Monday, October 4, 2021

CUP: Justin Allgaier's Cup exploits remain a struggle; Underdogs shine as Bubba Wallace scores landmark victory


Justin Allgaier picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Monday’s YellaWood 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway when his #77 Brandt Chevrolet crashed after 55 of 117 laps.

The finish, which came in Allgaier’s 79th series start, was his first of the season and first since August 21, 2016 at Bristol, 188 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 37th for the #77, the 621st from a crash, and the 815th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 50th for the #77, the 1,275th from a crash, and the 1,809th for Chevrolet.

When he was last featured in a Cup article on this site in 2016, Allgaier had just returned to the XFINITY Series after two frustrating Cup seasons with the short-lived HScott Motorsports effort (formerly Phoenix Racing). He’d lost his ride to Clint Bowyer, who at the time needed a gap-filling ride before taking over a retiring Tony Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing. While Bowyer, too, struggled, Allgaier’s XFINITY return saw him run even better than he had with Turner Motorsports. 

Now with JR Motorsports’ #7 team, Allgaier has since more than quadrupled his previous win total and has become a yearly threat for the title. He finished runner-up to Austin Cindric last season – a career-best in the championship standings – and held third in the standings heading to Talladega. There, he nearly scored his third win of the season, running three-wide at the moment of the final caution. He ended up 3rd, trailing runner-up Brandon Jones and first-time winner Brandon Brown.

Three times since 2015, Allgaier has been called upon as a relief driver in the Cup Series, but his results have mirrored his time at HScott. His lone 2016 start, driving in relief of Michael Annett at Bristol, resulted in a last-place finish following a tangle with Kyle Busch. Last summer in what may have been the final running of the Brickyard 400, he earned a ride in Hendrick Motorsports’ #48 after Jimmie Johnson was sidelined under COVID-19 protocols. Allgaier only turned 17 laps before his ride was destroyed in a pileup entering pit road. His latest start, which came in Spire Motorsports’ #77 at Pocono, was this time from Justin Haley’s COVID-19 test, and resulted in a meager 25th-place finish.

For Talladega’s main event, Allgaier was this time the slated driver from the start, and would carry his longtime XFINITY sponsor Brandt Agriculture on the hood of the bright red #77 Chevrolet. Haley, who has run the car for much of this season, was already slated to run for his own XFINITY team Kaulig Racing. During the race broadcast, the #16 Leaf Filter Gutter Protection Chevrolet that Haley would pilot was reported to be a former Beard Motorsports Chevrolet. Allgaier would roll off 33rd.

Starting 40th and last was Landon Cassill, back in the Cup Series for the first time since a breakout run in Daytona in August. Both runs came in the #96 Carnomaly Toyota for Gaunt Brothers Racing, one of the series’ few remaining part-time efforts. He’d be joined at the tail end of the field by 35th-place Quin Houff in the #00 8 Ball Chocolate Whiskey Chevrolet and 36th-place Joey Gase in the #53 Sparks Ford, each sent to the rear for multiple inspection failures. James Davison would also incur the same penalty for his last-minute driver swap into the #66 Rich Mar Racing Ford. David Starr had been slated to run the #66 until a sponsorship deal fell through, handing the wheel to fifth Rick Ware Racing driver and sponsor.

During Sunday’s pace laps, Davison had radio issues and asked for a water bottle, but wouldn’t have time to address either issue. By the time the radio started working, rain began to fall, and the race was soon postponed to Monday.

When the green flag finally dropped the next day, an intense battle unfolded at both ends of the field. While many recent Cup Series superspeedway races have seen the tail end of the field string out quickly, the entire 40-car pack stayed intact for most of the opening 26-lap run to the competition caution. At the end of Lap 1, Gase ran just 0.088 second back of Davison, two cars in a three-wide battle. By Lap 3, Gase had climbed to 36th with Davison in last, 0.424 second behind new 39th-place Ryan Newman in the #6 Kohler Generators Ford. Davison edged Newman by 0.001 on Lap 4, and Newman climbed past Davison again the next time by. It was Lap 5, and Davison was back in last, 0.383 second back of Josh Bilicki in the #52 Junction Fuels / “Smokey and the Bandit” Ford. Bilicki then dropped Gase back to 39th with Davison closing fast from last place, now just 0.117 behind. The interval between Davison and Gase continued to grow and shrink for the next few laps - Davison dropped to 0.427 back on Lap 7, then closed to 0.104 on Lap 9.

It wasn’t until Lap 10 the tail end of the field began to unwind behind 29th-place Ryan Preece in the #37 Kroger / Velveeta Chevrolet, and other gaps opened up between 35th and 39th place, the former caused by Denny Hamlin dropping back in the #11 FedEx Express Toyota. By then, Gase had sole possession of 39th with Davison trailing him some distance behind in 40th. On Lap 12, the gap between Gase and Davison opened up to 1.279 seconds, then 3.876 seconds on Lap 13. That time by, Gase had also lost touch with 38th-place Bilicki by 1.677 seconds. When the field started Lap 15, Gase dropped to 8.182 seconds back of Bilicki with Davison trailing another 7.816 seconds. Davison was 12.102 seconds back of Gase on Lap 19, then was the first to be lapped on the 22nd circuit. Gase was exiting the backstretch on Lap 24 as the leaders entered it, and was himself lapped running the high lane the next time through Turns 1 and 2.

Gase earned the Lucky Dog under the competition caution, and Davison was briefly shown two laps down before scoring reset to show him still one circuit behind. Davison remained last for the Lap 30 restart, at which point Michael McDowell had dropped to 39th in the #34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford and Garrett Smithley 38th in the #15 Boom Mobile Chevrolet. McDowell dropped 26.856 seconds back of Smithley on Lap 38, and was himself lapped on Lap 48. Smithley and Bilicki were lapped soon after, all the while Davison closed on McDowell. Around Lap 52, Davison passed both Smithley and Bilicki, putting the #15 in last place for the first time. Bilicki then clawed past Davison into 38th, putting the #66 back in 39th. 

On Lap 57, Allgaier was running near the Top 10 in the middle groove when he received a bump from William Byron’s #24 Axalta Chevrolet. The bump sent Allgaier skidding to the high lane, where he collided with Kyle Larson in the #5 Cincinnati Chevrolet. Ryan Preece and Chase Briscoe also received damage as Allgaier and Larson skated to the apron. While Larson made it to pit road and narrowly cleared the “Crash Clock” – Allgaier dropped the window net and climbed out, his car damaged at both ends. Allgaier dropped to last on Lap 58, done for the afternoon. This caused Stage 1 to end under caution with Chris Buescher up front.

Just seconds after clearing the “Crash Clock,” Larson blew a right-front tire and had to clear it a second time, ultimately finishing 37th, four laps down. Two of his Hendrick Motorsports joined him in the Bottom Five, each after separate accidents – Alex Bowman, whose #48 Ally Chevrolet was turned into the Turn 3 wall on Lap 97, and William Byron, who was collected by a wrecking Ryan Preece on Lap 115. Byron took 36th with Bowman 38th while Tyler Reddick, involved in the Bowman wreck, finished 39th in the #8 Realtree Chevrolet. 

Underdogs Shine As Bubba Wallace Scores Maiden Victory

The lead story on Monday was the first career victory of Bubba Wallace, first-year team 23XI Racing, and veteran crew chief Bootie Barker. The win – the first by an African-American driver in the Cup Series since Hall of Fame owner-driver Wendell Scott on December 1, 1963 – also brought to an end a 959-race winless streak for sponsor McDonald’s, and was the first for the #23 since 1954.

Despite a close field and relatively low attrition, a few underdogs also enjoyed fine runs in the rain-shortened event.

Anthony Alfredo finished a career-best 10th in the #38 Georgia Peanuts Ford – improving on his career-best 12th in the spring race at the same Talladega race. This was only his fourth finish of 2021 that saw him finish inside the Top 20. 

One spot ahead of Alfredo came Erik Jones, who briefly contended for the lead before his #43 U.S. Air Force: Special Warfare Chevrolet took the checkers in 9th. This was Jones’ second top-ten finish in the last three races and fifth on the season.

And, one year after his career-best 13th in the same race, Quin Houff finished 19th in the #00 8 Ball Chocolate Whiskey Chevrolet, his new season-best over a 22nd on the Indianapolis Grand Prix Circuit.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #77 in a Cup Series race at Talladega since May 1, 1988, when Ken Ragan (father of David Ragan) in the #77 Bob Beard Ford was collected in a seven-car crash after 13 laps of the Winston 500. That race, like on Monday, also saw a first-time winner in Phil Parsons.

40) #77-Justin Allgaier / 55 laps / crash
39) #8-Tyler Reddick / 97 laps / crash
38) #48-Alex Bowman / 97 laps / crash
37) #5-Kyle Larson / 113 laps / running
36) #24-William Byron / 115 laps / crash

1st) Rick Ware Racing (5)
2nd) JTG-Daugherty Racing, Spire Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing (4)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, Motorsports Business Management (3)
4th) Front Row Motorsports, Roush-Fenway Racing (2)
5th) Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, StarCom Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (17)
2nd) Ford (10)
3rd) Toyota (4)



UnderdogFan89 said...

I'm not sure the table at the bottom updated correctly, it still shows Larson with only one bottom 5 finish. But this is such a close race!

Brock Beard said...

Thank you for catching it!