AVONDALE, Ariz.—The safest strategy for Justin Allgaier to advance to the Championship 4 Round was basic—come into ISM Raceway and win.
The driver of the No. 7 Brandt Chevrolet called his shot—then did just that in Saturday’s Desert Diamond 200.
Allgaier took to lead on Lap 135 and held the point over the final 65 laps for his first win of 2019 and the 11th of his Xfinity Series career.
“We did what we needed to do, we came in here and got the win,” Allgaier said. “I’m pumped to go to Homestead and fight for the championship.”
Cole Custer finished second followed by Tyler Reddick, John Hunter Nemechek, Zane Smith, Austin Cindric, Justin Haley, Chase Briscoe and Noah Gragson.
Custer locked himself into the Championship 4 on points midway through the race. Reddick, the defending Xfinity Series champion, followed suit after finishing fourth in both stages and finishing third.
Custer, who led 95 laps in the first half of the race at Homestead-Miami Speedway last season then lost the race—and the championship—to Reddick by nearly seven-seconds, remains optimistic entering the season finale.
“I think we can go there and win,” Custer said. “There’s no reason why we can’t. Last year we led the most laps and this year we’re probably better, so I think we can go there and really compete for a championship.”
Christopher Bell, who won last week at Texas, dominated the first half of the race and 92 laps before he suffered a speeding penalty on Lap 94. Bell restarted 22nd, climbed up to eighth-place then spun in Turn 2 on Lap 117 to trigger the fourth and final caution. Bell fell off the lead lap during repairs to the No. 20 Toyota and finished 16th.
“I spun out,” Bell said. “I was trying pretty hard to get back through the field and trying to do a crossover move on, I don’t remember who I was behind at that time, and whenever I hit the apron, I just spun out. On accident, not on purpose. After I spun out, I got a flat tire and I had to go all the way around the race track with a flat tire and it just drug the sway bar arm off so I had no sway bar and that’s why I wasn’t competitive after that.”
With a two-tire stop on the final pit stop, Briscoe lined up second and quickly moved to the lead on Lap 121. Allgaier caught the No. 98 Ford 14 laps later and extended his lead over Custer by .810-seconds at the finish.
“We needed to win, not just for the spot at Homestead but for all the guys back there,” Allgaier said of the No. 7 JR Motorsports team, who have supported him the last four years.
For Allgaier, who missed the Championship 4 Round last season after falling apart in the Playoffs, winning Phoenix and advancing to the title bout was a moral victory.
“This sport is really, ‘What have you done for me lately?’,” Allgaier said. “Winning five races before the (2018) Playoffs was awesome, the Playoffs started and we were a ghost town. We were nowhere to be found. When you look at it on the flip side, you think, ‘Man, that was terrible.’ For me, I didn’t handle last year like I should have—not that I was bad by any means but I just didn’t do a good job. More, for me, was learning how to do a better job.
“My guys deserve a better job. These guys pour their hearts and souls into these race teams. They work way too many hours. They put in way too much effort. They think about things even when they’re not at the race shop. They’re always trying to figure out how to make these race cars faster.
“And if the guy holding the wheel doesn’t do his job, it’s all for naught. So for me, this year, I took a completely different approach. I had fun with it—that’s first and foremost. But number two, I worked hard at putting myself in better positions, and it has worked out ok.”