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‘Little Gator’ Could Be Nipping At Busch’s Heels

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 27 2010
Justin Allgaier showed steady growth last year in the Nationwide Series. Can he win a championship for Penske? (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Justin Allgaier showed steady growth last year in the Nationwide Series. Can he win a championship for Penske? (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Justin Allgaier capitalized on landing a dream ride with Penske Racing last season by finishing sixth in the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship standings and capturing the 2009 Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award.

And with his sophomore season in Penske’s No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge in NASCAR’s junior circuit set to begin in Daytona on Feb. 13, the kid dubbed “Little Gator” is considered by many to be a threat to contend for the 2010 Nationwide Series title.

On the heels of Kyle Busch’s remarkable championship run in the Nationwide Series, the 5-foot-6, 145-pound Allgaier realizes there is little margin of error when it comes to competing for this season’s title.

“I’ve said it before, I think the first five races is what sets the tone for the rest of the year,” said Allgaier, a native of Riverton, Ill. and the 2008 ARCA champion. “You know you’ve got to go out and run well. If you get behind the eight ball, it’s hard to recover.

“I think that’s the one thing we’ve got to focus in on, making sure those first five races are really important. We’ve got to run well and take the stuff we’ve learned and really use it.”

Allgaier will welcome a teammate into the mix this season. Brad Keselowski will pilot a Dodge in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series for Penske Racing in 2010.

“I think having a teammate in Brad will definitely help,” Allgaier said. “We saw a big improvement last year when Parker (Kligerman) came over and drove the few races he did. I think having that support week in and week out will not only help us, but I hope help Brad’s team as well.

“I think it’s going to be big.”

In the ARCA Series, Allgaier drove a Chevrolet owned by his father Mike Allgaier, a well-respected figure in the racing industry and long-time Hoosier tire distributor.

Now, Justin Allgaier is accountable to Roger Penske, a car owner regarded as a legend in stock car and open wheel racing.

“He’s just an unbelievable person as Roger Penske, not as a team owner and not as a businessman, but just as a person,” Allgaier said. “To have his support and be part of his organization is unbelievable.

“He’s such an incredible person. To be able to drive for him and carry his banner into the future, and to know that he puts so much effort and faith into what we do, makes me feel honored to be part of Penske Racing. And it makes me strive that much harder to be competitive.”

Allgaier already has his sights set on NASCAR’s visit to Daytona in July. That’s when the Nationwide Series rolls out its new fleet of cars for four events in 2010. Allgaier will pilot a Dodge Challenger, which he tested at Talladega, Ala. last fall.

“You have no idea how pumped up I am about this car,” he said. “Dodge has done such a great job of coming up with a car that, not only looks cool, but drives well.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to debut the Dodge Challenger this year. If it runs half as good as it looks, I’ll be very excited.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 27 2010
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