AVONDALE, AZ – Justin Allgaier will compete for the Xfinity Championship Saturday night in Phoenix (reportage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET in the US). This is his opportunity to finish the season fueled by a picture of himself after a disappointing loss.
Allgaier tearfully hugged team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. after last season’s Xfinity Championship race. That moment was captured in a photo that became Allgaier’s cellphone lock screen.
“I set that picture as my lock screen because I knew when we left Phoenix, I had nothing left,” said Allgaier, who is looking for his first title in his sixth Championship 4 appearance.
“I mean, I did everything I knew how to do and it didn’t add up to a championship. I’ve been here and I’ve had those moments where you don’t have that opportunity to go to Phoenix. I’ve been to Phoenix and I’ve been defeated. I’ve had a lot more defeats than joys in this playoff format.”
Why will Allgaier keep reminding himself that he’s falling short of the ultimate prize? The answer is simple – it helped motivate him for the 2023 Xfinity season.
“How do you figure out how you motivate yourself?” Allgaier asked. “You can let it eat you up from the inside, or you can let it be the fuel you need to get to the next one. And for me, that momentum is fuel, but the defeat would have been just as much fuel to be better next year.”
Earnhardt can relate: “You’re trying to win this championship. You had those years where you had an amazing race car. It seems like your time has come, and time and time again, it doesn’t. And every year you had to put aside the grief, the devastation, and try again.
“So eventually you get tired of trying so hard every year. It’s hard to get your confidence back and get over that heartbreak and try to come back and fight just as hard or even harder.”
Allgaier continued to fight.
He followed last season’s debacle by winning four races – the second most he’s won in an Xfinity season.
This season of success was not guaranteed. NASCAR history is full of examples of people who came within one race of winning a championship in a season, but never repeated the feat.
“When he loses it like he did last year, we’re standing on pit road crying together, you’re like, ‘Damn, is he going to pull through it?'” Earnhardt said. “Sometimes these types of losses can be really devastating, so you never recover emotionally or mentally. Even if you come back and compete, you’re just never that motivated.”
The photo of Allgaier and Earnhardt was only on the lock screen of Allgaier’s phone for a few weeks after the season ended. Allgaier changed it in favor of photos of his children opening Christmas presents.
Just days before the Xfinity Championship race, the current lock screen photo is of his two children sitting side by side in the sand. Their backs are to the camera as they face the water. An understandable choice for a proud father, but with Allgaier it has a deeper meaning.
“This one is interesting to me,” Allgaier said as he picked up his phone. “Because people have asked me many times, ‘Hey, why are you still doing this?’ Why do you still come to the track year after year? Why are you still in sports?’
“Right there. I want them to understand why I do what I do and the time away from my kids and the time away from home. I hope one day they do. They won’t right now – maybe they never will – but they I hope one day they do.”
Allgaier doesn’t know if he’ll win the championship Saturday night. His plan is to check off that goal, but whether that happens won’t change his opinion of his career and the special moments he’s had with his family.
A win on Saturday night could lead to another lock screen photo change. It’s sure to make for a special moment for him and Earnhardt.
“Just watching Justin go through the process and the celebration of (winning a championship), I’m just going to sit there and watch him go through this whole thing,” Earnhardt said. “Four, eight hours or whatever happens (to be) after winning a championship. You’re here taking pictures, talking to the media for hours. I’d like to watch him do that, to see him finally be able to enjoy it.