(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

XFINITY Breakdown: Justin Allgaier Goes Back-to-Back on Road Courses

Justin Allgaier has always been an underrated road course driver, but in 2018, he’s forced into the conversation. And on Saturday (Aug. 25) at Road America, he drove the No. 7 car to its second consecutive victory when making right-hand turns.

Allgaier took the green flag from 11th and had an eventful race, just like his victory at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course two weeks ago. Over the first 10 laps, the No. 7 car gained two positions, earning two stage points. He continued up the leaderboard in stage two, finishing fifth.

Over the final 25 laps, Allgaier and Christopher Bell were beating and banging, which led to both cars going off the course. After getting grass on the grille, Jason Burdett called the No. 7 down pit road. There was a caution three laps later, putting Allgaier in prime position over the final laps, restarting second.

On a restart with seven laps to go, James Davison got around Allgaier for the lead. Meanwhile, later in the lap, the No. 18 car locked up its brakes, allowing Allgaier to drive by and cruise to the win.

“I thought we gave it away,” Allgaier said in Victory Lane. “When he made the mistake, I knew I just had to be smooth and fast. This team is awesome. … The fight is absolutely incredible.”

It’s Allgaier’s fourth victory of the season, and he also takes over the regular season championship lead from Bell.

Matt Tifft finished a career-high second, with Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer and Elliott Sadler rounding out the top five.

The Good

The XFINITY Series has hands-down had the best action of the top three national touring series in 2018, and the regular season championship battle proves just that.

Over the past two months, the intensity has picked up between Allgaier, Bell, Sadler, Custer and Hemric to see who’s going to get an additional 15 playoff points come the regular season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Earlier in the year, Allgaier was more than 100 markers out of the lead. But with the win on Saturday — Allgaier’s 11th consecutive top-10 finish — the No. 7 team took over the championship lead from Bell, as both have four wins this season. Bell earned 16 stage points, but after spinning late in the race, the No. 20 car finished 23rd, dropping five points behind Allgaier.

Despite announcing his retirement from full-time competition last week at Bristol Motor Speedway, Sadler is right in the midst of the 15 points — the same 15 points he received last season. The No. 1 team has been in front of the field for 15 races this season in the championship standings, with 19 top-10 finishes. Currently, he sits third, 12 points back.

Since the 12th race of the season at Pocono Raceway, Custer has been among the top four in points, peaking in June, covering six top fives over a seven-race span. Following Chicagoland Speedway, the No. 00 team was at the top of the pack. Now, eight races later, Custer is third but 13 points back of Allgaier.

Then there’s Hemric. The No. 21 car might have had the most raw speed of the 40-car field on Saturday but was spun by teammate Brendan Gaughan late in the final stage. Hemric drove up to third, following a win in stage two. The good performance came off one of his worst races of the season at Bristol, finishing 24th. With three races to go, he sits 33 points back, gaining nine on the lead at Road America.

Between the final three races of the regular season, the edge would go to either Allgaier or Sadler based on experience. The final three weeks of the regular season should be fun at three totally different tracks — Darlington Raceway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Las Vegas.

The Bad

Roush Fenway Racing had a bad weekend at Road America, starting off the track.

Veteran IndyCar Series driver Conor Daly made his XFINITY debut on Saturday, something that’s been scheduled since May. He was slated to have Lilly Diabetes as a sponsor before the sponsor decided to pull its logos off the No. 6 car due to a racial slur used by Derek Daly, Conor’s father, 33 years ago.

“Our sponsorship in Saturday’s race is intended to raise awareness of treatment options and resources for people living with diabetes,” the company said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the comments that surfaced this week by Derek Daly distract from this focus, so we have made the decision that Lilly Diabetes will no longer run the No. 6 at Road America this weekend.”

Ultimately, the logos being stripped off the car had nothing to do with Daly’s result in the race, which was a disappointing 31st. He had to retire from the race early due to a mechanical problem.

Daly’s teammates for Road America, Ty Majeski and Ryan Reed, had as an eventful a day as the first-time XFINITY driver did. Majeski brought the No. 60 Ford home 28th, on par with what that car has shown this year between three different drivers. Reed, on the other hand, was wrecked out on a lap 7 restart when the No. 16 was turned into the outside wall. Reed finished 39th, his first finish outside the top 10 in three road course races this season.

The Ugly

It’s never good when a driver loses brakes, and it’s beginning to become common on road course tracks.

With nine laps to go, Josh Bilicki had an apparent brake failure in one of the fastest parts of the tracks, turning into Canada Corner. The No. 45 Toyota entered the corner and the car never turned, sliding through the gravel and head-on into a set of tire barriers.

Even though NASCAR has upped the safety of the cars drastically over the past 10-15 years, whenever a driver hits any type of wall head-on, it’s a cause for concern. We’ve seen it in the past with Brad Keselowski and most recently with William Byron while testing at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL in mid-July.

Racing will always be dangerous. But maybe it’s worth running bigger brake pads at road courses, allowing the cars to slow down quicker. It’s unknown what particularly led to Bilicki’s incident, but it must be a helpless feeling pumping the brakes entering a corner and they hit the floor.

Bilicki may not have had the season he would hope for with first-year team JP Motorsports. but the Wisconsin native is an experienced road racer. At Road America last year, he finishes a career-high 12th for BJ McLeod Motorsports.

Underdog Performance of the Race

Heading into Road America, Andy Lally was confident in his No. 90 DGM Racing Chevrolet. On Saturday, he backed it up.

The 2011 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year began the race in 13th and used his crafty road course background to weave in and out of traffic. Lally finished eighth in stage one.

After making a pit stop, Lally was still hovering around the top 10 and finished ninth in stage two. Meanwhile, the typical driver of the No. 90 car, Josh Williams, was the crew chief and adjusted the machine, which allowed Lally to compete with some of the bigger teams in the final stage. At the end of the day, it was a 10th-place finish for the small DGM Racing team.

It’s Lally’s second-career top 10 at the famed road course, and he’s batting .500 when it comes to finishing in the top 10 in his XFINITY Series career.

Double Duty Interlopers

Road America was the last standalone event of the season, meaning no drivers running for Cup points participated in the race. Ross Chastain, who has competed in all but two Cup races this season and currently sits on the cut-line of making the XFINITY playoffs, finished seventh.

Meanwhile, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney were in attendance for the Johnsonville 180, spotting for Bill Elliott and Austin Cindric, respectively. Elliott said post-race he “hit everything but the lottery,” finishing 20th for GMS Racing. Cindric blew an engine while leading in stage two, finishing 37th.

Quotable

“I never thought we could have had a dream season like this one.” – Justin Allgaier

“I’m proud of the effort to come back from 18th with a few laps to go and finish third. It says a lot about our team.” – Daniel Hemric

“It just blew up. At least we blew up in the lead.” – Austin Cindric

Final Word

Road America was an action-packed race, with teams spinning left and right, one of those barn-burner road course races.

Allgaier had to outrun a pair of road course ringers to the victory, though Davison and Justin Marks took one another out with three laps to go, allowing the No. 7 to win by a landslide.

With two victories and a third-place finish at Watkins Glen International, Allgaier has proven he’s the best XFINITY driver on road courses. The series will have a month off of turning left and right before going to the ROVAL in late September.

Up Next

The XFINITY Series heads to Darlington Raceway next Saturday (Sept. 1), where many teams will be participating in the fourth annual throwback weekend. Denny Hamlin is the defending winner of the event, leading 33 of 148 laps. Elliott Sadler was the last series regular to win at the Lady in Black, dominating the race in 2016.

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Dustin joined the Frontstretch team at the beginning of the 2016 season. 2020 marks his sixth full-time season covering the sport that he grew up loving. His dream was to one day be a NASCAR journalist, thus why he attended Ithaca College (Class of 2018) to earn a journalism degree. Since the ripe age of four, he knew he wanted to be a storyteller.

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