Justin Allgaier is wary of potential pitfalls as NASCAR Xfinity Playoffs begin
If Justin Allgaier was starting to feel complacent about his regular-season championship in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, watching Sunday's Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was all it took to inject a dose of reality.
Kevin Harvick, an odds-on choice to qualify for the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, fell out on Lap 73, after a hard crash into the Turn 1 wall, taking pole winner Erik Jones with him.
All told, 11 of 16 Playoff drivers had issues of varying severity at Vegas, and that was more than enough to make Allgaier take notice, with the Xfinity Playoffs set to begin with Friday's Go Bowling 250 at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Allgaier left the Las Vegas cutoff race with a seven-point lead over second-place Christopher Bell. Elliott Sadler and Cole Custer, who are tied for third, are 28 points back. But the Las Vegas Cup event was an object lesson in just how fleeting a points lead can be.
"Obviously, for us, you have to feel good about where we're at," Allgaier said on Tuesday at NASCAR Xfinity Series media day at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "We've had a lot of momentum on our side, we've had great finishes, great race cars. But on the flip side, it's the playoffs. We know how this goes. If you watched the Cup race on Sunday, you saw guys that you'd say, 'Man, they're a lock to make it to the next round, and they have plenty of points to bank'-and they don't have that anymore.
"I think, from my standpoint, we don't have nearly the margins some of those guys had on the Cup side. So I'm excited about the Playoffs. We've done our job. We've executed well. But on the flip side of it, until we get a win, or until we get enough points that nobody can pass me, I'm not going to be super pumped about it until we get to that point."
Regardless of what happens in the Playoffs, Allgaier has had a banner year. In seven previous full seasons in the Xfinity Series, he won five times. This year alone, his third with JR Motorsports, he has more than doubled that total.
"That's special," Allgaier acknowledged. "That doesn't happen because I changed who I was. I didn't learn how to drive at the beginning of 2018 and say, 'Hey, let's go win a bunch of races.' That's not at all what happened. Our team has clicked-our No. 7 team especially, but JR Motorsports as a whole.
"The camaraderie, the excitement, the fire, the passion... I tell people all the time: you can pay people to do a job, whatever it is, whether we come in here and we vacuum these floors or go out and race on the race track. But you can't hire someone to have passion for what they're doing. And right now, we have a bunch of guys who have passion."
BRIEF STINT IN NASCAR'S FASTEST LANE HAS HELPED COLE CUSTER
NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff driver Cole Custer got his first taste of competition in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this year, driving a car fielded by owner Rick Ware at Las Vegas in March and at Pocono in June.
Custer finished 25th and 26th, respectively, in the two races, but he believes that experience will help him immensely as he seeks his first Xfinity title.
The most valuable lesson he learned?
"Driving cars that are harder to drive than the Xfinity cars," Custer said. "Once you drive something that's harder to drive, it makes you feel like Superman when you go back into the slower cars. I'd say that's the biggest thing.
"Also, the Cup cars are so touchy to drive. They're very, very hard. So I think you learn more when you drive those cars."
Custer also has gained confidence exponentially in his second season as an Xfinity driver, and his second year with Ford.
"Last year we were just thrashing to get to the race track with the new Xfinity team and then also switching over to Ford," Custer said. "It was definitely a little bit tough the first year but now that we're in a rhythm.
"We have all the tools that they provide, (and that has) helped us a lot-especially the simulator. Having the second year has helped us a ton."
XFINITY PLAYOFF SCHEDULE COULDN'T BE BETTER FOR CHRISTOPHER BELL
Christopher Bell couldn't ask for a better array of races as the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs approach.
Though he has no more than two career starts at any of the six tracks that will determine who races for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Bell has scored at least one top five at each of them-with the exception of the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course, at which no one has yet raced.
The driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has one victory in two starts at Richmond, which will host the Playoff-opening Go Bowling 250 (7:30 p.m. ET Friday on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). He also has a win in his only race at Kansas, the venue for the first race in the second round.
"I'm excited for the Playoffs," Bell said on Tuesday during NASCAR Xfinity Series media day at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "The schedule actually works out really well for me. We've got Richmond, Roval Dover... the Roval (Charlotte road course), nobody really knows what to expect. I feel like we're going to be really fast at Richmond. I've already won there earlier this year. So I feel good.
"And then the second round is Kansas, Texas, Phoenix, which are all race tracks that I've run extremely well at and Joe Gibbs Racing runs extremely well at. I'm really happy right now with where we're at."
Bell enters the Playoffs second in the standings, seven points behind regular-season champion Justin Allgaier.
--- NASCAR Wire Service ---