking proprietary notes from Joe Gibbs Racing, merely his own personal notes on how to drive each racetrack.
“You end up with such a large notebook with these companies, and they’re all intertwined with e-mails and different things. So, it’s like ‘How do I get all MY notes?’ I don’t care what they have on the car and stuff—we’ll figure that out at the next place, and they’re obviously really fast at JRM, so it’s not like I’m pulling information that they’re using.
“But it’s all my notes—it’s all my lift points and my way of racing the tracks that I’ve got to try and take now and get into my own documents now that I can start sharing with them.”
The Playoffs haven’t started, and the trash talking has already begun
Asked whether he has ever felt the need to mentor young drivers, veteran AJ Allmendinger demurred, but he took a good-natured passing shot at Ty Gibbs who had just completed his media day interviews.
“Yeah, Ty’s a pain in the ass,” Allmendinger said, making sure Gibbs could hear him. Then he addressed the 19-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver directly.
“Is your hair getting lighter?” Allmendinger asked.
“You’ve been talking about my hair the whole time we’ve been here,” Gibbs responded.
“I know, it’s just like a cloth,” Allmendinger rejoined. “Like, what is going on. Can we get a little gel in that?”
“I just got a little gel,” Gibbs said. “I don’t want to be wearing a hat or anything, so I’ve been trying to grow it out.”
“It’s like you’re trying to start a boy band again,” Allmendinger quipped. “Like it’s got that NSYNC blond going to it.”
Both Allmendinger and Gibbs are golfers, but they haven’t played together.
“He keeps trying to talk me into it, but I don’t like his face until the season’s over,” Allmendinger said.
After the banter of Media Day subsides, the serious business of the Xfinity Playoffs begins with Saturday’s Andy’s Frozen Custard 300 at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on USA, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).