A brilliant summer stretch powered Justin Allgaier into firm control of the NASCAR Xfinity Series regular-season championship race. Once separated from the pack, the JR Motorsports pulled away to officially clinch the NASCAR Xfinity Series Regular Season Championship on Saturday in the regular-season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Allgaier finished a hard-fought second place in Saturday’s DC Solar 300, leading 16 laps before ultimately settling in behind first-time race winner Ross Chastain. Finishes of seventh and fifth in the two stages provided enough of a points cushion for Allgaier to lock up the regular-season crown before the checkered flag.
The prize gives Allgaier the top seed and bonus-point priority among the 12 drivers in the field for the seven-race postseason.
“Obviously we have a lot of momentum on our side, but what I’ve learned with this sport is that nothing’s given and we still have to do our job,” Allgaier said. “We have to execute, and these next few weeks are going to be difficult.”
Allgaier stood fifth in the standings from a six-race stretch that started in early July and ended in mid-August, but winning three of the five races heading into Las Vegas vaulted him into the points lead. He jumped from fifth to second after finishing third at Bristol in August, then vaulted to the lead for good the next weekend following his win at Road America.
That closing kick included an impressive run of 14 consecutive top-10 finishes. More recently, Allgaier has finished outside the top three just once in the last eight Xfinity Series events.
“It’s been an incredible run,” said Jason Burdett, crew chief for Allgaier’s No. 7 Chevrolet. “All these guys are working their butts off and building us great race cars, and Justin’s been doing an incredible job driving it. When we get to the end of these races, just like today we weren’t able to get the 42 (Chastain) for the win, but they knew we were here. It’s a lot of fun, we’re having a good time and we’re going to try to ride this wave all the way to Miami.”
Allgaier nearly celebrated with a pair of trophies — one for the regular-season title and one for the race victory — but his handling soured over the final run. Along the way, he battled hard with Chastain, making contact more than once in the late going. That prompting a heat-of-the-moment radio rebuke from Allgaier, who later acknowledged a mutual respect between the two.
“Ross and I have raced each other really hard over time and I was a little frustrated at him, but I’m still happy for him and I still respect him a lot as a race car driver,” Allgaier said. “I think he’s extremely talented. I was more frustrated in the moment because I thought we were going to wreck both of us. He was hitting me with his right-front and my left-rear, and I was afraid it was going to blow both of our tires out. That was the last thing we needed was to wreck two really fast race cars today, so that was my frustration.
“Sometimes it’s probably better to not say something on the radio, but on the flip side of it, you don’t want to get shoved around ever, whether you’re running for a win or you’re running for 40th. I think that was the biggest thing today.”
For winning the regular-season championship, Allgaier receives 15 playoff points added to his points total now that playoffs have begun and the points reset. He carries those 15 points over — plus the playoff points he receives from race wins and stage wins — throughout the playoffs, so long as he keeps advancing.
It presents a distinct advantage for the JR Motorsports driver, who has a series-high five wins.
“We’ve definitely done our job as far the bonus points have gone this year,” Allgaier said. “We still want more and there’s still six more races that we can go get bonus point at. The goal has always been, when we rolled into Daytona in February was to get to Homestead and every one of those points is going to make that job not easier, but it’s going to take a little pressure off me as hard as it is. We’ll just go out there, execute every week and we’ll be in good shape.”
The Round of 12 begins next weekend at Richmond Raceway, with an elimination race at Dover International Speedway on Oct. 6. The Round of 8 concludes at ISM Raceway in Phoenix on Nov. 10, a race that will set the Championship 4 for the season finale at Miami on Nov. 17.
Contributing: Zack Albert in Las Vegas