Kevin Rutherford · Friday March 8, 2013
You can’t make 2013 without a three and a one.
Of course, a three and a one make a 31, the number of Justin Allgaier’s car in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
I know this is cheesy, but bear with me.
Though an established competitor in the series since 2009, the man formerly (maybe still?) known as Little Gator has rarely been in the conversation for weekly victories, let alone a championship.
That all may change this season.
Two races in, Allgaier is tied for the points lead with Sam Hornish Jr., having scored a seventh-place finish in the season-opening DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona and following it up with a third at Phoenix last weekend. Of course, he was rarely in contention for the victory — but who really was aside from Kyle Busch at Phoenix, and Daytona is a bit of a crapshoot anyway.
This year, I think, could be Little Gator’s year.
Entering his third season with Turner Scott Motorsports, Allgaier has actually become the senior presence at an organization that includes series rookies Kyle Larson and Nelson Piquet Jr. running full-time. That’s not to say he’ll beat Larson and Piquet each week, but one has to wonder if the majority of the team’s eggs will be put in the No. 31’s basket this season — that is, until Larson inevitably starts winning soundly and becomes a constant threat the whole season.
Turner Scott has always been a strong organization, able to contend for wins most weeks. It’s tough to say just yet what the added investment of Harry Scott will entail in terms of performance, but it may pay great dividends for Allgaier’s team especially. Plus, like Allgaier himself, the team has had a few seasons in the series to grow and to simply get better. Seeing them as championship contenders at this point just seems like a no-brainer.
It’s Allgaier’s fifth full season, too. With the exception of the new tracks the circuit visits in 2013, he’s been to all speedways, some more than others. Barring major issues with the cars themselves, weekly top-10 finishes seem within grasp. That also gives him an edge over Larson at his own team; the rookie hasn’t seen quite a few of the tracks and simply doesn’t have the veteran status Allgaier has at this point. That’s right — it’s weird to say, but Justin Allgaier is basically a Nationwide veteran at this point.
But mainly, I see consistency.
Throughout his career, Allgaier has been a fairly surefire bet for the top 10. That’s a great skill to have, because even if he might lose to Kyle Busch or whatever other Cup driver decides to mingle with the lower series that week, he’s still likely to finish near the front.
All he has to do is push himself even harder.
Though the consistency’s been great, we need to see just a little bit more. While his average finish generally hovers around 11, Elliott Sadler produced an average finish of 7.6 in 2012. That’s about where Allgaier needs to be — a four-position increase.
Can he do it? Absolutely. But a few things need to happen, too.
First: as mentioned, that consistency. He needs to be closer to the top five more often while maintaining his lack of poor finishes from crashes, equipment failure and the like.
Second: BEAT JOE GIBBS RACING. That’s a tall order, so let’s just take Kyle Busch out of the equation and focus on Brian Vickers and Elliott Sadler. So far, he’s doing good on that; Sadler has a best finish of fifth, and Vickers hasn’t even cracked the top 15, though that’s due in part to bad luck. Still, he has to keep beating them, and that will be no small feat.
Third: quite simply, win some more races. Capitalize on the events sans Cup guys. Show you belong at the top of the points standings.
I’m convinced he can do it. He’s off to a great start, and given his new position as his team’s main guy, as well as the experience gleaned from a handful of years in the series, this could be Justin Allgaier’s year.
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