Phoenix Racing rises with Turner Scott veteran doing double duty
JOLIET, Ill. -- Justin Allgaier’s life at the track and away from it has been a month’s worth of dream sequences, each of them bringing change, opportunity and fulfillment. Such is life when you’re a new dad with a shot at stock-car racing’s big leagues.
Allgaier will make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in Sunday’s Geico 400 (2 p.m. ET, ESPN), the first race under new management for the Phoenix Racing No. 51 Chevrolet. To make the maiden voyage even more memorable, Allgaier -- an Illinois native -- will break into NASCAR’s top series at Chicagoland Speedway, a home track of sorts for the 27-year-old driver.
“If you would’ve told me a year ago that I would make my Cup debut at Chicagoland with Brandt on the car, I’d have probably told you that you were crazy,” Allgaier said before Coors Light Pole Qualifying for Saturday’s Nationwide Series Dollar General 300 powered by Coca-Cola. “But everything’s worked out so perfectly, and I can’t thank everybody that’s involved in this deal enough. This really is a dream come true, and it’s been a fun go at it so far this weekend. It’s only going to get better.”
Allgaier’s rise up the stock-car ladder is a story of both opportunity and paid dues. When Turner Scott Motorsports principle Harry Scott Jr. purchased Phoenix from longtime independent team owner James Finch, Allgaier -- among Turner Scott’s longest-tenured drivers -- was tapped to drive in the No. 51 Chevrolet SS’s first race under new ownership.
The announcement, made in conjunction with the completion of the purchase, was the byproduct of Allgaier’s five consistent seasons in NASCAR Nationwide Series competition and his third with the Turner Scott team. Even though he’s just one weekend in to making his Sprint Cup vision a reality, Phoenix’s newest driver already sees a difference in the scrappy single-car team.
“The one thing that I’ve kind of noticed is that Harry Scott is an awful lot like James Finch, 20 years, 15 years ago,” Allgaier said. “Harry has that ambition, that drive, that want to go out and do good, and that’s how James started his race team, when he started Phoenix Racing. So, the perfect guy to carry the banner.
“And I really do feel like with the resources that we’ve grown over on the Nationwide side and the knowledge and the people that we have, I think that the steady progression of the Cup program can be a team that, maybe we’re not going to win races right away, but I think it’s a team that we can get up there and contend for top-fives and top-10s at some point. I think everybody knows it’s going to take time and effort, and everybody is committed to doing that.”
For Nick Harrison, who remains as Phoenix Racing’s crew chief through the transition, the change has brought peace of mind and a newfound focus.
“The uncertainty there for all the guys on the team is secure now, and we can worry about what we need to and that’s making the race car go fast for Justin,” Harrison said. “We’ve probably fought wondering what our future holds instead of worrying about race cars in the past few weeks, which is natural, guys worrying about their livelihoods, but now everything looks solid. Harry’s brought that, and I think he’s got a lot of good ideas and a lot of good stuff coming in the future, but that’s probably the biggest thing.”
In the meantime, Harrison and Allgaier have worked on building a rapport with the common goal of finding speed at Chicagoland. The early reviews from both sides have been positive, with Harrison commending his driver’s ability to offer constructive feedback and communicating his car’s needs.
It’s all helped Allgaier find a degree in comfort in closing what he calls a “huge, huge gap” in handling, performance and feel of the Sprint Cup car compared to his Nationwide ride.
“I definitely have a learning curve to go through there,” Allgaier said, mentioning his miscalculation in qualifying that relegated him to the 36th starting spot in Sunday’s main event. “Today, I got to practice quite a bit more and got way more comfortable, felt like I was in my own element. It’s not going to be easy, I know that, but at the same time I feel like we have a good shot at going and having a good opening weekend.”
Allgaier has two more Sprint Cup races with Phoenix on his 2013 schedule, at Charlotte and Talladega on consecutive weekends in October. But unfinished business still exists for his season-long goal, a Nationwide Series championship with Turner Scott.
While pulling double duty has presented some logistical challenges, Allgaier says the benefit of extra track time has been a boon to his efforts in both series.
“I feel way more comfortable in the car, and I feel like I can give the Nationwide guys a better go at it,” Allgaier said. “In that regard, it helps. The other part of it is just the confidence of being able to get that start and coming back over here and knowing that we still have a championship that we’re working toward. We’re learning a lot, we’re working a lot and I’m looking toward the last few races, for sure.”
Though Phoenix Racing’s ownership is now a certainty, Allgaier said both he and the team are still seeking sponsorship to make a full-time Sprint Cup campaign next season feasible.
“Just trying to figure out what the best options are and what the best directions are,” he said. “Trying to get through the rest of this year, see if we can run well on the Cup side and finish out the Nationwide season strong. Hopefully all the pieces of the puzzle come together and we can put something together for next year.”
Regardless of what his Sprint Cup debut holds or what his 2014 outlook may be, Allgaier has plenty to savor at home. His wife, Ashley, gave birth to daughter Harper Grace on Aug. 13, creating a whole different sort of transition and dreams.
“It’s been a challenge, but it’s a challenge that I absolutely love,” Allgaier said. “It’s been awesome. My daughter, Harper, is just the sweetest thing ever. It’s funny because I don’t remember life before we had a baby, but definitely it’s fun to see her grow and change.
“Every day, something new. It’s really been cool.”