Subscribe for 33¢ / day

Less than two hours of intense practice are on the docket for Riverton's Justin Allgaier at Daytona International Speedway on Friday.

With no offseason testing allowed, that's fewer than 120 minutes at the disposal of the Central Illinois native and his teammates to sort through the rather complex intricacies of finding the right combination of horsepower and handling necessary to compete in the restrictor plate, pack-racing of Daytona.

"It's understanding the balance between having sheer, raw speed and being able to manage it," Allgaier told The Pantagraph by phone from Daytona on Wednesday. "We're going to have to use the limited time to the best of our ability."

Allgaier, 31, will be working with one of the premier organizations in the business as he begins his third season as a full-time driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports, a team owned by icon Dale Earnhardt Jr., his sister Kelley and NASCAR Cup series car owner Rick Hendrick. 

The team will unload five cars for Friday's practice and Saturday morning's qualifying, before Saturday afternoon's Power Shares QQQ 300 Xfinity Series race (1:30 p.m, FS1), annually a highlight of Speedweeks and Daytona 500 weekend at the self-proclaimed World Center of Racing.

Allgaier and teammates Michael Annett, Chase Elliott, Tyler Reddick and Elliott Sadler will be in cars that have been slightly altered from those of a year ago.

"We raced a few races last year with this composite body and it did change the way we drove and the way it was set up for the draft," Allgaier said. "But, fundamentally, it's pretty similar."

Allgaier is hoping to qualify for his 15th Xfinity Series start at Daytona. He's had three top-5s and six top-10s with a best finish of second in the July race in 2016.

A front-runner in the second-tier Xfinity ranks since teaming up with JR Motorsports, Allgaier finished third in the point standings in each of his first two seasons with the team. Last year, JR Motorsports posted a 1-2-3 sweep of the top spots in the series.

"Last year we grew tremendously as a team and put ourselves in a position to win a championship," he said. "We've got a great team and a great organization."

Among the favorites in the title chase once more, Allgaier is hoping for a better start to the 2018 season than he had a year ago at Daytona. Just 28 laps in, he was clipped and turned around by another competitor and crashed hard into the wall.

"It was disappointing because we were running second or third at the time and had a really fast car," he said of his 30th-place finish.

He also finished 30th in the July race at the track, this time wrecking with four laps to go.

With the restrictor plates on the motors taking some punch out of the acceleration and the cars engineered and fabricated to run in tight packs for the entertainment value, incidents like those will often trigger what's known at Daytona and Talladega as "the big one," a massive accident that sends multiple cars careening out of control. 

"It's a very hard track because you're kind of at the mercy of everyone around you," Allgaier said, adding that a big challenge is finding the drafting partners who can best help you gain an advantage.

Allgaier has five Xfinity Series victories in a career that dates to 2008, two of them in his home state at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet. He won at Joliet in 2011 before repeating there last year. His other victories came on short tracks at Nashville (2010) and Phoenix (2017). He also has a road course win at Circuit Gilles Villenueve in Montreal in 2012.

He is still no stranger to area dirt tracks in Central Illinois. Allgaier has established a business that produces shock absorber packages for race cars and uses his time in a modified at area tracks to stay on top of what seems to be constantly evolving shock technology.

"The shock business has been growing," he said. "For us, it's a matter of keeping up with things."

He also finds another benefit to competing on fairground bullrings.

"For me, we have a lot of our fans that watch the NASCAR races on TV that can come to the dirt tracks, but maybe don't get to make it to the bigger tracks," he said. "It's a good opportunity to meet them."

Between the full-time Xfinity ride and its accompanying sponsor commitments, as well as attempting to build a business on the side, Allgaier faces an increasingly busy schedule.

"The offseason wasn't really that 'off,'" he said. "Between leaving (the final 2017 race at) Homestead last November and coming here to Daytona, I think I was only home for eight days.

"But we did get to go back (to Central Illinois) and spend some time with the family and friends and we went to Disney World with my daughter for a few days. Now it's a matter of we're here and ready to go again."

Bruce Yentes covers motor sports for The Pantagraph and can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @pg_yentes


Sports Writer

Load comments