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Mission Accomplished for Justin Allgaier in Understudy Role for Larson

Justin Allgaier Coca-Cola 600 2024 Kyle Larson Hendrick Motorsports

Photo Credit: Craig White, TobyChristie.com

Even if Mother Nature didn’t allow it to matter, Justin Allgaier accomplished the task at hand in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

With Kyle Larson unable to get to Charlotte Motor Speedway on time for the start of the race due to a weather delay in the Indianapolis 500, Allgaier got the nod to start the race. And while Allgaier struggled initially in getting his bearings behind the wheel of Larson’s Next Gen car, he started getting into his groove and became more and more competitive as the race ran.

At one point, Allgaier was placed a lap down by William Byron and Ty Gibbs, but he got up on the wheel and drove right back by them both to get back on the lead lap.

Allgaier knew he had to get the lap back if he wanted to hand the No. 5 car back to Larson with any shot for Larson to win the race, but he had to balance his aggression with the fact that Byron was his teammate on the track in the race.

“I drove by the 24 and the 54 and they got racing with somebody else to try to stay on the tail end of the lead lap. I got passed back by the 24, and then I was able to get back by them. I’m going to be honest with you, that’s a hard spot to be in,” Allgaier said. “Because, at the end of the day, William Byron is my teammate tonight. While you’re still competing on the racetrack, I don’t want to ruin something for him that ultimatley loses him the lead or a position that will then lose Stage Points for them. The way it worked out, it didn’t matter, but you have to kind of calculate some risk in your head…”

After flirting with dropping out of contention in the opening Stage of the race, Allgaier came to life and worked his way inside the top-20, and then eventually inside the top-15. Allgaier was blown away by the speed in the No. 5 machine, and he felt if Larson could just get behind the wheel of it, he’d go on to win the race.

“It’s really pretty unbelievable. You know, I think the car had more potential than the driver just because I feel like if I was able to go home tonight and kind of sleep on it and get my head wrapped around the car a little more, I’d be able to do things a little better or differently,” Allgaier said. “My biggest weakness tonight was the dirty air. And where to place my car, how to get myself in clean air.”

Allgaier was able to keep the car clean as he climbed to 13th-place before handing the car over to Larson.

When asked if he had an apprehension about another driver finishing a race that he started, Allgaier said, “No, not at all. I know the car has the potential to win this race tonight and it would be a disservice to Kyle, to Cliff, to everybody on this 5 team and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports,” Allgaier explained. “If they’ve got someone like Kyle on the ready to go do this, you’ve got to go try to win the race. They have the oppportunity to do it.”

Unfortunately, Larson and the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team would not get the opportunity to finish what Allgaier started. Under caution at Lap 249, as it was finally time for Larson to climb behind the wheel, a lightning strike within eight miles of the race track caused NASCAR to display the red flag, and the race would never resume.

But even though the race never resumed, Allgaier deserves a massive pat on the back as he perfectly executed his role as the understudy for Larson. And had Larson been able to get laps in the car, he would have inherited a car inside the top-15, which had race-winning speed, was on the lead lap, and had hardly a scratch on it.

It was a great showing for Allgaier, who has been the Next Gen wheel force car test driver for Chevrolet. While he finished 13th, Allgaier says he really wished he could have clicked off a few more spots before lightning ended his stint behind the wheel.

“I wanted to be in the top-10. I felt like when the rain came, I felt like we were finally on that verge of being able to break into the top-10,” Allgaier said. “That’s what I really wanted. I was feeling good, everything was great, but at the end of the day, that wasn’t my job.”

Allgaier’s right. His job wasn’t top-10, but he still was damn close to getting there in 373.5 miles on Sunday in the Coca-Cola 600.

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