Allgaier rounding into form
Justin Allgaier just wanted to keep plugging and awaiting the results to match what he and his Turner Scott Motorsports team thought they deserved. Crew chief Scott Zipadelli just wanted to "not screw up," "not make bad choices, him or me and let's get the best finish we can get."
Their somewhat divergent philosophies have converged at second place in the Nationwide Series standings. After what both agree has been 14 races of as-yet-unmet expectations but underlying promise, this Friday's race at Kentucky Speedway (coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN and WatchESPN) feels very much like a fresh start as they attempt to reduce the 28 points between themselves and series leader Regan Smith.
"Momentum coming into the long stretch of the summer is a good thing and having good results throughout the deal is a good thing," said Allgaier, who overtook Sam Hornish Jr. for second place after a runner-up finish at Road America. "I guess when the old shark sees blood in the water, it tends to elevate the team and gets everybody pumped up, putting us up where we feel like we're in striking distance.
"I think we were 60 [points, actually 58] out going to Road America and now we're only 28 out. That definitely makes everybody feel better and puts everybody in the mode to really want to go out and capitalize on the good weekend we had last weekend."
Allgaier has been competitive all season with three top-5s and nine top-10s; his worst finish -- 31st at Richmond -- was when he was turned by Austin Dillon while running inside the top 10 late in the race. But he felt his No. 31 Chevrolet has been "a fifth-to-12th-place" car.
Improvements on the race team, he said, and a renewed emphasis on technological advances have him hopeful he will soon be driving the "second-to-seventh-place car we need to make that our happy place," the one he needs in order to win a first title in NASCAR's top developmental series after finishing sixth twice, fourth and third in his first four full seasons.
"I'm not saying we were ever horrible by any means. I don't know that we've fallen past four or fifth in points all year, which is good, but at the same time we've not really felt like we were a threat to be up there and be with the two guys who were leading," he said of Smith and Hornish. "We feel like we've made some pretty massive changes and we started making our program better every week. I feel like we've started off the year kind of just on momentum, not really necessarily on performance, the fact we kind of got lucky and had some good momentum on our side and we were able to start off.
"Once we got into the season, that momentum wore off a little bit and we really kind of showed some of our weaknesses as far as the team. We kind of went to the drawing board and started working again and we feel like we're getting back to where we need to be."
Zipadelli, the brother of Stewart-Haas Racing competition director Greg, said the team's problems were easier to address both mentally and performance-wise as they were not born of some systemic problem.
"We've had little gremlins sort of screw our day up," he said. "If a bad day is finishing 10th or 12th with issues, that's not so bad. It could be a DNF for a blown engine. We have run well and fought back every race and got the best finish we could every week, so that's where we are right now."
Zipadelli said he has tried not to concern himself with points standings this early in the season. Splitting focus between the immediate race on the schedule and a five-week build-out of race cars, he said, is difficult enough.
But Zipadelli added that nudging ahead of a competitor does have a mental benefit for a driver, even one with the experience of Allgaier, who won the 2008 ARCA title.
"You want to be in the situation we're in, going forward, not going backward," Zipadelli said. "Sam started off the first four races, no issue at all. They are going to have their issues and hopefully our issues are out of the way and we're going to go forward.
"It's going to be an up-and-down battle the whole year. My focus the whole year has been if we can run in the top five every week, we're going to win a couple and that has been our focus."
The focus remains upward. And the distance is shrinking.