By: Ashley McCubbin
While the racecars have sat idle in the shop through the COVID-19 pandemic, the drivers across all of NASCAR’s series have been partaking in the various iRacing series. Justin Allgaier has been one of the competitors in the Saturday Night Thunder group, scoring a best-finish seventh at Bristol Motor Speedway a couple weeks ago.
POPULAR SPEED recently caught up with the JR Motorsports driver to get his thoughts on the iRacing Series, the break, and more.
POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts on the Saturday Night Thunder thus far?
JUSTIN ALLGAIER: So far, it’s been a lot of fun. Obviously at the beginning it was a lot different than what it has transitioned into, and it’s been interesting to see that transition happen as we move forward for sure. But to have all the racers that we have and have all of the different series, parts of the world when we run these races, it’s really fun. And for me, I’ve been a long time iRacing supporter and advocate, and just to have them gain the level of notoriety that they’ve gained through all of this, they deserve every bit of it first and for most, but it’s been nice to have a great platform to do it on.
PS: I was actually going to touch upon this, actually, but how much iRacing experience did you have yourself before this started?
ALLGAIER: Well, I had a lot of iRacing experience, but my iRacing experience is a lot different than quite a bit of the others. That being said, I used it for more weekend-in-weekend-out, going to a race track, I know muscle memory is a huge part of what helps us go fast when we show up at the race track. So for me it’s always been important to have a good understanding of what I am going to be up against any given weekend, and how I am going to visualize a race track if you will, and iRacing has been a great platform for that. So I tend to look at mine as a real-world understanding a race track and seeing myself prepped for the next event.
What’s interesting about it is it’s changed a lot from that. You look at what a lot of these guys have turned it into and it’s very different, very unique, and I think iRacing is like all things – it takes time and practice and an understanding of what it takes to be competitive and fast, and it’s different to be fast in iRacing than it is in real life. A lot of the same mechanics and aspects of racing definitely come into play, but when you’re looking for that little bit of speed, there’s definitely some tricks that the guys that are good iRacers that use it for that have learned and helped them excel when we’re racing against each other. I think that’s hurt me in the Saturday Night Thunder.
I think the other part is I’m not a visual racer. I’m very much a feel racer. Growing up, I liked having the understanding of the car having a certain feel to it, and wanting to feel that in the seat of my pants; I was never really a visual racer. So iRacing has been a challenge in that regard as it’s very much visual and I’ve had to learn and get better at that. I’m actually excited to get back to the real race track, to see if those skills of understanding of what the car is doing visually will translate to being faster on the real race track.
PS: What are your thoughts heading into this weekend’s event at Dover?
ALLGAIER: Well, I’m excited, but I’m nervous. Dover, for me, has been a race track that I’ve had success at in the Xfinity Series, and ran good there in the Cup Series as well. So I’ve had success there, but that’s not necessarily going to translate to being good on iRacing as I mentioned. So I want to be good, I want to go and have an uneventful weekend and go and be fast, but again going back to that feel, all these races that we’ve done and are going to do, are fixed set-up. It’s very difficult for me to run the fixed set-up that they provide a lot of times because it is very different how they are drive, so I’m having to really focus on my driving style when I come to these race tracks so I am doing a good job of driving the car properly.
PS: Who is someone that has surprised you thus far?
ALLGAIER: I respected Timmy Hill and Garrett Smithley a lot for their iRacing speed before this; I kind of knew what those guys had been able to accomplish on iRacing long before this whole thing went on, but those two have really done a fantastic job. Obviously Willie B (William Byron) – kind of how he got his start into this sport, which is crazy thinking about that, but also he’s done a really good job. I think Ryan Preece is someone whose really surprised me; I didn’t expect him to be a great iRacer. He’s really stepped up to the plate and done a really great job.
Last but not least, I think my boss Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. Obviously, Dale’s been a gamer, racer for his entire career and has shown his affinity for iRacing, but to be as good as he’s been week-in-week-out in all of his races has just struck me as being impressive. I give him a lot of credit not only for the growth of iRacing and what it’s become, but the dedication to make sure he’s successful on a regular basis with it.
PS: Although we’ve seen you racing the NASCAR car a lot on there, is there another car that you like to run on the service?
ALLGAIER: Yes, always. So for me, it’s been a lot of dirt. When the dirt side of things came out on iRacing, immediately I was so on-board and enjoyed that side of it – so that’s number one, first and foremost. Number two I would say that I really like the road racing side of it, as well. I’ve really had a good time with just more or less perfecting a craft that I’m not good at it, and I think that’s the beauty of iRacing. You’re able to do something and be apart of something that in a normal circumstance, you wouldn’t have that opportunity, right?
To me, that’s probably part of the neatest part of it all of this is what it has afforded drives and teams to be able to do. I look at some of the Pro races in Lando Norris coming in and running an IndyCar race, Scott McLaughlin too. All of these things that are unique to iRacing, really. Kyle Busch and Dale Jr. (also) both going and running the IndyCar race – that never happens in another situation. There’s no way to make that happen, and I think it’s neat to me that they’re able to go over and do that and show what the crossover is amongst drivers, teams, and really in even sports. I think it’s been pretty impressive.
PS: Outside of the game, how have you been spending this break?
ALLGAIER: Lots and lots of bicycle riding. My daughter (Harper) has actually learned how to ride her bicycle without training wheels, and that’s been for me, super special, and very neat to kind of be apart of it, right? Now that she’s gotten independent and able to get off of her bike, I think for her, it’s created this unique situation where it’s fun to see new doors open up and you just watch her grow on a daily basis.
It’s been crazy to be apart of that and watch that and experience that, different than I would say I normally would. On a regular week – don’t get me wrong, we do a lot of things together, but you just don’t have the ability to go and try and try again for three or four days in a row, and pushing and keep trying to learn, and watching her go through that process. It’s been really neat for me, so that’s been a big part of it.
I’ve been on iRacing a lot between the NASCAR stuff and the World of Outlaw dirt car stuff that I’ve done on there. I’ve probably out-weighed my welcome from my wife (Ashley) in doing as much iRacing as I’ve done on it; she’s probably ready for me to find a new hobby, but it’s been neat to see the different types of cars and everybody jumping in has been pretty neat.
PS: Before this break, we got in some races to start off the season. What are your thoughts on how you and JRM started 2020?
ALLGAIER: It was terrible. Unfortunately, it was not at all what we wanted, but it was kind of – I would say it was terrible, but we still had some good runs and there was some things that we did really well. We felt like over the winter, we made some great changes to the cars to be better in 2020 than what we were in 2019. Unfortunately, with some of the changes to the tires and the way that the rules – really, we didn’t have any rule changes but rather same of the things that changed over the off-season, we felt the changes that we made plus the changes that are happening without our knowledge, put us behind the eight ball.
We struggled these first few races to get a place where we felt we wanted to be at, and finally at Phoenix (Raceway), we turned the corner and we’re starting to be where we needed to be at, and starting to get kind of on our A-game and putting ourselves in good positions in what we needed to do to be fast week-in-week-out. At that point, that was it, right? Little did we know that was going to be the end of it, and we were going to be stuck taking the next following weeks off and not having an opportunity to go back to the track right away.
I’m hopeful when we come back out of it we’re still on that same boat, right path and making the right decisions and we can go out there and not only battle for wins, but battle for the spots that we feel we deserve and get to where we feel we need to be at to compete every week.
PS: Talking about making improvements and changes, having good teammates certainly has to be beneficial for that as it seems all you get along well together….
ALLGAIER: Yeah, I think that in itself is one of the biggest things we have. We have a great group of people – not just drivers, but just in general, a fantastic group of people in our shop. We have a fantastic group of drivers in our shop. Number one, I consider them all teammates, but number two, I consider them all friends, and it’s been great to have them as part of what we’re doing and it’s just impressive to see where they’re all at. I couldn’t be happier to have the teammates that I have, and really appreciate them. It’s making traveling like we do and everything a lot easier and a lot of fun.
PS: With everything that you’ve done through your career, what would be one piece of advice that you’d have for somebody that’s looking to get to NASCAR one day?
ALLGAIER: That’s a tough one. I think the biggest thing is don’t wait for the opportunity to be perfect. I think I spent some time in my younger career thinking that I’m going to get that perfect car week-in-week-out, or I’m going to make all the right decisions on the race track week-in-week-out, and things are going to go my way week-in-week-out.
As much as I’d love to say that’s exactly how it always goes, that’s just not the case and now how it works. There’s a lot of give-and-take, a lot of things that don’t go your way and I think it’s important to be aware of that and understand that before you start because when you expect it to be perfect, or wanting it to be perfect all the time, that’s usually whenever it fails. I think I spent too much of my career trying to be perfect, and all reality, if I were to go back now, I would tell myself to live in the moment and go make the most of every situation – even if it’s not exactly how you think it should be, still try to make the most of it than what you expect it to be.
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