Playoff Preview: Recent Success Has Allgaier, Burdett Thinking Another NXS Title Run

Ron Lemasters | 9/18/2019

Brandt jason burdett Justin Allgaier News Playoffs XFINITY Series

Consistency got Justin Allgaier back to the Playoffs and now he's ready to step up his game and bring home the Xfinity Series title.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Sept. 18, 2018) – A year ago at this time, Justin Allgaier, crew chief Jason Burdett and the No. 7 team from JR Motorsports were on top of the world. Five victories in the final 16 starts of the regular season earned the team the regular-season championship—and the bonus points that go with it.

What a run that was.

After winning at Dover in May, Allgaier went on an absolute tear. After a couple of accidents at Charlotte and Pocono, Allgaier reeled off 13 straight top-10 finishes, including the other four victories at Iowa, Mid-Ohio, Road America and Indianapolis. With the finishes at Charlotte (32nd) and Pocono (37th) included, that was an average finish of 7.8 heading into the playoffs. With those two taken out, the average finish was an astounding 3.9.

It was, by all accounts, the team’s championship to lose.

When the calendar flipped to the final seven races of the season, it must have done something to the mojo of the regular season. A crash at Richmond wiped out his playoff points bulge, a 15th-place run at the Roval left him 52 points behind heading to Dover for the cutoff to the Round of 8. A third-place run got things back on track and he advanced, but the following race at Kansas fixed his fate. A Turn 2 crash with Christopher Bell on the first lap of the race resulted in a 38th-place finish. A fifth at Texas the following week got him back within clinching distance, but a mechanical issue late at Phoenix sealed the deal and he missed the Championship 4 for the first time in three seasons.

Fast forward to today, and the path forward to Homestead-Miami Speedway is right there in front of the No. 7 team. After a winless regular season—despite at least three victory chances dashed by one thing or another—the sixth-seeded playoff team is focused on the job at hand.

The key, Burdett said, is taking care of the things the team can control.

FASTER AND BETTER: Getting all the way to Homestead is the key to winning the championship, as both William Byron (2017) and Tyler Reddick (2018) proved in taking JRM’s second and third NXS titles (to go along with Chase Elliott’s 2014 run that was the first). To finish first in Florida, you first have to finish, if you’ll pardon the alliteration. In 2018, the No. 7 team was behind the eight-ball from the jump when the playoffs started. This year, that has to change, Burdett said, and it starts with momentum.

“In the end, we have to...we’ve struggled to string together a lot of finishes,” Burdett, whose next victory will tie him with Dave Elenz for all-time lead in victories for JRM said. “We have had good cars and bad luck, had different things happen throughout the season that have hurt our finishes in general. But the last few weeks I think we’ve built up some momentum, had fast cars.

“We had a fast car at Bristol (in August) and had a tire go down at the end. We had a good car at Darlington. We had a good car at Indy and were able to capitalize on that. At Las Vegas we had a solid car and we hoped to get a little more out of that, but at the end of the day it was a solid top-five finish. Those are the things we need to keep doing, keep bringing good cars, keep the balance good where he can race hard and then we need to finish the days off. We just haven’t done a good job this year of finishing off the day.”

Burdett’s hallmark over his career at JRM has been just that: fast cars that race well and are around at the finish, usually in the top five or top 10.

“In years past, that was our strong point,” he continued. “Maybe we weren’t as strong as we wanted to be but we could put ourselves in position to have good days at the end. This year, we haven’t probably been as fast as we wanted to be at times, but then we took ourselves out of it or had back luck, a tire, this or that... I think if we can string together three solid days in the first round like we’re capable of having, we move to the second round. We have to keep building up our momentum. If we do that, and once we get to Homestead, it’s a whole different ball game. It’s one race. Everything has to go your way. That’s really it. As always, we have to be faster and we have to be better.”

BANISH THE BOOGEYMAN: One key to any form of motorsports is avoiding the big mistake by being prepared and able to capitalize when the boogeyman comes for your opponents while hoping it doesn’t get you too. Too often this year, as Burdett alluded to, the boogeyman came calling on the No. 7 team.

“Ken Howes from Hendrick Motorsports once said a long time ago that you make your own luck,” Burdett quipped. “In a lot of cases, that probably is true. We’ll have to see what happens. This run of things can go on for the rest of the year or it might turn, and all of a sudden all those little things that were hurting us throughout the season might start going our way and giving us more opportunities. We have good tracks coming up, Richmond and Dover have been good for us and Phoenix has been a solid track for us. I feel good about the stretch of races that we have coming. It’s just a matter of capitalizing and not making mistakes.”

EXPERIENCE COUNTS: The same team that raced for the championship in Miami in both 2016 and 2017 is largely still intact, and that experience is helpful, to say the least. This is a group that has been there and done that, lacking only the big hardware to seal the deal.

“We have the same team, basically,” Burdett said. “There’s a few players that have changed over the years but the core group of guys is the same. Everybody has been here before. The strength of the team has been here and done this, the core guys, and they will help the new guys along. Anything can happen at any time, but we have a good group of guys and I am confident in what they’re bringing.”

BEAT THE BIG THREE: One of the most overused phrases describing the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series title hunt has to be any and all references to “The Big Three.” That consists of the drivers (Reddick, Bell and former JRM Truck Series driver Cole Custer) who have won 17 of the 26 races so far. They’ll be the biggest competition for the JRM squads in the seven-race playoff.

Burdett is not fazed by the numbers.

“It’s the same story,” he said. “If we do everything we’re supposed to do, I feel like we can beat them in any given week. It’s not that they’re going to dominate us. They could. Any one of those guys, or someone we don’t even think about, can come out and put together seven amazing weeks, have good speed and have everything go their way (see: Reddick for JRM in 2018). The No. 9 put together seven weeks of just being steady and smart and staying out of trouble and put themselves in position. Others, like us, took ourselves out.

“I think the Big Three is great for the regular season because they all had great regular seasons, but now, this is a whole other deal. You have to continue to do what you’ve done all year and there’s another step of pressure there. When you get to Homestead it’s a whole new deal all over again. We’ll see what happens.”

THERE ARE NO SURE THINGS: Last year at this time seemed to be down to Allgaier, Burdett and the No. 7 team against Bell. At Homestead, it was Reddick that stole the show. Burdett said it boils down to performance and not making mistakes.

“If we just do what we’re capable of, none of that is going to matter,” he said. “If we go and race and get the finishes that we should get at all these tracks, there’s no reason we don’t go and run in the top five at any track between here and Homestead. We’re capable of doing that. Justin is capable, the cars are capable of doing that. We have to go and do that now and put it all together. Worrying about it isn’t really helping us get any closer to that goal.”

If last season’s playoff proved anything, it’s that there are no sure things. Burdett knows that the smart play is to be there at the end.

“We just do what we know we’re all capable of doing and we’ll end up where we want to be in the end,” he said. “At Homestead, we’ve been in that position a couple of times and been really good and really bad, for no rhyme or reason. Last year, we and Bell both went into the playoffs thinking we were both going to go to Homestead and have to duke it out there. We didn’t make it and he almost didn’t make it, and they got to Homestead and he wasn’t even in the conversation of winning a championship.

“Nobody saw that coming. At the end, we all have to go do our jobs and not falter, and everything will be fine.”

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XFINITY Series Schedule

  • November 2 08:30 PM ET
    O'Reilly Auto Parts 300Texas Motor Speedway
  • November 9 03:30 PM ET
    Desert Diamond West Valley Casino 200ISM Raceway
  • November 16 03:30 PM ET
    Ford EcoBoost 300Homestead-Miami Speedway

XFINITY Series Standings

After Kansas Lottery 300

Kansas Speedway | 10/19/2019
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Christopher Bell (P)31060
2Cole Custer (P)3095-11
3Tyler Reddick (P)3094-12
4Justin Allgaier (P)3059-47
5Chase Briscoe # (P)3057-49
6Michael Annett (P)3047-59
7Noah Gragson # (P)3042-64
8Austin Cindric (P)3029-77