LAS VEGAS – After leading the most laps in the Alsco Uniforms 302, Justin Allgaier finished second in a one-two-three effort by JR Motorsports at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs opener. Non-Playoff contender and teammate Josh Berry grabbed the win, the second non-Playoff driver to win this weekend, preventing Allgaier from advancing into the next round of the Xfinity Playoffs.
“Josh did a great job and had a really fast car,” Allgaier shared after the race. “To see JR Motorsports go one-two-three – to see the day that we’ve had – just really solidifies the amount of effort and time that goes into our race cars for these Playoffs. I’m proud of our team, I’m proud of the Hendrick engine department, Chevrolet, everybody that’s a part of this program.
“You never want to come to the first race of the Playoffs and fall flat on your face, and tonight we didn’t do that.”
It was a challenging day with a mid-afternoon start time of 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time. The hot sun and dry desert made for a slick race track early on, creating a dozen car pileup in Turn 1 on the competition caution restart. The crash took out two Playoff drivers: Jeb Burton and Jeremy Clements, who now sit below the cut line by 27 and 36 points respectively. Berry slipped right by the initial spinners to go on and win the race, but Allgaier knows they have a different mission in mind.
“You’ve got to remember that the No. 1 car is in (the Playoffs) on owner’s points,” Allgaier stated, “so they are locked in for the next round. I know they’re proud of that, and I think it makes the next two races since a driver wasn’t locked in.”
With that, the later start time seemed to be more comfortable for fans. In what usually is weather that reaches over 90 degrees, the start of the race was under that and cooled to below 80 by the conclusion. Still, a hot track made for slippery racing, and makes it tough on teams to adjust throughout the day. The race at the end of the day favored Allgaier’s preferences.
“This place is so weird when you start in the middle of the day like we did. It’s so hot still, but then the track goes through such a transition, and last night we saw it with the Trucks and they started two hours later than we did and still had a huge transition. I’m sweaty and hot, but it’s beautiful right now. This would be my ideal weather.”
The other major concern for the No. 7 machine was an oil leak. Initially reported by Harrison Burton and teammate Noah Gragson, Eddie D’Hondt (Allgaier’s spotter) relayed the information to Allgaier and to watch his oil pressure gauges. They were able to continue the race with no major issues. Shots from NBC Sports TV coverage showed no visible oil on the back of the car, but as the team pushed it to the garage after the race, there was a thin layer of oil on the rear bumper and rear panel of the car.
“Definitely had a leak there,” he said after glancing at his car when they pushed it back. “And it’s weird too because what we were seeing leaking is not a common spot. It was coming through the overflow, so we were pushing a little bit of oil out of the engine. It’s uncommon for us. We were able to get it under control. We lost some time early on because of that, and I felt like that put us behind the 8-ball a little bit. It is what it is.”
As the Xfinity teams raced into the night, JR Motorsports rose to the occasion. After Austin Cindric, AJ Allmendinger and Ty Dillon led early on, Allgaier took the lead on Lap 66. For the rest of the day, the organization led all but seven laps during green flag pit stops. As the sun set, Allgaier was clearly the class of the field. Once the stars came out, Berry shined bright and stormed past his teammate twice: once during a green flag run, and once immediately after what would become their final green flag pit stops. For Allgaier, it wasn’t necessarily that his car got worse or Berry’s car was better.
“It was a little of both,” he explained “When the sun was almost down, I felt like we were really good. But when the sun was completely down, I felt like we were just a little bit too loose. Obviously, that’s when (Berry) came on when the sun came down. Looking back on it, I know some of the things setup-wise that they’ve done with that car that would make sense with what speed they had there at the end. I was trying everything I could to take his line away, just wasn’t able to.”
Their other teammate who was left running sat right behind in third. It may have been a different story had Gragson not received two pit road penalties (driving through too many pit stalls on Lap 48 and speeding on Lap 93). With Allgaier’s experience in the sport, he knows how penalties can make big “what if” stories, as he faced similar issues last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway. He praised his teammate for keeping his head down and focused to secure a 1-2-3 finish for JR Motorsports.
“We actually just talked about the pit road penalties he had. That’s tough. We went through that last week at Bristol, and it’s so difficult. So for them to get back through the field was incredible. I felt like speed-wise, we were probably even at the end there.”
The top-three finish for their organization followed up a 1-2-3-4 finish with ThorSport Racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in Friday night’s Victoria’s Voice Foundation 200. It’s always been in the back of his mind for his team, but as the laps wound down, it started to become a reality. Sam Mayer was involved in the “Big One” earlier in the day, but Allgaier knows with a little luck on their side, it’s not impossible.
“I saw last night,” Allgaier declared with a grin. “I told someone earlier that I have no doubt in my mind as a company that we can finish 1-2-3-4. Obviously Sam (Mayer) got in that crash on the restart early on. He was excited about tonight. We worked a lot on trying to figure out how to be the best we can be. When I looked at the board and saw us 1-2-3, we weren’t far off so there’s a lot to be said on that.”
With Berry’s win, his team is locked into the next round of the owner’s Playoff championship. However, the victory prevented the No. 7 Brandt Chevrolet Camaro from advancing into the Round of 8 for the driver’s championship. With a 38 point cushion, it may not seem to be too much trouble with advancing, but with Talladega Superspeedway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL as the other two races in this round, there’s a lot of unknown variables. The strong run tonight gives Allgaier the confidence booster they need to feel they can compete with Allmendinger and Cindric while also understanding the reality of the unknowns for the next two races.
“Anything can happen,” Allgaier stated. “But one of the things that I love about tonight, we did what we needed to do. I’m disappointed we pitted under that competition caution because we lost those Stage 1 points. But to get the win in Stage 2 and to get the maximum points and the bonus point and to have the solid day like we did, those are the things that we are going to have to do in these Playoffs to be able to make it into the next round.
“Once you get to the next round, you’re going to have to go and try to win a race. We go to Kansas and Texas, both race tracks that I feel like what we’ve shown tonight, we can go there and have really good runs. As long as we can lock our way through to that next round, I think we’ve got a great shot at some really good tracks for us.”
Allgaier will look to lock in either with a win or on points next weekend at Talladega in the Sparks 300 on October 2.