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Disconnected by Verizon, Allgaier Turns To Turner

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 4 2010

Justin Allgaier, the top Nationwide-only driver, will turn to Turner next season. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Fort Worth, Texas – Justin Allgaier’s once-promising NASCAR Nationwide Series career at Penske Racing apparently will continue at Turner Motorsports in 2011.

Turner Motorsports, which acquired Braun Racing late last month, has scheduled a news conference Friday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway, reportedly to introduce Allgaier as part of its expanding driver lineup for next season.

The 2009 Nationwide Rookie of the Year, Allgaier is fourth in points through 32 races, highest Nationwide-only driver in the standings. Allgaier trails Sprint Cup regulars Brad Keselowski, his corporate Penske teammate, and former series champions Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch heading into practice and qualifying for Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at TMS.

Allgaier’s departure from the team owned by Roger Penske was prompted by the loss of primary sponsor Verizon Wireless from the No. 12 Dodge Charger. Verizon reportedly is reducing its NASCAR involvement to focus on its NFL programs.

Allgaier, 24, said he has been operating “more or less” as a free agent since Penske gave him permission to look for another fulltime ride.

“Even though I’ve been given clearance (to look), I wanted to give Penske Racing every opportunity to find something for next year,” Allgaier said during a telephone interview earlier this week. “My goals are on the Nationwide side and I think I’ve got a couple opportunities that could play out.

“There’s quite a few teams I’ve talked to. When all this came out, it opened up some people’s eyes and I’ve talked to Turner and quite a few teams. There’s a lot of people trying to help me in the garage, and I appreciate that.”

Allgaier said he wasn’t blindsided by Verizon’s decision to leave Penske and NASCAR’s second-tier series. Verizon also sponsored the Dallara/Honda driven by IZOD IndyCar Series points-runnerup Will Power during 2010.

“Any time you have a sponsorship renewal coming up, it’s tough,” Allgaier said. “You have to make sure you can do everything you can and we did that. I knew it was going to be questionable and when it came back the way it was, I was disappointed. At the same time I’m appreciative of the opportunity I’ve gotten. On track, we made the most of my opportunity and we have the rest of the season to show what we’re made of. I guess in a way I’m looking forward to the challenge and opportunity. I’m appreciative of where I’ve been, but change will be good.”

Allgaier posted his lone series win to-date on March 20 on the high-banked, half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway – ironically, beating Keselowski by 0.178-seconds. Keselowski, driver of the No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge, has an insurmountable 485-point lead over Edwards and can give Penske his first NASCAR championship by merely starting the final three races. Keselowski also can clinch with a finish of 21st or better on TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval.

Allgaier has two poles to go with eight top-five and 19 top-10 results this season. He has posted an average starting position of 11.7 and an average finish of 11.6. Allgaier has led 221 laps of competition while completing 97.5 percent of laps contested (5,736 of 5,884).

Allgaier declined to link the loss of his sponsorship to the domination of the top three Nationwide spots by Cup regulars. “I think it’s more a victim of circumstance and the economy,” Allgaier said. “In this day and age, I can’t blame (owners) for using Cup guys. They’re going to bring more brand-awareness and more bang for the buck.

“But I feel as a young guy, and a Nationwide-only guy, I have a lot to offer as well. That’s the one thing we’re trying to portray to a sponsor. We are the highest Nationwide-only guy. I‘m proud of that. But I enjoy the Cup guys (racing in Nationwide) because it’s good for fans and ticket sales and a lot of different things. I’m glad to see them there but you’ve got to be careful because it does affect (competition).

“Getting our first win at Bristol, a lot of people made the comment, ‘You beat all the Cup guys.’ I’m not saying that a win in a stand-alone race is discredited, but that’s one aspect of it we’ve tried not to have.”

Penske also is dealing with the end-of-season loss of primary sponsor Mobil 1 from Cup regular Sam Hornish Jr.’s No. 77 Dodge. Mobil 1 announced on Oct. 12 it had signed a multi-year agreement with former two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart as primary sponsor on the No. 14 Chevrolet Impala.

“It’s frustrating, but the (Penske) Cup program…they’re trying to get it turned in the right direction,” Allgaier said. “The thing is, most of the companies that are a part of Penske have been there a number of years. You’re starting to see some of the fallout of relationships ending. When you’ve had a great relationship (with a sponsor) you don’t want to look outside that box and you get comfortable. Do I think they’ll be down for long? Absolutely not. They’ll be a force to be reckoned with soon.”

Allgaier won six races en route to the 2008 ARCA championship, not only ending Frank Kimmel’s series record of eight consecutive titles but also blipping Penske’s radar screen. Allgaier started his first four Nationwide races as a developmental driver for Penske Racing in 2008, and “The Captain” rewarded the native of Riverton, Ill., with a fulltime series ride for ‘09.

Allgaier won the 2008 ARCA title on a team fielded by his father, Mike, who as owner of Hoosier Tire Midwest regularly barnstormed the circuit. Allgaier made his ARCA debut at 16 at the famed Illinois State Fairgrounds for former ARCA and NASCAR Cup regular Kenny Schrader.

Turner Motorsports, co-owned by Steve and Sandra Turner, plans to field three Nationwide and three Camping World Truck Series teams next year. Former motorcycle champion Ricky Carmichael and native Texan James Buescher will continue as Truck regulars for an organization that made its series debut at TMS in November2009.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 4 2010
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