If any driver in any of the major series should not have his future in question because of a lack of sponsorship, it’s Justin Allgaier.
This isn’t a rant on many of the problems that have afflicted potential future stars like Allgaier, Kelly Bires, Danny O’Quinn and others. Many columns have been written on the Cup bullies moving down a series to pick on someone who isn’t their own size, and the opportunities for up and coming talent that are lost as a result. Others have been written about exclusivity agreements, which make a nice buck for NASCAR but have now helped to put Allgaier’s future in question. Or that a big problem teams have in securing sponsorship is the shrinking NASCAR audience.
Yes, all of those things have created this situation. All of it is valid. But if a potential sponsor is in search of a driver, they could do a lot worse than Allgaier.
Driving the No. 12 for Penske Racing in the Nationwide Series, Allgaier finished sixth in the standings last year, with three top 5s and 12 top 10s. Of the Nationwide regulars, only longtime series veterans Mike Bliss and Jason Leffler finished ahead of rookie Allgaier, who prior to 2009 had only four starts in the Nationwide Series.
This year, Allgaier is the only Nationwide regular with a race win, at Bristol no less, a track that tends to eat up green drivers. He has six top 5s and 16 top 10s, and is fourth in the standings, more than 500 points ahead of his closest non-Cup competitor, Steve Wallace. His top 10s this season include finishes at Daytona, Nashville, Loudon, IRP, Iowa, and Montreal, so you know he isn’t a one-trick pony.
All this while battling some of the best of the best Cup drivers in the best of the best equipment. When Allgaier won the Bristol race, he outraced Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle on one of the toughest tracks on the circuit. What more can a driver do to prove his worth?
This isn’t just flukes or driving the best equipment money can buy. Allgaier has been racing since he was five, winning quarter midget championships. He’s an ARCA champion and he would likely be a Nationwide Series champion this year were it not for Cup drivers moving down a level to race against easier opponents.
Allgaier isn’t just an unquestionably proven talent as a driver; he’s everything else a sponsor could ask for. He doesn’t throw tantrums when things don’t go his way, like some well-funded Cup stars many of us could name. He doesn’t embarrass his sponsor with off track personal issues. He is well spoken and appreciative of fans. He even has a cool nickname, “Little Gator,” and the story behind the nickname is a great one.
With all of these positives, Verizon is bailing, partly because they’re more interested in Penske’s IndyCar efforts, and also partly because they are limited even in the Nationwide Series by the exclusivity agreement NASCAR signed with Sprint. (Show of hands: in the wake of this along with the AT&T on the No. 31 car debacle, among other things, who thinks the deal with Sprint has been good for the sport?)
What’s baffling when considering Allgaier’s situation is the list of drivers who do not have sponsorship problems in this climate. Does Mobil 1 think Sam Hornish Jr. has been worth the investment? Does anyone ever see the UPS car these days? Is GoDaddy paying for whole Nationwide races or just for the quarter of them that their car is competing in?
It’s very difficult for teams out there. Not only has the hope and change economy been devastating to costly endeavors like auto racing, the plummeting interest in NASCAR translates to fewer folks seeing a company’s logo on television or at the track. There has to be some return on investment, especially for funding at this level.
But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth the trouble. Obviously some entities still think it’s worth it. Most of the Cup teams still have sponsorship for next season. There’s no reason why a company that doesn’t currently have its logo on a racecar can’t be persuaded in the same way.
Justin Allgaier is the type of hotshot that ought to be NASCAR’s future. After two impressive seasons in Cup Lite, there’s no reason to believe that Allgaier can’t compete against the best Cup drivers. RPM may have an opening, and without naming names, there are more than a few current Cup drivers who have probably exhausted their top-level opportunity without bearing fruit. But as far as I know at this point, no sponsor has made public their interest in putting their name on Allgaier’s car.
We all too frequently read about promising talent after promising talent cut short just shy of a Cup opportunity, because a sponsor decided they wanted a known quantity or someone younger and better looking, no matter how often they run in the back of the pack. Like so many other things in the sport these days, ill-considered decisions driven by desire for a quick buck have resulted in draining fan enthusiasm. Wouldn’t it be great to see a deserving driver be offered a quality ride with solid funding for a change?
Allgaier seems like a good kid and is a star driver who has been steadily improving. I’ve watched him race. He gets the car on television a lot. He just needs a sponsor to believe in his and his team’s ability.
Why not take a chance on a Nationwide driver who shows some potential and has a win to his credit? It worked out pretty well for Lowe’s.
- Why are we even having the debate over whether a non-Chase driver should be allowed to retaliate when a Chaser takes him out? Isn’t this one of the many fundamental problems with the Chase? Oh, whatever…
- Ratings have been down for three weeks in a row in this year’s Chase. Man, just how ticked off are fans at NASCAR? In five years NASCAR’s attendance and ratings have dropped far more than baseball’s did after the 1994 strike canceled the World Series, and we all remember how angry fans were about that.
- So as our newsletter reported, ESPN’s Head Motorsports Producer was allegedly caught “pleasuring himself” in front of a neighbor’s window. Must have been during a commercial break.
- RCR lost its final appeal to get Clint Bowyer’s penalty overturned, although the sentence was lightened somewhat. Why, I don’t know. Wouldn’t that suggest that there was some merit to Childress’s argument? At any rate, it could be worse. I think Carl Long is still washing dishes at Daytona to help pay his fine.
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