Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – RICHMOND, VA – So far, 2019 has been a star-crossed year for JR Motorsports driver Justin Allgaier, but, in fact, his run of bad luck started with the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs last year.
Allgaier entered the 2018 postseason on a streak of 14 straight top-10 finishes that included victories at Iowa, Mid-Ohio, Road America and Indianapolis. He was the reigning regular season champion with a boatload of Playoff points. Then Richmond happened.
With 24 laps left in last season’s opening Playoff race, the driver of the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet was wiped out when the Fords of Austin Cindric and Cole Custer collided. That accident set the tone for a disappointing postseason.
Though Allgaier survived the Round of 12, a crash on the first lap at Kansas doomed his prospects of advancing to the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. And the streak of ill fortune didn’t end there.
Three crashes and an engine failure led to four DNFs in the first 15 races of 2019. Though five stage wins and top-10 runs in the last 10 races of the regular season have kept Allgaier tied for fifth in the Playoff standings, even though he doesn’t have a victory this year.
And it serves as a confidence boost for the 33-year-old Illinois driver, who feels his team may be peaking at the right time.
“I always tell people, ‘I’d love to say that it can’t get any worse, but I can promise you it can get a lot worse,’” Allgaier said Thursday during NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff media day interviews at Richmond Raceway. “That being said, the old saying, ‘I’d rather be lucky than good any day’ holds true.
“It’s just been one of those seasons for the record books—not in the way I wanted it to be. Last year was a record-book season for me, five wins, the whole deal. This year it’s been a record book; I’m not sure you could ask for so many different things to go wrong in the course of the season and make it through all of them.
“’Disappointed’ is probably an understatement, that we haven’t been back to Victory Lane, that we haven’t battled it out. But like I said, we’re peaking at the right time.”
And if Allgaier’s luck turns—for the better this time—he’s a leading candidate to join ‘Big 3’ drivers Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer in the Championship 4 event.
XFINITY CHAMPIONSHIP IS PART OF CHRSTOPHER BELL’S LONG-TERM PLAN
For Christopher Bell, a NASCAR Xfinity Series championship is the second piece of a three-piece puzzle.
No driver has won titles in all three of NASCAR’s top three touring series. Bell wants to be the first.
“There’s been nobody that’s won all three championships,” Bell said on Thursday during NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff media day interviews at Richmond Raceway. “I don’t think there’s been anybody that’s won all three championships yet, so that would be a really good goal. It starts with these seven races.”
Bell is the top seed entering the Playoffs on the strength of six race victories and 15 stage wins, but he knows how fleeting big leads can be. Last year, Bell had to win at ISM Raceway in Phoenix just to qualify for the Championship 4 round at Miami.
“Well, we definitely have the advantage, but last year was a rude awakening,” Bell said. “I was in a very similar spot last year. We snuck through the first round really easy. I won Richmond and locked myself into the second round. We ran top-five at the (Charlotte) ROVAL and won at Dover, so we were on top of the world.
“Then, all of a sudden, we go to Kansas and crash. OK, we are not that bad. I think we right on the bubble at Kansas. We go to Texas and we crash, and then the next thing you know, you have to win at Phoenix to be able to race for a championship. It happens fast. You get on the other side of it very, very fast.”
Bell has always prided himself on unprecedented performances. In January, he’ll try for a fourth straight title in the Chili Bowl Nationals for Midget racers, a feat accomplished only by Kevin Swindell. Even though Bell is an Oklahoma-born dirt-tracker, however, the Xfinity championship is the current priority.
“Only one guy has won four straight Chili Bowls,” Bell said. “Nobody has won (all) three NASCAR championships. The fourth Chili Bowl is a lot closer, that’s for sure. That’s number two right now, because number one is the Xfinity Series championship.”
CHASE BRISCOE FOUND SPEED BY DARING TO BE DIFFERENT
When the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series started, Chase Briscoe already was playing catch-up. After all, it was his first full-time season in the series, and Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Cole Custer already had two full campaigns under his belt.
But Briscoe has made enormous strides as the season has progressed, not by emulating Custer but by doing things differently. He enters the first round of the Playoffs tied for fifth with Justin Allgaier.
“I think Cole certainly is still a little bit better than me, as far as consistently week-in and week-out, Briscoe said on the eve of the Go Bowling 250 at Richmond Raceway, the Playoff opener for the series (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “But if you go back and look at the last month and a half, we’ve been able to out-qualify him some, practice relatively close, and last week (at Las Vegas), we were able to run him down, pass him and drive away.
“As a team, we felt like we would hit it earlier (in the season) than we did. Honestly, it took about until the second Iowa (which Briscoe won) before we felt like we were hitting on all cylinders and just know what I like in the race car. My crew chief (Richard Boswell) had never really worked with a dirt guy before…
“I feel like now we run totally opposite setups from the No. 00 (Custer) every week, where at the beginning of the year we started off different, then we tried to run what they ran, and it just didn’t fit my driving style, plain and simple. Now we have a set setup that we pretty much unload with every week, and it’s been night and day difference for me—the feel in the race car and what I’m looking for.”