Justin Allgaier went into the last year’s ARCA Re/Max Series finale at Toledo third in series points, well behind points leader Scott Speed and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. In a strange series of events, Stenhouse got into the back of the series leader and forced him into the wall, only to have Speed get back on the track and return the favor. Allgaier steered clear of the wreckage and went on to win the event, his third win in a row, to claim the ARCA Re/Max championship by a mere 50 points over Frank Kimmel.
2009 sees Allgaier jump from ARCA to the NASCAR Nationwide Series where he will compete with the likes of Brendan Gaughan, Erik Darnell and Michael Annett for the Rookie of the Year title with Penske Racing.
Frontstretch caught up with the young driver at NASCAR Media Day to discuss his ARCA Re/Max championship and his expectations for the upcoming season.
Mike Lovecchio, Frontstretch: Last season you went into the ARCA Re/Max finale third in points, but after a series of altercations between Speed and Stenhouse you wound up with the win and the championship… was that the biggest race of your career?
Justin Allgaier: I’m not going to say it was the biggest race of my career. I think the biggest thing for me is that we went into that race knowing that there was a mathematical shot at winning the championship and any time they have to reiterate that and tell you ‘hey you have a mathematical probability to win the championship’ you know in the back of your mind that you’re out of it.
For a family-owned team to go into the last race knowing that we at least had a shot and when the events happened the way they happened it’s great. You never want to win that way obviously, but at the same time somebody’s got to be there when things happen. It was nice because that put a cap on us winning the last three races of the season and winning on three different types of racetracks. We won more races than we could have ever imagined. The way things happened, God was definitely looking over us for sure.
Lovecchio: Had the talks with Roger Penske started before you won the championship?
Allgaier: It actually had. It was pretty amazing. Right after I talked to Roger the next race was New Jersey (Motorsports Park – win) and I’d never even seen a road course, let alone raced on one, so that was pretty cool. When everything started happening and we got our deal I actually ran that Charlotte Nationwide race on Friday night, another on Saturday night and then the ARCA race in Toledo on Sunday.
Lovecchio: With the economy the way it is and drivers and crew members losing jobs, how fortunate are you to compete as a rookie in the Nationwide Series for Penske Racing?
Allgaier: It’s unfortunate the way the economy is in the situation it’s in, but NASCAR’s got the greatest fans in the world. They’ll come out in full force for sure and really support us and hopefully we can put on a good show for them. I’m really blessed to have Verizon Wireless on board and come in and take care of our program this year and give us a full season. As a young driver the technology from Verizon is huge with what I do. It’s a perfect fit.
Lovecchio: What would it mean to win Rookie of the Year with such a good rookie class?
Allgaier: This year is probably one of the strongest rookie classes we’ve seen in a long time. I’m excited. It’s a great opportunity for me – Penske Racing is giving us some great racecars. I’ve got all the opportunity to do it now I just have to make the best of it, but we’re definitely going to need luck on our side and that’s what’s key.
Lovecchio: Do you have any plans to run a few ARCA Re/MAX events again this year?
Allgaier: As of right now we’re pretty unsure of what our plans are other than a full Nationwide program. This has all come on pretty quickly. At the time when we started the talks it was going to be a limited schedule so there were some plans to maybe run some ARCA races when we were off with the Nationwide car. Now with the full season we’re not really sure. You never know though, you might see me around in an ARCA car sometime!