When considering NASCAR’s up-and-coming drivers in the Nationwide Series, Justin Allgaier is one of several with the potential to graduate to the Sprint Cup level in the near future.
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Allgaier, 24, has had the luxury of developing his skills under the Penske Racing banner. Current teammate Brad Keselowski joined the fold at the end of last season and currently leads the point standings.
Under the direction of Penske’s development program, Allgaier has excelled. He finished sixth in the point standings during his first full season on the Nationwide tour. He won his first NNS race at Bristol in March and is currently fourth in points.
Despite making measurable gains over his rookie year, Allgaier’s plans to drive the No. 12 Verizon Dodge in 2011 aren‘t clear. With Verizon’s NASCAR commitment questionable for next year, Allgaier’s option has not been picked up.
“Everything at Penske Racing has been great,” Allgaier said. “They’ve gone out of their way and gone above and beyond to do everything I could have ever asked. For me, my first choice is to be here next year and to be racing.
“Obviously, right now, we’re somewhat unsure about what Verizon is going to do. But this sport is all about sponsorship and having sponsorship to go and race. We’re hopeful something will happen and we can go forward.”
Although Allgaier readily admits there is plenty of room to pick up, he’s reached many of the personal goals he set for the season. While he’s currently improved two positions in the point standings, Allgaier has doubled his number of top fives (six), led 44 more laps in 10 fewer races and increased his average finishing position from 16.5 to 12.6.
“So far, it’s been good,” Allgaier said. “I won’t say it’s been great because obviously we could be in victory lane more and we could have done a lot of things better. But we have almost doubled every stat we had last year — top fives and top tens. So that’s good. I feel like we have come a long way both in my abilities [and] the way that I race and the way I race everybody else. It’s been a learning experience.
“The most important lesson I’ve gained is to take a bad day and make it better — like last weekend at Montreal,” Allgaier said. “We were having a tough time and we turned it into a ninth-place finish rather than finishing 25th. In the past, if I didn’t feel I was exactly where I needed to be I would push it really, really hard and try to make up for it while making mistakes along the way.”
Allgaier feels that he’s at a critical juncture in his career. While he feels another season of Nationwide experience would be beneficial before making the transition to Cup, he’s keeping his options open.
Last spring, when Allgaier tested a Penske Racing Cup car at Charlotte, he immediately felt comfortable with the heavier cars and additional horsepower.
“I think you have to crawl before you can walk and walk before you can run,” Allgaier said. “The Nationwide Series has helped me learn that. The biggest difference is that the Nationwide car drives so much differently than the Cup car. I’m sure that will get somewhat closer next year with the new Nationwide car. But you still have an engine package that makes a huge difference. I’ve come from having lots of horsepower in everything I’ve ever driven. Even in ARCA we had Cup engines that were unrestricted. When I got to do the Charlotte test, I felt comfortable right away and I loved that. I felt good about the test.
“For me, obviously, I want to make it to the Cup level. My only concern is as much as I love running Nationwide — and I am having a good time — I don’t want to learn any bad habits of learning to drive these cars that will ruin my opportunity of running at the Cup level. At the same time, the experience of going to all these race tracks has been great. It’s been the right thing to do. I know Penske Racing is doing everything they can to find sponsorship so we can continue but, as everyone knows, nothing in this sport is ever guaranteed."