Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – AVONDALE, AZ – Justin Allgaier and crew chief Jason Burdett tried everything.
Under caution on Lap 172 of 200 in Saturday’s Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200 at Phoenix Raceway, Burdett called Allgaier to pit road for his last set of sticker tires.
Even on fresh rubber, Allgaier couldn’t catch race leader Austin Cindric, as the drivers battled for position and the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship.
When title contender Chase Briscoe spun on Lap 198 to cause the final caution and set up a two-lap overtime, Allgaier stayed on track and inherited the lead while Cindric came to pit road for new tires. When the cars lined up for the final restart, Cindric was right behind Allgaier in the outside lane.
Allgaier’s lead was short-lived. With better tires, Cindric quickly charged to the front as Allgaier fell to fifth at the finish but salvaged second in the final series standings.
“First of all, hats off to Austin and the whole Team Penske group,” Allgaier said. “They’ve been strong competitors all year. To have the race they did tonight, they were obviously the best car, and they deserved to win.
“Proud of our guys, proud of everybody at JR Motorsports. We had a shot at it at the end. When it’s all said and done, that’s all you can really ask for.”
Allgaier knew his No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet was in trouble when he and Ross Chastain were the only lead-lap cars to stay on the track during the final yellow.
“I knew that (Cindric was) going to be good on tires,” Allgaier said. “I was hoping to see a few more cars in my rear-view mirror when we took the green… We didn’t have the speed at the end. We were off a little bit all night.”
Justin Haley has to wait for the championship celebration before flying home
Kaulig Racing driver Justin Haley gave a creditable performance in Saturday’s Championship 4 race, but his No. 11 Chevrolet was trapped a lap down by an inopportune caution on Lap 170.
Though Haley got his lap back, he couldn’t improve his position significantly in the late going and finished eighth, taking the third position in the final standings.
To make matters worse, Haley had to stay at the track for series champion and race winner Austin Cindric’s post-race celebration.
“I just want to congratulate the 22 team,” Haley said, then quipped, “It actually sucks they got the championship, because we share a plane. So we’re going to have to wait on them to go home.”
Haley fell back at the start of the race, but his crew improved the car after that. It simply wasn’t enough.
“We were not too good there at the start, and then we actually took a little time on one of the pit stops,” said Haley, who restarted eighth for the two-lap overtime. “We started running in the top five, but it’s super hard to pass.”
“We were too far back to make anything happen at the green-white-checkered.”
In stellar season, Chase Briscoe runs disappointing ninth in championship finale
Very little had gone wrong during Chase Briscoe’s dream 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series season.
The driver of the No. 98 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford collected nine victories and earned a promotion to the No. 14 SHR NASCAR Cup Series car next year.
But the season ended in disappointment on Saturday when Briscoe finished ninth at Phoenix Raceway and dropped to fourth among the four drivers competing for the series title.
Briscoe led 41 laps and won the first stage of the race, but the handling on his car deteriorated as the light faded and the track cooled.
“It was just a frustrating day,” Briscoe said. “This is by far not my best race track. We started the race and, for me, just leading laps here I was like, ‘Wow, this is different.’ I was just so loose at the beginning of the race, and as the night came, I was just getting freer and freer. I don’t know how many times I about wrecked into (Turn) 1 and would end up hitting the wall.
“I’ve got to do a lot better job coming here. There’s something about this place that I just really struggle at, so I’ve got a lot of homework to do. It’s definitely frustrating to finish fourth in the championship after the year we had, but, overall, to win nine races it’s been a phenomenal year.”