Not since Martin Truex Jr. held off a surging Clint Bowyer to score his second consecutive Nationwide (then Busch Series) title has a regular in the Series actually won the season-ending crown. Continuing a practice that Kevin Harvick made fashionable when he decided to run for a second Nationwide crown, and slaughtered the field doing it, Carl Edwards, Bowyer and Kyle Busch have all followed suit, becoming the second, third and fourth driver to win another NASCAR championship while racing Cup full-time.
Note that while they’ve done that, none of them have managed to put a Sprint Cup on their resume.
For years, Nationwide Series drivers have tried, in vain, to take back their series’ title. And after Justin Allgaier took the checkered flag at Bristol a little over a week ago, the second-year Penske development driver suddenly emerged as the latest threat to do so. The difference is, Allgaier may have the best shot that any driver has had in a long-time to be the dragon slayer that brings one back for the home team.
For one, Allgaier has done a bit of dragon slaying himself. Back in 2008, before making the jump to NASCAR full-time, he and his family owned team won the 2008 ARCA Racing Series championship in the most dramatic way possible, scoring three consecutive checkered flags to close out the year while overcoming two contenders with vastly greater resources in Scott Speed with Eddie Sharp Racing and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. with Roush Fenway Racing. More notable though was that Allgaier snapped a streak of eight consecutive championships won by Frank Kimmel, becoming the first ARCA champion of the decade not named Kimmel.
And just like how Allgaier was able to capitalize at the Toledo Speedway back in 2008 to score a short-track win that won him an ARCA title after fellow title contenders Speed and Stenhouse wrecked each other out of the event, the two contenders that Allgaier will likely be battling for the 2010 Nationwide Series crown have a smidge of history themselves. Brad Keselowski and Edwards have made no shortage of highlight reels with their aerial acrobatics, and further have seemed to have a hard time doing a balancing act between their respective jobs as Cup and Nationwide drivers.
Despite making a move from Hendrick Motorsports because of the lack of a Cup ride, Keselowski all but refused to take up Penske on his offer… until Penske agreed to field a full-time Nationwide car for him. Meanwhile, Edwards has opted to continue running an additional 35-race schedule despite going winless in his Cup car and being off to another ho-hum start in 2010.
Allgaier’s got one trophy to focus on. Sometimes less is more.
What has also lessened in the Nationwide Series is the equipment disparity at the front of the field. Joe Gibbs Racing remains extremely strong, but they’re no longer proving insurmountable. Kevin Harvick Incorporated has proven capable of running with them on the intermediates. Kelly Bires has been competitive with JR Motorsports. And Penske Racing has made leaps and bounds forward, finishing 1-2 both with Allgaier and Keselowski’s new team at Bristol.
That 1-2 finish was more than just Allgaier’s first career victory in the Nationwide Series ranks… it also marked the fourth consecutive race that Allgaier posted a career-best at a track. Just look at the results from the first four races of 2010:
Daytona: 2009 average finish: 24.0
2010 finish: 4th
Fontana: 2009 average finish: 15.5
2010 finish: 9th
Las Vegas: 2009 average finish: 8.0
2010 finish: 7th
Bristol: 2009 average finish: 16.0
2010 finish: 1st
Demonstrating consistent improvement on a diverse slate of race tracks bodes extremely well for Allgiaer… and takes the experience advantage out of the equation to a degree for drivers like Edwards that have years more time in the seat to their credit. The numbers don’t lie.
And speaking of numbers, there’s one stat above all others that stands out for Allgaier’s shot at a title. By winning the spring race at Bristol, Allgaier became the first Nationwide Series regular to win that race since 2004.
That driver’s name? Martin Truex Jr., who scored his first career Busch Series win at Bristol in the spring of 2004 en route to back-to-back Nationwide Series championships.
Not bad company to be in.