AP Photo/Russ Hamilton
ARCA: Allgaier steals title after Speed, Stenhouse scuffle
Justin Allgaier remembers being a wide-eyed kid, high in the grandstands at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in his native Springfield, watching the ARCA drivers take to the dirt track. He and a friend would take turns as announcers, giving themselves fictitious sponsors and racing personas, imagining a day when they would be in the show.
When you're pretending, aren't you always the race winner, the series champion, the come-from-behind hero?
Maybe Allgaier was back then. But now he owns the real-life story.
The 22-year-old won an improbable championship Sunday at Toledo Speedway, finishing first in the Hantz Group 200 to climb from third in points at the start of the race all the way to the top. The two men ahead of him in points, Scott Speed and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., ruined their title hopes after an overaggressive early battle left both wrecked.
"We came in with the same attitude we had at every race. We're not the type of people that wish bad luck on anybody, we went into it with the idea that 'Let's do the same thing every week, let's go try to win the race, and if a miracle happens, it was meant to be that way,'" Allgaier said. "How it happened that way, I'm still not sure, but I have no complaints whatsoever."
On Lap 27, Stenhouse got into the back of Speed's Eddie Sharp Racing Toyota and pushed it into the wall. Stenhouse claimed it wasn't intentional, but Speed saw it differently and, after losing a lap while on pit road for repair work, paid him back with a shove into the wall that essentially ended both drivers' days. Stenhouse lost 69 laps to repairs and Speed was parked for rough driving.
"Stenhouse started it and he isn't going to win this championship with that attitude," Speed said shortly after climbing out of his car. "That was ridiculous; that was the most blatant thing I ever saw in my life. Honestly, it's just ARCA; that's just how it is."
Speed said during the season that the ARCA points race was irrelevant to him, as his NASCAR future was secure with Team Red Bull Racing. Stenhouse, as a 21-year-old Roush Fenway development driver, perhaps didn't leave Ohio with the agony of losing the title, either. He excelled as an ARCA rookie and figures to have a long future.
Allgaier, on the other hand, yearned for a title in his third year of ARCA racing with his family-owned team.
"For us, I don't think we could have done anything that would have meant more," said Allgaier, who won six times during the year, including the last three races. "My father and I, we're a family-owned team, been around ARCA a long time, we love the series, we love the people in it, and to be able to get a championship somebody that's only been around ARCA for a number of years can have that same feeling.
"That's the biggest thing that maybe held up Ricky and Scott, it's just not something that's as high on their priority list as probably a guy like myself who's been in the series for a while and has had to race those guys."
Allgaier's father, Mike, was a Hoosier Tire distributor for the series for many years, and the two would travel the series together. Justin's love for racing and ARCA was sparked early, from meeting drivers in the pits to sitting in the Springfield grandstands, daydreaming.
After building his racing résumé on dirt tracks, Allgaier moved up to ARCA in 2006 and won a race as a rookie. He finished fourth in points last season. Now he's a champion and moving on to a coveted development seat with Penske Racing.
Allgaier met Roger Penske over the ARCA/IndyCar Series weekend in early September at Chicagoland Speedway, and two days later they had a deal for a full-time Nationwide schedule in 2009 and a few races this season, the first coming last Friday at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
"Within 48 hours I went from a great opportunity to meet Roger Penske for the very first time to pretty much saying to myself 'This is what I want to do, this is where I want to be,'" Allgaier said. "Roger said that 'When we do things, they happen in a hurry. If you're on board, let's roll.' That was the crazy part, for me I haven't been around that part of it very much. Being on a family-owned team, things don't happen quite that quick."
But sometimes one's fortunes can change that quickly, in a career or a title chase. Like Allgaier said, no complaints.
John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
World of Outlaws: Schatz still finding firsts
On his way to a third consecutive World of Outlaws title, one would think there wouldn't be too many firsts remaining for Donny Schatz to click off. But Sunday at Hollywood Hills (N.M.) Speedway, he scored his first race-program sweep.
The Tony Stewart Racing driver qualified first and won his heat race, the dash and all 30 laps of the A-feature, becoming the second driver of the season to have a perfect night. Joey Saldana did it last month at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio.
"We're feeling really good right now," said Schatz after his 86th career A-feature win. "We did everything right. We qualified good and I think that was the key to the whole night. The track was pretty trying. We were in the perfect spot. You can make some mistakes leading, but we did everything we needed to. The crew played with the race car and we found some things, and that's really what we needed on that type of track."
Schatz has 16 wins in 58 A-feature events this season, twice as many as Jason Meyers. Schatz leads Meyers by 128 points in the standings with five races remaining.
Weekend spotlight on: ALMS
The American Le Mans Series wraps up its season Saturday with the Monterey (Calif.) Sports Car Championships at Laguna Seca. The championships in all four classes have been decided, and the four-hour race will instead serve as a farewell for a few teams and manufacturers in some classes.
The GT1 Corvettes, long the dominant brand in the class, will complete their final full year. In the second half of 2009, the mark will move to GT2 in preparation for worldwide competition in 2010 under new international GT class regulations.
In LMP2, the Highcroft Racing Acura will compete for the final time before moving to LMP1 next season. Drivers Scott Sharp and David Brabham won four times with one overall victory this season but came up short for the class title after crashing out early at Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Oct. 4.