12 Out Of 12: An Interview With Justin Allgaier

LEBANON, TN - JUNE 05: Justin Allgaier stands beside the #12 Verizon Wireless Dodge after qualifying for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Federated Auto Parts 300 at Nashville Superspeedway on June 5, 2010 in Lebanon, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Typically, you'll find interviews here with Sprint Cup Series drivers who are outside the top 12 in points. But when several fans asked that we interview Justin Allgaier, we figured, why not? Allgaier, who drives for Penske Racing, is third in the point standings and seems to be the next big up-and-coming driver. So here's a special edition of our 12 questions, tweaked for the Nationwide Series.

What's the best race you've ever driven?

JA: The best race I've ever driven was probably Bristol earlier this year. We qualified bad, and typically if qualifying doesn't go well or something happens in the race, I maybe get a little bit too aggressive. But at Bristol, I just kept calm and was able to drive all the way up through the field. Ultimately, it resulted in a win and that's probably the best one I've done so far.

Who do you think is the most talented driver in NASCAR?

JA: In terms of just raw talent, you've got to look at Kyle Busch. Just the things he can do with a race car are pretty unbelievable. But in terms of the total package: Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart. There's so many guys that are really good when it comes to the whole package. I mean, Kyle's got the raw talent that's unbelievable – and then you look back years, there's guys that have come and gone that have had the same thing.

What would you consider to be your big break in the sport?

JA:  I think the whole ARCA Series season in 2008 was my big break (when he won the championship). I met Michael Nelson from Penske Racing, and from there I met Tim Cindric (Penske Racing president) and got to meet Roger. The whole thing kind of just came together, and that was the biggest break I've gotten.

What year will you win your first Cup race?

JA: I like the number 12, so let's say 2012. That gives me a year to get things under control.

What's something you want people to know about you that they might not know?

JA: The biggest thing for me is that I'm the same person at the racetrack as I am at home. I try not to put on any fake fronts or be somebody that I'm not. I'm the same person, and whether you like that or you don't, it doesn't change. I try to make sure I give everybody the same amount of time and attention and try to be the same person every day.

Do you have any superstitions or routines?

JA: As far as superstitions, I guess I just try to put stuff in God's hands and not worry about it. But something I do that is kind of odd and I don't know why I do it this way, is I put lefts on first. I put my left shoe on, then my right shoe; my left glove on, then my right glove. I don't know how it got started, but it's just something that kind of stuck and I still do it. It's weird because once you get in that rhythm of doing it, I don't even think about it. Something the other day I did right first, and I wrecked on lap 1 at Road America.

What's your outlook about signing autographs?

JA: Honestly for me, if there's something going on – if we're in a meeting or we're having a conversation with the crew – that's a rough time. But all the way up until the time I get in the car and strap the helmet on, I'm kind of free game. I'm not the type that's like '6 to 7 in the afternoon is when I like to sign autographs.' For me, I feel like the fans are the reason why we're able to do what we do and without them, this whole sport ceases to exist. Anything we can do to keep them coming back and build new fans is good for the sport and is something that I love to do.

What's the first big purchase you made when you signed your contract?

JA: I signed my contract on a Tuesday or something and I bought a Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 on Wednesday. Like the next day. I wanted a new vehicle anyway, and I was trying to figure out what I could afford and what I could buy. I still couldn't afford what I bought, but I fell in love with it and my wife (Ashley) gave me the clearance to do it. I love it and still have it and enjoy it. It's probably the best purchase I've made.

What is the first thing you do when you get home from a long race weekend?

JA: Toss the bags on the floor and typically turn the TV on to go back and watch at least a fast-forwarded version of the race to check and see how things went, then go to bed. A couple of these ones here the last couple weeks, we've gotten home at 10:30 or 11 o'clock and had to find a restaurant to go eat at, so that's always interesting trying to find food late at night.

(Watching the race that night) kind of burns it into your memory. If you watch it later, you typically don't always remember the things you watched. If I screwed up or wrecked somebody or wrecked myself – or did something really good – I want to know it. You kinda categorize all the things in your head and remember all the things that happened on the racetrack. So if you can (attach) that to things that happen on the racetrack, it works out really well.

When you think about making it to the Cup level, what do you imagine?

JA: The biggest thing for me is just feeling like you've made it. Being out there and being able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with guys I've idolized, growing up and watching. There's thousands, maybe even millions of race car drivers in this country and all over the world, and they're trying to make it to a higher level. I'm very fortunate to be within the top 100 of this sport, but when you get in the Cup side, you're in the top 43 of those millions. It's a great feeling.

For me, my lifestyle hasn't really changed because of what I do. Obviously I'm not home very much, so that's the frustrating part, but I've tried not to change too much about my lifestyle. I still live in an apartment, I try not to live out of my means.

What was your backup plan if you didn't make it as a driver?

JA: I wouldn't say I had a backup plan. There were things I'd enjoy doing. Probably the biggest was graphic design, designing decals for race cars. That's something I did when I was racing myself (growing up) and enjoyed it. Short of that, I guess working for my dad at the tire store would probably be the easiest answer. He still offers me a job every now and again – he says I can come back and work for him.

Would you rather be known as a great driver or a great person?

JA: Oh, definitely a great person. Being a Christian, I think that's the biggest thing. You can accomplish every goal in life that you've ever set out for yourself, but if you're not a good person and you don't lead by example, you have nothing.

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