Justin Allgaier has to be getting frustrated.
Last weekend’s Nationwide Series event at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve saw the 26-year-old driver gain his first win of the 2012 season. That makes three straight seasons that he’s won in the series.
Following the victory, Allgaier sits fifth in overall points, 68 markers behind championship leader Elliott Sadler. His position follows finishes of third, fourth and sixth in the three previous years’ final standings. Many drivers would kill to have that kind of results, so, where does the frustration come into play?
Allgaier is just one of many young drivers whose star seemed incredibly bright when he first entered NASCAR’s second-tier series. After becoming the first new champion in ARCA in almost a decade, Allgaier jumped to Nationwide with Penske Racing, and many figured that he would one day take over one of the organization’s famed rides in the Cup Series.
Then came 2011. After sponsor Verizon announced they would be leaving the team (the company was limited in NASCAR due to Sprint’s title sponsorship of the top series, and they felt there was more opportunity in IndyCar), a lack of sponsorship forced Allgaier out of a ride with Penske. He found a landing spot with Turner Motorsports, where he’s remained since, driving a No. 31 car sponsored chiefly by Brandt.
First things first: Justin Allgaier needed that win in Montreal for columns like this one to even happen. Without it, I doubt anyone would be talking much about him at all. In racing, relevance is everything.
Second, though he’s 68 points behind Sadler, not to mention still needing to pass Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Sam Hornish, Jr. en route to the championship, Allgaier’s still in this. Granted, a championship run would be of 2011 Tony Stewart proportions, but given the strength the Turner organization has shown in recent weeks on both the Nationwide and Truck sides, it’s not totally far-fetched.
Now, finally–and this is where the frustration, if there’s any, would stem from–Justin Allgaier should have a Cup ride. Maybe not in 2013, but sometime down the road. Of course, it’s easy to say such a thing. “Yeah, sure, he’ll be there eventually.” _Eventually._ But what is ‘eventually,’ really? And does it even mean as part of a top-notch team? Or is it via the route former flavor-of-the-week Stephen Leicht has taken, as part of a low-funded team that parks after a few laps more often than it runs the entire race?
I will say that I have no doubt Allgaier will be in Cup eventually, though I do fear he may share the same fate as Leicht. But the 26-year-old also deserves to have a shot at a full-time ride in the series with a team that can provide him with decent equipment. Do you recall many hypothesizing that he would take over for Hornish in the No. 77 in 2011 before that ride went away? While one might have seen the move at the time as a too-quick rush to the top division, at least he would have had a shot, rather than being stuck in Nationwide all these years.
Who could blame Allgaier; even the most patient person would be frustrated knowing that even after all these years, he still hasn’t been able to secure a one-off race in Cup. And honestly, I’m quite baffled it hasn’t happened yet. Whatever your opinion of the results he’s set forth, it would have been nice to see him run one at, say, Bristol.
Perhaps it’s the nature of the beast. Sponsors are less willing to support and take a chance on a younger driver in favor of already-proven competitors. It’s what knocked Allgaier out at Penske to begin with, and it’s likely a factor in his staying in the series sans any sort of competition in Cup, at least on a part-time basis.
Sometimes, drivers prefer the lower series, or don’t want to move up until they truly feel ready. And if that’s is the case with Allgaier, then while I would like to see him get a chance, I respect his decision. But I don’t know too many drivers who wouldn’t seethe for a chance at the big leagues.
Here’s the scenario I would love to see: Justin Allgaier in a one-off Cup race by the end of 2012. It’s more likely than ever, too. Think about it: Turner Motorsports ran its debut in the series last month in Daytona with Bill Elliott in the No. 50. The car and technology is theoretically there, unlike, say, 2011.
It’s always tough to say how much a sponsor is actually paying to have its decals plastered all over a car, but Brandt does seem to be fairly committed. Committed enough that, perhaps, a one-race deal in a higher series would be within reason? Let’s talk Phoenix or Homestead. Both sit at season’s end, where many teams may be looking for a jump start on 2013 or at least have the extra resources to say, “The hell with it,” and field an extra car.
Justin Allgaier in the No. 50 Brandt Chevrolet? I don’t know, it seems like a sound idea. But let’s look beyond that. As I’ve said, Allgaier should have a shot at a full-time seat in Cup eventually. How might that occur?
As much as I’d like to see it in 2013, I doubt we’ll see anything happen unless he chooses to leave Turner. While it would be nice to have another rookie in the series (to make the rookie race actually _mean_ something for once, what with Danica already there next year), I’m not so sure Turner should go to Cup just yet, although I’d like to see the team there eventually. The organization seems to be firing on all cylinders now, and I’d rather not see the team stretched too thin.
OK, what about 2014? See, there’s when I would really like to see it happen. By then, Turner may have championships in the lower series. A full-time Cup team might be more likely, if the team decides to go part-time in 2013. If Allgaier still has Brandt onboard, or possibly another sponsor, he could be a good fit. You can’t count out James Buescher, either, but given that he still hasn’t run a full Nationwide schedule, I think he’s still a little ways away.
Basically, the time is now. Already 26, Allgaier’s getting to the point where, if he doesn’t get the chance soon, he may never get one. I’m not calling his Nationwide results spectacular, but they’re solid enough for at least a look.
And if Allgaier doesn’t get that look at some point in his career, despite showing ha could challenge for victories, well I know I’d be frustrated in his shoes. Just saying.
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