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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.