Justin Allgaier on track aboard the No. 5 Chevrolet during the Coca-Cola 600. (HHP/David Graham)

A Stellar Fill-In Effort By Allgaier At Charlotte

It was a hectic Sunday for Hendrick Motorsports, specifically Kyle Larson, Justin Allgaier and the No. 5 Chevrolet NASCAR Cup Series team. 

Between the unknowns of whether Larson would jet back to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600 due to contesting the Indianapolis 500, or if he’d make it in time for any of the event, the team was forced to pivot to Allgaier as a backup driver. 

A hefty weather delay forced the 108th Indianapolis 500 to start at 4:44 p.m. ET. The NASCAR Cup Series’ Coke 600 was set to take the green flag at 6:22 p.m. ET. 

Larson finished 18th in his maiden Indy 500 drive with Arrow McLaren. 

The delay put the team in a difficult position. With Larson set to arrive in Charlotte after the Coke 600 began, Allgaier got the start.

Allgaier said the plan for him to be Larson’s backup driver had been in the works since the beginning of the year.

“I cannot state enough how amazing the Hendrick Motorsports organization is,” Allgaier said. “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 offseason.

“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.”

The longtime JR Motorsports driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series has played the role of substitute driver for HMS before.

Kyle Larson in his pit box after arriving at Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

In 2020, Allgaier filled in for Jimmie Johnson aboard the No. 48 Chevrolet at Indianapolis after Johnson tested positive for COVID. It was a short-lived experience for Allgaier, however, as he crashed after 17 laps. 

Prior to the race, Allgaier told his crew “t​​he last thing I want to do is wreck this thing.”

While the 37-year-old admitted his experience at Indy four years ago was the part of the reason he voiced that thought, there was a bigger picture in mind. 

“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,” Allgaier said.

“The last thing I wanted for Kyle was to land in Charlotte and be like, ‘Oh, by the way, we wrecked 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.”

Shortly after Allgaier’s press conference, NASCAR called the race official after 249 laps. Larson, who had arrived in his pit stall as the caution flag was out for rain, never ran a lap aboard the No. 5 Chevrolet. 

Allgaier was credited with a 13th-place finish, his best in a Cup Series car since 2016 aboard the No. 51 for HScott Motorsports at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, where he also finished 13th. 

While it’s been an invigorating and satisfying experience for Allgaier, he’s more than ready to get back to competing for trophies in the Xfinity Series.  

“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,” Allgaier concluded.