NASCAR: Closing the deal is key for Justin Allgaier

To be one of the top contenders in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this season, Justin Allgaier must turn strong runs into strong finishes.

Justin Allgaier has been one of the frontrunners in the NASCAR Xfinity Series through 13 races this season, but the results simply don’t show it.

The driver of the #7 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports currently sits in sixth place in the championship standings, 122 points behind leader Chase Briscoe.

He has yet to visit victory lane this season and has only two top five finishes, which is one less than both Kyle Busch and A.J. Allmendinger in their limited number of starts. Noah Gragson leads this category with eight top five finishes. Allgaier has just six top 10 finishes while Ross Chastain leads the series with 11. His average finish is 14.6, eighth best among full-time drivers.

These stats don’t make Allgaier look like a threat, especially compared to the dominant Briscoe and even teammate Gragson.

But a closer look shows that Allgaier has been a hidden contender throughout the season.

The 34-year-old Spaulding, Illinois native sits second in the lap led category with 319, behind only Gragson’s 344, while Allgaier and Gragson are tied for the most stage wins with five each.

Allgaier’s finishing position has been worse than his average running position in nine of 13 races so far this season and he has collected points in 20 of the 26 stages.

His ability to run up front shows his potential to be one of the top contenders this season. So what has gone wrong?

Allgaier was involved in crashes in both superspeedway races and finished in 30th place at Daytona International Speedway and 28th at Talladega Superspeedway.

Big wrecks are common on the big tracks and that has more to do with bad luck than the ability to execute a full race.

Allgaier had a bit of a slow start overall, with just one top 10 finish in the first four races before NASCAR went on an unexpected 10-week hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But he was able to turn things around when racing resumed by finishing in third place at Darlington Raceway and fifth at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

He was battling for the lead with teammate Gragson late in the race at Bristol Motor Speedway when contact with Gragson sent him into the wall, relegating him to an 18th place finish after leading a race-high 156 of 303 laps while Gragson went on to win. This was the first example of a race in which he ran well but didn’t secure the result to show for it.

Allgaier rebounded with a sixth place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway before a rough doubleheader weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The first race saw handling issues for his #7 Chevrolet, and he ultimately hit the wall with a flat tire in the final stage before having to spend time in the garage with brake issues. He finished in 32nd place, 21 laps off the lead lap.

The team elected to use a backup car for Sunday, causing Allgaier to start from the rear. He raced his way into the top 10 for the first two stages before hitting the wall and pitting with a flat tire with 21 laps to go.

Another flat tire led to another unscheduled pit stop late in the race, and he was caught speeding, prompting a drive-through penalty. During this drive-through penalty, he was caught speeding again. He went on to finish three laps off the lead lap in 22nd place.

The most recent two races saw a step in the right direction for Allgaier. He won the second stage and finished in sixth place at Pocono Raceway before finishing in second in the first two stages at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Allgaier had the potential to battle for the win at Indianapolis, but a team error held him back. He was running inside the top five late in the race when he came into the pits under caution. But he was penalized for his team removing equipment from the pit box, which sent him to the tail end of the field for the ensuing restart. He was still able to battle back to finish in seventh place, but he could have been a part of that multi-car battle for the win.

The source of Allgaier’s struggles appears to be partially bad luck, with wrecks and some flat tires, but also the result of errors, such as penalties, setups and scraping the wall.

The key to success for him will be to close out races. The contrast between his in-race stats and his end results is noticeable, so it’s hard not to wonder where he could be right now had he finished just two or three of his bad races with a better result.

Allgaier has qualified for the Championship 4 in three of his four seasons since returning to the Xfinity Series in 2016. He earned eight wins, 56 top five finishes and 92 top 10 finishes in 132 starts during those four seasons.

His best finish in the championship standings in nine full seasons is third place, which he recorded in 2011, 2016 and 2017. When it comes to title contention, closing the deal continues to be a trend.

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Allgaier is running for one of the top teams in Xfinity Series and has an impressive resume of his own. If his strong runs can be converted into strong finishes, he and his team can become one of the top title contenders as the 2020 season moves along.