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Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Allgaier ready to finish off dream season with start at Homestead

By Mark Ashenfelter
ESPN.com

AP Photo/Paul Connors

Justin Allgaier had a little too much adventure on Lap 47 at Phoenix International Raceway, but he made up for it with an 11th-place finish.

Justin Allgaier will never forget 2008. Even if he goes on to win championships at NASCAR's highest levels in the years to come, there might be no topping what he has accomplished this year.

Heading to Homestead-Miami Speedway for Saturday's Ford 300 (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2 and ESPN360.com), Allgaier will be making just his fourth Nationwide Series start for Penske Racing. And he'll be able to head there with an additional bit of confidence following his best run to date at Phoenix International Raceway.

Allgaier's first two starts came at 1.5-mile tracks, where he has struggled to get on the same wavelength with his crew in terms of giving the proper feedback. PIR, a quirky 1-mile track, was more to his liking, and the result was evident with an 11th-place finish. This despite a spin on the 47th lap while trying to work his way under another car.

"I couldn't be happier for the … team," Allgaier said. "These guys on this crew have worked so hard to run well, and this is a tribute to their hard work. It was a long day, we got around early, unfortunately, and these guys never gave up on me. I wish we could have brought home a top-10, but hey, we'll take 11th and our first good finish of the season."

The four Nationwide Series races this year were the proverbial icing on the cake for a driver who won six ARCA races and the series championship driving for his family-owned team. The team has yet to announce its exact plans for Allgaier moving forward, but the driver can't believe where this year has already led.

"Dream season. I don't think anybody could ever ask for a season like what we've had," Allgaier said. "I don't know how Kyle Busch [with 21 total wins] feels at this point, because the season probably hasn't ended the way he wanted it to … but when you have [the feeling I have], it's pretty unbelievable.

"To be able to sign with Penske Racing to move into the future, to have [sponsors] like Penske Truck Rental and Mobil 1 to come on board, it's been pretty unbelievable. I couldn't be happier to be where we're at."

As for next year, Allgaier said he hasn't been told exactly what his schedule will look like yet, either. He's not complaining in the slightest.

"I've talked to Roger [Penske] many times, and the one thing he's been very reassuring of is [saying], 'You have a future here at Penske Racing, we're very much behind you,' " Allgaier said. "… For me, it's kind of a no-brainer just to sit and wait it out and see where they tell me to be at. If they tell me to go clean the bathrooms, at this point that would be a good move for me."

Luckily for Allgaier, crew chief Matt Gimbel doesn't expect Allgaier to be wielding a mop and bucket around the shop anytime soon. While Allgaier has plenty to learn in taking the next step of his career, Gimbel sees the potential that Penske and the team's leaders saw in the first place.

"He's got a great attitude, and he's picking things up great," Gimbel said. "It's just a learning process for him. Probably the biggest thing he's had to work on is the different engine package and what he can do with the throttle … there's a lot less horsepower [with the Nationwide Series car]. He's figuring out what he needs to do with the corner to get the car to drive."

Allgaier will get one last chance to show what he can do this season at Homestead before his dream season comes to a close. Even though he has not fared all that well on similar tracks, he expects progress to be made in Florida.

"I think the big thing for us is that we learned a lot at Texas, we've learned a lot [at Phoenix] that I think will move over to Homestead," Allgaier said. "It's the last race of the year, there's nothing to lose, so we're going to try a whole bunch of different stuff and hopefully something good works out of it."

Mark Ashenfelter is an editor at ESPN. He can be reached at mark.ashenfelter@espn.com.

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Future uncertain for Cassill

Landon Cassill made his final Nationwide Series start of the year for JR Motorsports at Phoenix, finishing sixth to equal his best effort of the season. In 19 starts, the 19-year-old posted five top-10 finishes.

Cassill hoped to run even more with the team next year, but his plans are now up in the air as the team has announced it will field the No. 5 Chevrolet in a partial schedule still to be determined due to a lack of sponsorship. At this point, the driver isn't sure what next year will bring.

"It's great to be working with JR Motorsports; they gave me a great opportunity [this season]," Cassill said at Phoenix. "The economy is tough right now, and everybody is kind of fighting to survive. I'm still working on some stuff for next year.

"The folks at Hendrick [Motorsports] are still trying to get me where I need to be, and I appreciate their support. We're just trying to work hard like everybody else."

He's not sure if there's a possibility to align with another team at this point, or if something will break to allow him to remain with JR Motorsports.

"We've got to look and see at the opportunities that are out there and see who's doing what with their teams and who has what sponsors," Cassill said. "It's just a tough situation for the entire sport -- not just us."

Jammed field for finale

There are 53 cars on the entry list for the Ford 300, including 1994 series champion David Green entered in the No. 0 Chevrolet fielded by Davis Motorsports. Green has spent much of his time this year tutoring Landon Cassill and last started a race at Kentucky in June of 2007.

Kyle Busch will look for his record-setting 11th win in Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 18 Toyota, while JGR development driver Marc Davis will be in the No. 22 Dodge fielded by Fitz Motorsports. Denny Hamlin will be in Braun Racing's No. 32 Toyota to end the season.