Following an ARCA Racing championship in 2008 and Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year honors in 2009, Penske Racing driver Justin Allgaier enters the 2010 campaign looking for another award-winning year after a sixth-place points effort last season. With a career-best finish in Daytona (fourth), a first career win doesn’t seem too far away – and even a championship bid may not be far-fetched with Penske Racing equipment.
Down in Daytona, Allgaier took time out to talk to Frontstretch writer Mike Lovecchio and discuss the exciting future of his Nationwide program, as well as NASCAR’s start-and-park epidemic.
Mike Lovecchio, Frontstretch: What are some of the things you learned in your rookie year that you can translate into year two?
Justin Allgaier: Number one is the racetracks. Going from 2009 to 2010, most of these racetracks I’ve been to one time, maybe twice. The other is the people you’re racing against. I think that’s one thing that’s important, is to know who I am racing against and how do I race that person. Those are two things that are going to be very important this year.
Adding a second car is also going to be huge, with Brad Keselowski‘s knowledge and Paul Wolfe as a crew chief. There’s always question marks going into the season, but I think that we’ve got a good shot at at least running well and contending for wins. Hopefully, that translates into a championship.
Lovecchio: In what ways does bringing in Brad Keselowski help your Nationwide program?
Allgaier: I’m really excited to have Brad as a teammate. He brings a lot of knowledge and experience, and he brings a great career with him. That’s the kind of stuff we need.
If you look in the past, two-car teams predominantly have run better than single-car teams. We’ve got to learn to really work together; and so far, we’ve complemented each other very well. Going into the season, we’ve got to keep on that same page and keep the energy between the two teams. We’ve got a third teammate, basically, in Parker Kligerman. Even though [he’s driving] for a different team, he’s still part of the Penske Racing family. With the three of us, I really think we can put our heads together, learn the racetracks quicker and learn the setups quicker – I think that’s definitely going to help us.
Lovecchio: What are your thoughts on the increasing start-and-park problem in the Nationwide Series?
Allgaier: I think if you look at the guys that are here for the long haul, the talent level and the equipment level is through the roof. They’ve done such a great job of coming up with talented racecars, drivers and teams that are going to run a full season. Are there going to be teams that are going to have to budget themselves and do the unfortunate start-and-park? Yeah, that’s going to happen, but I think that you see it not only on our side, but on the Cup side as well that the teams that do it, those teams have gotten smaller and there’s been more and more teams running full-time.
I think when the season gets started, you’ll see a lot of these teams that are coming to the first couple races… you’ll see them really start to race if they’re in the top 30 or top 35 in points.
Lovecchio: Do you see any light at the end of the tunnel?
Allgaier: Unfortunately, it’s a part of our sport and we’re never going to get rid of it, but you know what… that’s OK! I don’t look at it as a bad thing. They’re still supporting our series; they’re still running [every race]. They’re doing what they’ve got to do, and we certainly understand that.
Lovecchio: How fortunate do you feel as a young driver with a fully-funded team?
Allgaier: To have Verizon behind you and Penske Racing, it’s unbelievable to have that kind of support. But I’ve come from a family-owned team that didn’t really have any sponsors to speak of, and we were doing everything as low-budget as we could. So I’ve been on both sides of the coin, and my hope is that I can stick around this sport for a long time to come – and try to do everything I can for the sponsors.
I think the thing is that drivers haven’t supported their sponsors as well as they should’ve [in recent years], and I think that’s one thing we’ve got to do is make sure we keep these sponsors and support them. It’s hard enough to get them to come into our sport – we don’t need to be running them out. We’re doing everything we can to keep our sponsors at Penske Racing, and I definitely hope they feel they’re getting a benefit out of it.