Greg Biffle may have won the Nationwide race last night at Phoenix International Raceway, but young Justin Allgaier celebrated his eighth place finish as if he had taken the trophy in Victory Lane.
Allgaier, the 22 year old past ARCA champion, has had an exciting start to his 2009 season with Roger Penske's Verizon Wireless team. He has had consistent finishes for the most part and has been running in the top ten in championship points.
But his race day at PIR got off to a rough start, as his number 12 car stepped out on him coming to the green in his qualifying session. Unfortunately, Allgaier lost control and took a hard hit into the concrete wall, damaging his car beyond repair.
Allgaier's team, under the leadership of crew chief Chad Walter, got to work, getting the back up car off the truck. Because of his wreck, he was forced to start at the very back of the field for the race.
Although Allgaier was disappointed with the qualifying mishap, acknowledging that track position is critical at PIR, he was determined to drive his way forward. And he did just that, working his way into the top 10 for most of the race.
Not only had Allgaier never taken a lap in the back up car, but this was also his first time ever to race under the lights. He said that it was "like being in high school, taking a test, and knowing that you didn't study".
Allgaier is also running for "Rookie of the Year" honors in the Nationwide series. He noted that "while I'd love to get my Verizon Wireless car into Victory Lane, there is nothing that I want more than to take that rookie honor."
The young rookie contender indeed showed his stuff in the Nationwide race in the desert this weekend. He finished a respectable eighth in the race, solidifying his eighth position in the championship points battle.
Allgaier said at the end of the race that this team's "performances are there and we just need to put it all together to finish as well as we run."
Owner Roger Penske is also high on his young rookie driver. "I'll be surprised if we don't see him in Victory Lane in 2009", said Penske.
While the spotlight may continue to be on Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and others currently at the top of the points leader board, there is one driver that deserves some attention on the track as well.
Allgaier is indeed one to watch, coming fast, learning with each race, improving and, in his words, "surprising a lot of people."