As NASCAR turned the corner and entered the second half of the 2017 racing season last weekend at Daytona International Speedway, Riverton's Justin Allgaier considered himself blessed.

"This is the best place I've been in, mentally, physically, emotionally in a long time," said Allgaier, a full-time competitor on the second-tier NASCAR Xfinity Series tour, driving a car fielded by JR Motorsports and racing superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr.

For Allgaier, being at the top of his game both mentally and physically is saying a lot, considering the peaks and valleys he's traversed over the past 18 months.

In that brief time, he's experienced a lion's share of tough breaks. Included were the loss of a coveted ride in NASCAR's elite Cup series and the more devastating near loss of a friend, colleague and business associate in a horrifying crash at a Florida dirt track in February.

Balancing the equation has been hooking up with the Earnhardt organization and a triumphant return to the winner's circle earlier this season in an Xfinity series race at Phoenix International Raceway.

Allgaier credits his strong Christian faith for his ability to weather the storms while awaiting the victories, maintaining a pretty even keel throughout the ups and downs.

"In a human life, we have a lot of peaks and valleys and people who allow those highs and lows to be kind of the guidance of their life tend to struggle when they go from the highs to the lows," Allgaier said. "Being a Christian, you tend to ride somewhere in the middle because you know the bad moments are teaching moments and the good moments are gifts from above."

During his career, Allgaier enjoyed some good moments in winning the 2008 ARCA series title before finding some success in the second-tier NASCAR ranks. Struggles soon followed, however.

His two years of racing full-time in the Cup series in 2014-15 were spent with HScott Motorsports, a small team that simply never got untracked at the sport's elite level. 

"Budget wise and technology wise, we were always behind the eight-ball," Allgaier said. "We went to the race track discouraged a lot, because after putting in the time and effort, the results wouldn't line up with the work and preparation. You travel a lot, you get a lot of sleepless nights trying to figure it out and when it doesn't work out the way you want it to, it's hard."

Another hard reality — the business side of a multi-billion dollar sport — set in when Allgaier was replaced at HScott by Clint Bowyer. The off-track maneuvering involved a sequence of events that were totally unrelated to the team's performance and, by and large, beyond Allgaier's control.

It was a tough break, one that would have left many embittered. He sees it as a learning tool.

"Obviously, I want to get back to the Cup level. But I think I know a little bit of what to guard myself against moving forward and the position I put myself in," he said. "If I have the opportunity, I'll be up to the task. But if those opportunities don't come, I'm not going to force the issue and put myself in another bad position."

Immediately landing a ride in the Earnhardt Xfinity series stable helped to assuage any wound. He found immediate success, scoring 27 top-10 finishes in 33 starts and finishing third in the points standings last year. He's third again this year at the halfway point.

While enjoying the success, he's also enjoying the culture at the JR Motorsports shop and working for Earnhardt.

"We have such a good group of guys at JR Motorsports," Allgaier said. "They're absolutely on every week. They bring great race cars to the race track and that's all you can ask for and Dale's just an incredible guy. He's fun to be around, he loves racing as a whole and he's definitely a good boss."

The good time was tragically interrupted in February when Springfield's Kelly Kovski, crewing for Allgaier and his dirt modified team at Florida's Volusia Speedway Park, was critically injured when a sprint car crashed through a fence and struck him in the pit area. Rushed to a hospital in Daytona Beach with life-threatening injuries, Kovski was able to survive and continues what will be a long recovery back home in Central Illinois.

"Even though he's not out of the woods yet with a back brace and still trying to heal up, seeing him up and moving around is incredible," Allgaier said. "We spent a lot of time at the hospital and it puts things in perspective when you go through that type of situation. It makes you realize how precious life is."

Situations like that are also a reminder that things in life, good and bad, happen beyond our control.

"Through all of this, when we were sitting in the hospital and going through a lot of things, the one (Bible) passage that kept coming to mind was 'worry about nothing and pray about everything,' (Philippians 4:6)," Allgaier said.

With his win at Phoenix, Allgaier has already secured a spot in the Xfinity series version of "The Chase" that will decide the tour's titlist.

"We've got a great race team and a great car," he said. "We've got a good opportunity to go for the championship."

Bruce Yentes covers motor sports for The Pantagraph. He can be reached at byentes@pantagraph.com. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_yentes

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