Food City 250 - Qualifying

Cup: Justin Allgaier now official at Phoenix Racing

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It’s not a big surprise, but Phoenix Racing has confirmed this morning that they’ve crossed the T’s, dotted the I’s, and made things official with Sprint Cup rookie Justin Allgaier.

Allgaier, one of eight drivers that will contend for this year’s Rookie of the Year title in the Cup Series, will drive the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet. Agriculture retail/manufacturing company Brandt will back Allgaier and the No. 51 for 21 races, continuing their partnership with the Illinois native into a fourth season.

“This is an opportunity of a lifetime and I intend to make the most of it,” Allgaier said in a team statement. “I am very grateful to [team owner] Harry Scott and Brandt for having faith in me to compete against the best drivers in the world.”

Allgaier finished a solid fifth in last year’s NASCAR Nationwide Series standings driving the No. 31 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet, posting one pole, six Top-5s, and 16 Top-10s. He also made his first four Sprint Cup starts with Phoenix during the 2013 Chase, turning in a top finish of 24th at Talladega.

Now he becomes a key part of Phoenix Racing’s drive to not only improve its performance but achieve some stability as well after using 12 different drivers last season – a group that included several other 2014 Rookie of the Year contenders such as Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing), Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing), and Ryan Truex (BK Racing).

“Justin has worked extremely hard to get to this level and he is ready to take the next step,” Scott said. “Working with competition director and crew chief Steve Addington, I think the No. 51 can turn some heads this year.”

Also looking forward to moving up to Cup is Brandt, who will combine on the No. 51 with multiple other agriculture-centric sponsors such as the National FFA to create what it calls “the only true Ag-focused car” in NASCAR’s top category.

“We are proud to help field the ‘Ag’ car,” said Brandt company president and CEO Rick Brandt. “This is an effort to raise awareness and build a positive reputation for agriculture of all kinds. We believe passionately that agriculture is the essential industry and we’re doing our part to get that message out.”

The team release also lists former Sprint Cup champion Bobby Labonte to run “several” races in Phoenix’s No. 52 Chevrolet this year, including next month’s season-opening Daytona 500.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Marco Andretti

Marco Andretti
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the Verizon IndyCar Series field in 2015 with Marco Andretti, who finished ninth after another top-10 season in points.

Marco Andretti, No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda

  • 2014: 9th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 5th, 2 Podiums, 2 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 23 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 12.2 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 9th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 3rd, 2 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 60 Laps Led, 11.5 Avg. Start, 9.1 Avg. Finish

It was a dependable, quiet but usually consistent season from Marco Andretti, who up until the final quarter of the season had actually been his father’s most reliable finisher.

Andretti didn’t necessarily have a ton of standout drives but he was usually there or thereabouts, and by the end of the day he was often at the low ends of the top-10, which earlier this year given the at-times troublesome Honda aero kit package on road and street courses was more of an accomplishment than you’d think. Three top-10 results in the first four races was proof positive of that.

As ever Andretti excelled most on the big ovals. Sixth at the Indianapolis 500 was as good as was possible given the lack of top-end speed; similarly, he probably could have emerged at the head of the field at Fontana, ending third when all was said and done.

His best result was second in the rain at Detroit race one, although coming second to teammate Carlos Munoz had to sting a little bit. Andretti had driven well that race, and was unfortunate not to be rewarded with his first win in four years.

The thing that would have been his standout stat of the year, finishing every lap, game unglued with an odd accident on home soil in Pocono. It was a shame to see because Andretti was typically good, if not great, for yet another season.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Tony Kanaan

Tony Kanaan
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver lineup in the Verizon IndyCar Series, after the 2015 season, with eighth-placed Tony Kanaan.

Tony Kanaan, No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 7th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 2nd, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 407 Laps Led, 9.2 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 8th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 3 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 213 Laps Led, 7.6 Avg Start, 9.9 Avg. Finish

You have to give TK credit. Armed with one of the best cars on the grid, Kanaan has certainly raised his game the last two years, and probably hasn’t received enough credit or enough results for some of his drives he’s put in since joining Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2013 season.

The 2015 season was no exception. All 10 of his top-10 finishes were between second and seventh, so there were plenty of times he was in win and podium contention. The other area where he improved was his qualifying. Kanaan only had two starts outside the top-12 all season, one of which occurred at Detroit race two, where the grid was set by points following a rain cancellation. Detroit was pretty much the only weekend where Kanaan didn’t figure into qualifying or the race. Blame the Taylor Swift-inspired Big Machine Records livery for that one if you want.

Accidents at the Indianapolis 500 and Pocono were costly retirements as Kanaan definitely had a shot to win both those races. But realistically you couldn’t find many other faults. Losing a sure win at Iowa due to a mechanical issue was a gutting blow. He was also unlucky to come up just shy at Fontana, and may have prevailed in a last-lap shootout.

More often that not however, Kanaan was firmly on top of his game, and reliably on par with his championship-winning teammate Scott Dixon, which was all you could ask for. It’s fitting the two of them opened the year as part of the winning lineup in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with Kanaan then helping out matters by finishing ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya at Sonoma, to ensure Dixon had enough points to win the title on countback.