Our series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews continues this week with Turner Motorsports' Justin Allgaier, who is fourth in the Nationwide Series point standings following the Kentucky race. Allgaier, in his first year with Turner, sat down with SB Nation prior to last weekend's event.
SBN: Who is the most underrated driver in NASCAR?
JA: I think the most underrated driver is probably Denny Hamlin. He gets a lot of press, obviously, but at the same time, I feel like as far as the Gibbs organization goes, he's probably not the most talked about. Running as good as he did last year and almost getting the championship, I feel like he's probably the most underrated.
SBN: Man, I feel bad asking you this one after Road America a couple weeks ago. But what's a race in your career stands out as one you felt you should have won but didn't?
JA: (Starts laughing) I think you already know the answer to this question. I told Jimmy (Elledge, crew chief) after the race was over, 'This is the one race that's going to haunt me for the next 20 years.' One thing that's really funny about it is we obviously got our win at Chicago on fuel mileage. And I told him then, 'This is like the fourth race out of six that we've played the fuel mileage game. One of these days, it's going to come back and bite us – and I'm going to be OK with it that day.'
But I told him on the plane after the Road America race, 'Nah, I'm not as OK with it as I thought I'd be.'
SBN: But in that situation, there wasn't really a whole lot you could do, right?
JA: The part for me that's frustrating is we ran 28 extra miles. That typically wouldn't happen at most racetracks, and it's hard to plan for that. Jimmy did a great job with fuel mileage; we knew we were going to run out somewhere on lap 56. And we ran out on Turn 5 of lap 56 – halfway around the racetrack. It's unfortunate, but it is what it is and we move on.
It definitely still stings a little bit though, you know?
SBN: I can imagine. Let's say you could make a four-car Sprint Cup team with yourself and three others. Who would you want to pick?
JA: Purely from a driving standpoint, I'd have to say Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin. I feel like Jimmie is obviously very good at what he does and is very good at managing himself; Kevin is obviously a closer and gets it done; Denny is fast and has the speed wherever he goes.
So I kind of feel like that would be the best of all three worlds, you know?
SBN: Which driver did you want to emulate when you were growing up?
JA: The first one that would fall into that category would be Ken Schrader. That's probably not your standard answer, but Ken was a good friend of the family and the thing I loved about him is he'd race anything, anytime, anywhere. To me, that was like the coolest thing ever. And he was a good person, too. He'd hang out with the fans and he was just a normal, everyday guy.
The other part of that is, for me, growing up and being a younger racer driving open-wheel cars from the Midwest, it was all about Jeff Gordon. I remember watching him race the Diet Pepsi midget car, and I remember how cool it was. I remember seeing him start his career in the Baby Ruth car, and it's been a cool career to follow.
Everybody wants their kid to be the next Jeff Gordon. I didn't want to be the next Jeff Gordon, but I wanted to use the same path he did. He's the guy who opened the door for young guys like myself to make a career. Had it been the old way, shoot...I may not have had the opportunity to be in this sport at my age. Your Cup guys would be 40-to-60 years old, and the face of our sport would be totally different.
So I had a lot of respect not only for Jeff, but for (Gordon's stepfather) John Bickford as well. I feel like my dad patterned a lot of my career off the direction they went.
SBN: What's a memorable post-race escape you've made from the track to the airport?
JA: I've got two of them – one for a good reason and one for a bad reason.
My greatest one of all time was last year at Iowa. There were cars lined up for miles in the normal lane, and we can't get out; we can't get to the airport. So we decided to go into the oncoming traffic lane.
We passed a lot of people – a lot of very angry people – very rapidly and made it all the way to the airport without getting pulled over or anything. That was like a two-car train rolling down the road into the oncoming traffic, and it was pretty epic.
SBN: Wait, so was there any traffic coming toward you?
JA: I think we had to dodge a few coming up to the interstate. But it kind of widened out there, and we had the shoulder and all kinds of room. So that was pretty good.
The other one was when we left Texas last year (in the spring). If you turn past the gas station there, there's a road that goes back and it takes you all the way to the airport.
Well, what we didn't know was that it turned into a dirt road. So we're flying down this dirt road, exceeding whatever the speed limit is. What happened, though, is that it had rained really hard that weekend. And when we came up on this bridge, the rain had washed out a two-foot gap between the end of the road and the start of the bridge.
And we hit it – hard. As fast as I was going, it blew one of the tires out, bent the wheels. It was bad. Well, this is a one-and-a-half lane dirt road – and I've got people lined up behind me. So we just kept digging with a flat tire until we could find a turn-off.
We pull to the side, and then I've got everybody honking and pointing and waving as they drove by. Nobody stopped to help me, though, which I thought was very kind of everyone.
But we got the tire changed, got to the airport – and still beat some of the other guys who sat in traffic. So at least it wasn't a total failure.
I'd like to tell the Texas Department of Transportation to please fix that road, because it's a great escape route. Avis will thank you.
SBN: Who is somebody famous you'd like to meet who you haven't met yet?
JA: I'm not the type of person that gets starstruck, but I do enjoy meeting different people from different genres of life. One of the things I've done in my racing career is patterned it off a bunch of different people. I try and take the best of everybody and put it together.
That's something in all walks of life – you can learn from everybody, and everybody has got a different story of how they got there. So I can't really give you one person.
But I guess if I had to choose one person who I've been a fan of since I was little, I'd choose Michael Jordan. I guess he's in Charlotte and I could probably figure out how to meet him. I was just a huge fan of his, he was a hard worker who was dedicated to his sport.
SBN: Let's say you can either win the Nationwide Series title but not win any races or you can win four or five races but not win the championship. Which would you rather have?
JA: Hands down, I'd take the race wins all day long. I want to win the championship in the worst way, don't get me wrong. But I feel like in our series, we've been given a fresh slate and an opportunity to make a name for ourselves (with the new points system). We need to make the most of it.
At the beginning of this year, somebody said, 'What's going to happen if a Nationwide regular doesn't win a race?' I said, 'It's not a matter of if a win is going to happen, it's a matter of when.' Fortunately, we've been right. Three of us (Nationwide regulars) have won races now, and there are others that are right there.
But I feel like at the end of the day, it's going to get somewhat discredited this year because of Cup guys versus no Cup guys, whatever. So for me, the wins are where it's at.
I'm still trying to make it to the Cup level, and a long time ago, Tony Stewart told me, 'The best piece of advice I can give you – no matter what level you race at – is you have to win races. To make it any further, you have to be successful at whatever level you're at. And if you win races, somebody will notice you and you'll get an opportunity to move up.'
So to me, if you're winning races every week, you're going to be right there to win the championship. And if you don't get it done this time, then maybe it's the next time.
SBN: Where does your motivation to win come from?
JA: For me, probably more than anything, is I think about the last 20 years and how much work and effort has been put into (my career). And I look at the guys and how hard they work. Everybody says their guys work hard, but if you look at the effort that's put in by the guys we've got on our race car this year, it's unreal that people can dedicate as much of their lives as they do. And they're not getting the glory for it as much as they should.
I've loved this sport, loved everything about this sport for my entire life. I've raced for 20 years. People say after awhile that you lose your drive, but mine has always had a way of energizing itself every week. You have a bad week, and it makes you that much hungrier to go out and win every week.
My wife (Ashley) is not one of those people that's a cheerleader, but at the same time, she supports everything I've ever done in my career. She's the first one to be there to keep me accountable for everything that's going on. For me, that's part of it – the drive she instills in me.
Lastly, being a Christian, this is a great opportunity to show your faith and to talk about it. So that's probably the last and final piece of the puzzle.
So those are my three reasons.
SBN: How much does your personality change from sitting right here to inside the car?
JA: I'd say most people would probably tell you that my personality is very linear – I'm the same person right now as I'll be five minutes before the race, as I'll be when I put the helmet on. I'm very ADD and a little spastic, but I've always been better when I'm the same person all the time – not trying to let the emotions get the best of me.
Some guys have a roller coaster of emotions during the race. But I've always felt like I could be that way, but I end up hurting myself in the end. So I'm always the same person.
SBN: If you could switch lives with another athlete, who would you want to be?
JA: Well, being a short fellow myself, I would say probably a basketball player. I'm a huge sports fan – I like all different types of sports.
One of the things that would be really cool, though, would be to have been Ricky Carmichael (in his Supercross days). I've always been a huge Supercross and motocross fan, and to be able to accomplish what he did is amazing. He's vertically challenged like I am, but he's made a success out of being short. I give him a lot of credit for what he's been able to accomplish in his career, and I think it would be fun to attempt motocross.
I don't think I'd be any good at it in my current state, but maybe with his talents, I'd be better.
SBN: If you could take a year away from NASCAR and come back knowing you had a ride guaranteed, would you ever want to do that?
JA: Well, I think my wife would tell you the best: If I'm not at one racetrack, I'm at another. I'm constantly keeping up with it, I'm watching, listening. And not just NASCAR, but all forms of racing – local Friday and Saturday night racing, IndyCars, Formula One, Grand-Am. It's about the sport more than anything.
That being said, if I had unlimited money and unlimited funds, I'd love to travel some more. We've gotten to go to some really cool places, and I feel like I'd love to go to some other really cool places.
I think, really honestly, I'd still choose to stay at the racetrack. But it is an interesting thought.
SBN: Where would you want to go?
JA: All over. I've been to New Zealand; I'd like to go to Australia. Europe. Japan. South America. I'd like to go to the Arctic, just to see it. I'm not really a cold-weather person, but not too many people have gone to the Arctic, so that would be fun.
It would just be cool to see different cultures. We have a lot of people from different cultures in our sport, but you don't really get to see where they come from. I guess I would need to learn some different languages, though, because all I know is English.
SBN: Someday when you retire, what do you want your retirement story to say about you?
JA: I think the biggest thing would be that I was successful at whatever level I've been at, but at the same time people say I'm a good person and I've treated everyone well and raced them as well as I possibly could.
Everybody has their own grading scale of what's successful, but being blessed enough to be here – running well or not – is awesome. But I'd hope people would say, 'He's a good racer and a good person.' And if I could do those two things, then I'd be happy with my career.
SBN: Let's say you're going to win the title. Would you rather have it clinched after Phoenix, or win it on Turn 4 of the last lap of the season at Homestead?
JA: That's a loaded question, because I've always said that whatever we can do for the fans to have a better experience is great. So in that regard, Turn 4 at Homestead coming to the checkered would be it.
But I've also been in the situation like at Road America – if that had been the last race of the season, what do you say at that point? Here you are, leading the race and you're going to win the championship – and maybe you don't.
So I'd love to have it wrapped up by Kentucky (last week) and know we were going to win it.
The one thing for me, though, is that to change teams in the offseason and have a new crew chief and a new crew and still be in the running for the championship right now, it's been cool to do that. And we have the opportunity to do that. Our series has been close all year. I don't think one week has gone by where we're like, 'Oh, so-and-so is pulling out to a commanding lead.' It's like one person pulls out to a 40-point lead and has a bad week and they're right back to square one.
I don't know that I'll ever have that opportunity to tell you that I hope it gets wrapped up by Phoenix, but that would be great.