Transcript: Justin Allgaier – Press Conference Coke 600

NKP #5: Justin Allgaier / Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, H1100 Chevrolet Camaro

THE MODERATOR: We have now been joined by Justin Allgaier, who started behind the wheel of the No. 5 Chevrolet this evening for Hendrick Motorsports. Maybe just take us a little bit through your day, kind of realizing that you were going to start in the No. 5 and then really just as the race progressed kind of what that looked like from your vantage point in what is a unique situation, but you truly made the best of it today.

JUSTIN ALLGAIER: To be honest, I think even at like 3:00 I was pretty confident there was no way I was going to be driving today. With everything happening the way that it did, being able to be here, I’ve said it when I was here the other day, the attention to detail that Hendrick Motorsports has, being prepared for kind of all scenarios, and we were that tonight.

To be honest with you, starting the race, I was pretty disappointed in myself just getting acclimated. Kyle’s seat is so different from what I run, and the steering.

Cliff Daniels did an amazing job to get me up to speed. We were able to look at the SMT and get the car where I needed to be at, and then just balance. We worked on the balance throughout the course of the run there. To be able to unlap myself was probably the highlight of the night to be honest with you, to pass a Hendrick Motorsports teammate, to pass Ty, which I have a lot of respect for on the racetrack, was really, really nice, and it just kind of helped elevate the way the race went.

Restarts were definitely tough just with the aero. You guys all hear about aero blocking and aero wash and all those things every week from all the Cup drivers. You don’t need to hear it from me. But as somebody coming from the Xfinity Series, it was pretty wild how much different it was in traffic. To be able to kind of make our way up through there, we had great strategy and got ourselves up into 13th or whatever and felt like there was some good potential to even go further. But I told Cliff on the radio, I feel like Kyle getting here and getting in the car, even having to start in the back, I feel like he’s going to be able to slice through traffic. This Camaro was so good. You get opportunities very rarely in life to drive something that’s that good, and it truly was that.

It was really, really special and something that I’ll take for a number of years as I walk away that was a good opportunity.

Q.How good is the car? You said on the radio Kyle gets in that car, it’s a winning car.

JUSTIN ALLGAIER: It’s really pretty unbelievable. I think that the car has more potential than the driver did in that moment just because I feel like if I was able to go home tonight and kind of sleep on it and get my head wrapped around the car a little bit more, I’d be able to do things a little bit better or differently. My biggest weakness tonight was dirty air, knowing where to place the car, how to get myself in clean air.

Once we were able to do that, right there at the end, I think we ran the exact same time as the 20 maybe a couple laps before the end. That was important for me. Regardless of anything else, just trying to get up to speed and figure it out.

The other part, though, is my job is unique today. Kyle Larson is the reason that we’re all here. The double is so important. Me driving this car, my only job was keep the fenders on it, keep it as far forward as we can to make sure that we have a great opportunity for Kyle to get back in it, and if it was five laps to go or rain delayed like it is currently or if it was on lap 5, my job was to make sure that I handed him over a clean race car and try to adjust the balance to where he’ll be good.

I feel like we did that. I’m excited to see what Kyle does in it because I think having the experience and knowing what he is looking for in a race car, he’s going to be able to slice through the field, like I said.

The other side of that is I’m so pumped that he got the 500 in. I was bummed that I couldn’t watch it. You’re in the car and I’m asking Cliff, I think Cliff got tired of me asking how Kyle did at Indy, but it was important for me to know. I wanted to know where he was at and how close he was to making it.

Q.I know you have said this is about Kyle and this is Kyle’s car and he’s going to get in the car. But as good as this car is, is there a small part of you that wishes you would stay in the car until the end?

JUSTIN ALLGAIER: No, not at all. I know the car has the potential to go try to win this race tonight, and it would be a disservice to Kyle, to Cliff, to everybody on this 5 team, everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. If they’ve got somebody like Kyle on the ready that can go do this, you’ve got to go try to win the race, and they have the opportunity to do that.

A little bit of pit strategy, getting a little bit of clean air, I think Kyle has the opportunity to go win the race.

As far-fetched as that may sound to some of you, I think that he does.

The other part of that, too, is this whole process — how long have they announced that Kyle was going to do this? Two years? A year and a half, whatever it is? I’m bummed that it didn’t work out the way it was supposed to and run 1100 miles in one day. I have no interest in holding him back.

Could I figure it out by the end of the race? Maybe. But at the end of the day, my job was to keep it clean and to work on the balance, and I think we did a good job of that, and I think we made the 5 guys proud, and now he can go do what he needs to do and try to win the race.

Q.There was a lot of coaching on the radio from Cliff Daniels, especially early on in this race. What has it been like working with this team? I heard you say right before he climbed out of the car that this team really reminded you of working with your 7 team, which I would imagine speaks pretty high volumes considering how well you guys worked together in the Xfinity Series. What has this experience been like, and what was it like getting that coaching from Cliff in real time?

JUSTIN ALLGAIER: Well, first of all, any of you that know Cliff Daniels, he is very buttoned up, and he says all the right things, and he does all the right things.

He’s very positive on the radio, but I told Cliff before the race, I said, listen, I don’t know what I’m getting into. The last thing I want to do is wreck this thing.

I am not full of myself enough to know that I don’t need help, so any little piece of advice that you can give me along the way, make sure you tell me. The only way I’m going to get better is to have direction from you and what everybody else is doing, and you have so many great partners in the three other cars here at Hendrick Motorsports, all of our key partners at Chevrolet.

They’re able to see all of that. They’re able to see all of the data from every driver, but they’re really able to hone in on what we have as a balance and what we need to be doing.

Those are tools that are invaluable. As a young driver of this kind of car — I’m definitely not a young driver. I’ve got plenty of gray hair to prove that I’m not. But as somebody that’s not driven a lot of laps in this car, those moments are invaluable. As you’re learning it, there’s a couple of spots here, next restart, we gain a couple more spots.

I think you saw the progression when I was able to understand what he was telling me and really put it into play.

I love my 7 guys on the Xfinity side. They are as good as they get. I love the mental game of it. I love their attitude. That’s one thing that the 5 does well. Cliff is a very, very good leader, but he has incredible people on the 5 car. Pit crew, mechanics, everybody, engineers. It’s really special.

Kyle Larson is an incredible race car driver, but they all bring each other up for a reason. They’re all top-notch.

It was cool to experience. I think you take away some things. There were some things tonight that probably didn’t suit my style, but on the other side of it, there’s some things that we can go back and look at how they procedurally did some things, and I think it will be really good.

I think that for me, tonight was just a lot of fun. I was able to look inside the fish bowl of an ultra successful organization and driver and car team and make the most of it.

Q.Did you tell them you didn’t want to wreck it because of what happened at Brickyard? Were you having a flashback and you wanted to just erase that from your mind?

JUSTIN ALLGAIER: Yes, somewhat, but I think the other part of it is if I crash the car, and it doesn’t matter when Kyle gets here, if I crash the car, the double is over. The last thing I wanted for Kyle was to land in Charlotte and be like, oh, by the way, we wreckered that thing into the garage and you have nothing to get into. Whether it was halfway that he was going to get in it, or even before this, my job was to get the car to Kyle in a capacity that he could go try to win the race, whenever that was.

I think that that’s where like the fill-in role is really weird. If we come on a race weekend and if you were maybe in a fill-in role where somebody is hurt and they’re not racing that weekend, you can kind of lay caution to the wind a little bit and go try to run up front and to maximize the car. Today I think you saw some of those restarts losing spots because I wasn’t willing to put myself in some positions that I knew were not 100 percent passes, and I got some damage on the front straightaway on one of them.

To be honest with you, it probably went the other way. I almost got more nervous because now I’m getting into run and the last thing I need is the left rear tire to go down because of damage and crash. All that being said, my job was to give Kyle the best race car he could have to go try to win the race, and I think we did that, and so that’s where my reservations came from today.

Q.I think after that, Cliff said he was going to get less aggressive with the setup just to make you more comfortable, but that being said, when he comes over the radio and says your lap times are faster than the 24 and the 24 is leading the race, what does that do for your confidence?

JUSTIN ALLGAIER: Well, I drove by the 54 — the 24 and the 54 and then got racing with somebody else to try to stay on the tail end of the lead lap, got passed back by the 24, and then was able to get back by him. I’m going to be honest with you, that’s a hard spot to be in, because at the end of the day William Byron is my teammate tonight. While you’re still competing on the racetrack, I don’t want to ruin something for him that ultimately loses the lead or loses a position that will then lose the stage points for him.

The way it worked out, it didn’t matter, but you have to kind of calculate some risk in your head, and I think tonight, that was maybe the most fun part of it was wanting to be myself and just go for all of it to see how far up you could get there.

I wanted to get to the top 10. When the rain came, I felt like we were finally on that verge of being able to break into the top 10, and that’s what I’ve really wanted. I was feeling good. Everything was great. But at the end of the day, that wasn’t my job.

I said it earlier, if it was three laps to go and Kyle was here, we were going to switch out with three to go. I didn’t mind that. I knew what my job was, and I feel like I executed that tonight.

Q.I have no idea how the substitute driver contract or agreement, any of that stuff works, so I’m curious, do you have any sort of bonus or vested interest riding on what happens the rest of the way?

JUSTIN ALLGAIER: No. No. I’ve been lucky enough to be around the Hendrick organization for a number of years, and for me it really didn’t matter whether I substituted or didn’t. I was here on standby. That’s something for me that I’ve been lucky enough to be around that organization for a long time.

I cannot state enough how amazing the Hendrick Motorsports organization is. For me, I have a firesuit. This firesuit didn’t happen this week. This firesuit has been in play since January. All of this stuff is done in the off-season.

I think that that’s where when we talk about being buttoned up and making sure you have all your I’s dotted and your T’s crossed, they had all of that. Now, this morning we had a little bit of an issue. We didn’t know where the firesuit went. So we had a small moment of panic, but other than that, they had everything prepared.

For me, if I crashed on lap 1 or if Kyle goes out and wins the race, it doesn’t change the game. Pride fly I want Kyle to go win the race because I want to know that the adjustments that we made and the speed that we found tonight will ultimately give him the opportunity to go do that.

But regardless of how he finishes, just the double in his own, the planes, trains and automobiles that he played to get here, it’s really special. It’s been a fun day. I’m glad it’s over, and I’ll go to Portland next week with the Xfinity Series car and just be Justin again and go have some fun with it.

Q.I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but if Kyle does win, that’s your name on that. How would you celebrate that or recognize that? Is it like an IMSA split win kind of thing? How would you view that?

JUSTIN ALLGAIER: I feel like I ran over halfway, so maybe that helps me. I don’t know. Actually I told him I didn’t want anything. He could keep all of it. We could even cross my name out on the win list and put his on there. I said, the only thing I want is — there’s the champions lot over here where a race winner gets to park their motor home in the champions lot. I just want the ability to be able to do that, so I don’t know if Marcus is hearing me, but if Kyle wins that’s the only thing I want for winning since my name won’t be on the win, to be over there.

In all reality it will be weird. I know it’s happened in the past. I think Almirola and Denny had it happen in Milwaukee years ago. I’ll be sad if it does, not from the standpoint that I wasn’t able to win it, I’ll just be sad that Kyle doesn’t get the credit for it because I know how hard it is to win Cup Series races, and I know how much effort and time they put into it, and so I want that for him more than anything.

Q.When you finally got out of the car under the red flag, did you hear the fans and the pit box applauding specifically you and saying good job and thanks and all of that?

JUSTIN ALLGAIER: I did not. I walked over to all the crew members and gave all of them a handshake and a hug and told them all thank you. They have made this so easy. I was more focused on that and giving them the credit they deserved.

One of them actually picked me up and gave me a big hug, and it was pretty special in that moment. I’ve had the 5 guys as my pit crew in years past on the 7 team on the Xfinity side, have a great relationship with them. But the time and effort — we were at the shop until 9:00 p.m. one night this week just going over seatbelts, and all of them were there.

To be able to come through today and do all the right things, I felt like that was cool. I don’t know that the fans cared. It really didn’t matter. I just wanted to do my job and have fun with it.

Q.Along those same lines, this is unique because with the red flag you got to get out and actually go talk to Cliff and Kyle. I think he was on the box. It wasn’t just a quick driver swap. What did you want to talk to or get a chance to say to them as you got up there?

JUSTIN ALLGAIER: Yeah, I mean, I think I listened really intently when Kyle and Cliff discussed practice and what he was fighting and what he needed from a balance adjustment. A, I was able to take that in the car for tonight and to help build myself what I needed to feel. But then 2, we went from what felt like 200 degrees when we started the race in full sun to what we kind of have now, that chilly, cold weather. The track changed a lot. We were in quite a bit through that transition. Charlotte is always that way.

The Coca-Cola 600, usually the car that leads early on is not the car that’s the car that wins the race. You’ve got to kind of go through that transition.

I just wanted to kind of give him an idea that some of the same stuff he fought in practice was still there, some of the stuff we made better, and kind of almost help them decide on do they want to make any more adjustments. I’m assuming pit road will be open, they were able to come down — they’re going to be at the back anyway, so they’ll have the opportunity to come down, put some tires on it.

I just wanted to give him some Cliff Notes of — some race notes of what I fought and what I felt, and I guess they are Cliff notes because Cliff has got notes for his notes. Just tell him what I felt, and that made it good for me because I feel like Kyle as a racer, like he was — it was cool to watch him intently listen and to see what I had to say and he could go use that for when he gets in the car and goes out there and makes laps, so that was cool.

I was ready for the driver swap. He says he was not, by the way, because I practiced this morning, he did not. I think we would have been pretty good, but I was ready. I don’t think he was.

Q.Wanted to know the cool factor of all the things you’ve done in the sport, where this ranks, and then when you were starting the race, the pucker factor, how scared or pressure-packed it was?

JUSTIN ALLGAIER: Cool factor was pretty special, because just for example, like this hat, it doesn’t fit me. I look like I’m Yosemite Sam because it’s so tall. But at the same time — isn’t he the one that wears the really tall cowboy hat? I don’t have the cool mustache. But anyway, just being a part of this weekend, Hendrick Motorsports has put a lot of time and effort into the double, and all of what goes into it.

Just a simple memento like this hat is really cool regardless of how the day goes. Just the little stuff — my parents both keep everything from when I was a kid all the way up through now. My mom tells me all the time that when they’re gone I’m going to be miserable with all the stuff they’ve kept. Well, if they’ve instilled one thing in me, it’s that I’m a packrat, as well, and I’m a memento guy, so this will definitely be something that’s really cool.

The other side of that is it ranks up there really high because I felt like we succeeded and we were able to move forward and get better and do all the right things. That being said, I was pretty confident that I was going to be dead last after the first five laps. I mean, you talk about — it was like I was in Europe going on the wrong side of the road. That’s how weird it was. Even though I drive the wheel force car for Chevrolet in traffic, not knowing how some of these guys are on restarts now, some of them are crazy. I’m not going to lie to you. There were a few guys that I’m like, note to self: Do not get anywhere near them because we are going to crash.

That being said, once I got settled in, you’re like, oh, they weren’t really that crazy, that’s just how you’ve got to restart.

I think once I got comfortable, it was a lot better. That being said, I also don’t know that I would sit how Kyle sits in my own car. The steering wheel was a little bit further away. He runs a lot smaller steering wheel than I do, so just understanding all the different fit that Kyle does versus myself took me about 25 or 30 laps just to feel like I knew what I was doing, and then from there we were able to work on it and make it better.

Q.You also did such an unbelievable job and have always been a reliable pair of hands. I wonder with all the speculation that it’ll be a crazy, silly season, is there any part of you that thinks maybe this caught a Cup owner’s eye for 2025?

JUSTIN ALLGAIER: I don’t know if it did or not. I mean, obviously super happy with where I’m at at JR Motorsports and what we’ve been able to accomplish. Are there moments where I still would love to know what doing this full-time would be like again, and if you drive a car — if the 5 is open and Kyle Larson wants to go INDYCAR racing full time, I will gladly step in and fill the 5 seat. But in all reality, I don’t know.

My phone hasn’t rang, I can tell you that. There’s lots of young, up and coming drivers that are ultra talented that are ultimately going to be looking for rides.

I think that that’s kind of already signed. At the end of the day is that something that I still wish I could check off my bucket list? Yeah, it is. But the old saying is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I’m loving what I do right now. I’ve had shots to go for a championship in the Xfinity Series the last couple years. It would have to be the right opportunity for me to want to do it.

There were a few guys that I watched tonight that it makes you realize how important a really good car is, also. Yeah, you can have a great race car driver, but the car better be spot on, too. It’s got to be the right situation.

Q.You’ve talked a lot about getting ready to do this, the here and now. I know you’ve got to go to Portland next week, but when this is all over, whenever it’s over tonight —

JUSTIN ALLGAIER: Tomorrow morning, yes.

Q.And you get at least a day or two to sit back and reflect on this whole process, whether it’s driving, yourself personally, what will you take away from being able to be a part of this experience?

JUSTIN ALLGAIER: Well, I don’t get much rest. We have our debrief tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m., and then I fly to Iowa for the wheel force test Wednesday and Thursday, but I’m having to go on Tuesday to watch the Goodyear tire test.

I’m not going to have a whole lot of time to relish in any of it, but at the same time, it’s really cool, but at the same time, like I said earlier, it’s my job. That’s why I’ve been asked to be a reserve driver, and my job is to go out there and do the best job I can.

While it was cool and it was fun and it was a huge moment, I’ll go back to doing what I do and I’ll sit — if the opportunity comes up to do another fill-in job, I’ll go back and do my best again. As of now, I did what I was asked to do and tried to make the best run of that that I could for those guys.

Q.Obviously probably the best case scenario this week would have been Kyle running all 1100 miles, but for you personally, how big was having the opportunity to run as long as you did and have this chance, especially considering that your start with Hendrick at Indy a couple years ago was really over before it began?

JUSTIN ALLGAIER: Yeah, it was really terrible. That’s been brought up a couple times. I tried to put that one out of my memory. I didn’t even remember that I did that. But I did get to race with Jimmie tonight, quite a bit actually. That was kind of weird, kind of fun.

I look at the way that today could have gone, and perfect case scenario, right, Kyle was going to be able to run all 1100 miles. With that being said, though, I feel like getting time to get acclimated to the car and to understand what I needed to do to be better and get to the end of the race where I felt like we were running lap times that were competitive and we were moving through the field and doing all the right things, that was probably more important for me tonight. If he would have come at lap 25 or 50 when I was still not comfortable, it would have been a hard thing for me to swallow.

As much as it stinks that he wasn’t able to run more laps in the race, I just thought it was good for me because I finally got to where I was comfortable. I can step out of this race car and be perfectly content with how the day went because I knew that I was comfortable and we were making passes.

I want Kyle to run as many laps as possible. 151 left; is that right? I want Kyle to run 151 laps and go try to win the race. I would love for him to run 200 or 300. But the way that it worked out, it benefitted me really in the grand scheme of things, it benefitted me to give him more time, and it will help me — number one, kind of understand what I need to do better and learn and not be closed-minded sometimes, but number two is I’m doing all the wheel force testing for Chevrolet and GM, give me a better understanding of kind of some of the areas that the drivers are fighting.

I think when you test, sometimes it’s easy to get locked in on what you need to do in that moment, but sometimes you don’t kind of think in the back of your head what the drivers are really dealing with, and so that gives me a great opportunity to kind of help those guys and see what we can do to be better.

Q.I was at the pit box when you got out of the car and Kyle arrived. I would like you to pull the curtain back a little bit more on how unofficial or official the debrief was. Cliff Daniels was looking for you and was like, get him up here. How much can you really help him, and how formal was it, data? What were you looking at?

JUSTIN ALLGAIER: It was very informal. We discussed how cool Indy was and the formalities of Indy probably more than anything. But there are pertinent things that I needed to tell him.

That being said, I feel like Kyle is — I don’t know if he’s the greatest race car driver of our generation, but he’s got to be close. I think you guys see that week in and week out. To go do what he did at Indy — we talked about his speeding penalty at Indy and he was so frustrated with himself at how that kind of came together.

But the thing that I love is when I told him what I was fighting, he listened. He ingested it, and he asked questions, and I feel like I would ask to kind of follow up. We were able to go over some things.

Will that make it perfect that he goes out there and it’ll drive itself? No, absolutely not. But I think he’s a good enough and talented enough race car driver that he’s going to adapt.

So the thing is for him — for me, everything was new. All the guys — Trevor Monn spotted for me. Tyler was in Indy with Kyle, so very different voice on the radio for me. I’m used to Eddie and have gotten accustomed to Eddie’s style for many, many years and have gotten accustomed to him. So having somebody different talking to me between Cliff and him. So when I was able to say some things, they’re like, oh, yeah, that’s normal for us. We’re used to that.

But even from a data standpoint, I don’t feel like what I was helping them with was a — it’s not about adjusting the car, what the car did. It was more so, okay, what did I do when I got comfortable in that last maybe 20-lap run was kind of what I imparted on what Kyle needed to look at, and I think he’s going to be great whenever he gets back in it.

Q.You talked about not wanting to crash the car. You make it sound easy. For the fans and mere mortals like those of us who would lay awake at night thinking about it, how much was it you knew that was a possibility? How much did that go through your mind, and if it didn’t, how did you keep it out of your mind?

JUSTIN ALLGAIER: So my wife asked me what was wrong with me when I left the house earlier today because I still wasn’t sure I was going to drive. My wife is kind of upset at me because my phone stopped working and I couldn’t tell her that I was actually going to drive so she didn’t even know — they didn’t even get to come to the racetrack today because when I left the house, I was like, honey, just stay home, I’m not racing, there’s no way I’m getting in this thing. But when I left the house, she’s like, is something wrong? Did I make you mad? I said, no. She said, are you all right? I said, no. She goes, what’s wrong? I said, I’ve got to go start the 5 car in a car that I’ve never driven on a guy that’s trying to do the 1100 today. There’s only a few eyes watching what he does. If I go out there and do something stupid and wreck that thing, everybody is going to know it. You don’t get the luxury of just kind of getting comfortable in there because it is Kyle Larson and he’s Kyle Larson.

I thought I was going to throw up at one point before I got in the car, to be perfectly honest with everybody, and I didn’t, so when I finally got comfortable, I actually had to tighten my seatbelt up because I felt like — I just felt my body get relaxed and I was able to go, and by the time the race was over — we were actually doing the right thing. It was cool. There’s a lot of things that I did for the first time tonight that I haven’t done. It was worth it.

Q.You’ve used your cell phone background to reflect emotional moments throughout your life and career, whether it’s heartbreak after a championship race or happy times with your family at the beach. Does this get a spot on the phone?

JUSTIN ALLGAIER: Well, right now it’s my wife and kids. I actually missed a call from Mr. H. I probably should have my phone sitting upright. It’s my wife and kids at one of the racetracks, and yes, this is a cool moment for me, but those three women in my life — something on the racetrack will never surpass that. While it’s cool and it may not be cell phone worthy — it will be on my phone. I’ll have pictures. I’ve got to found out who I need to ask at HMS to see if I can get some of the photos from today. I’m sure somebody will help me.

But probably I’m wearing this tall hat and I’m going to look really weird.

In that regard, I feel like I just wanted to make everybody proud. There’s no reason to go out there and just do it for the fun of it or whatever. You just want people to enjoy it. We’re in the entertainment business. I want the fans that are sitting in the grandstands to have fun and cheer on the 5 car, whether it’s Kyle Larson or Justin Allgaier. It’s been pretty cool.

I’ve got to say, working with the Hendrick Cars folks, super, super awesome. Working with everybody there has been really, really cool. It’s big moments that I’ll look back on and they will be very important in the scope of things, but I do wish my family was here pre-race to take some photos. That’s probably the only thing that I regret is not trying to figure out how to get them here because I really didn’t think that I was going to start the race.

When I found out I was going to start the race, I literally didn’t stop. From the time I found out we were starting until the time I got in the car, I literally was like a ping-pong ball bouncing back and forth between everything that we had to do. We had meetings and people, and it just was kind of wild. I literally had to like throw my firesuit on in a hurry to even go out to go to the drivers’ meeting. That’s my fault but still a really cool moment.

I appreciate y’all. I did get the great pleasure of getting you captive because there’s rain outside, so at least that works. But thanks all for the help, and thanks for covering Kyle’s double. Now I get to go watch him have a little bit of fun and try to win a race.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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