(Eds: With AP Photos.)
By LUKE MEREDITH
AP Sports Writer
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Justin Allgaier started the season with a new car, a new crew chief and a relatively new pit crew.
The changes haven't led to a victory just yet for the veteran NASCAR Nationwide Series driver, but Allgaier is confident the No. 31 car will be a winner in the weeks ahead.
Allgaier is currently fourth in the Nationwide standings, only one point behind Elliott Sadler and 43 behind leader Regan Smith despite a massive overhaul of his team in the offseason. Allgaier will run again Saturday at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"We weren't really sure how well the season was going to start off. We could start off 40th or we could start off first. We really weren't sure," Allgaier said Monday at an event to promote the Iowa Speedway's first race of the season next month. "We spent a couple of weeks just kind of maintaining, which put us backward a little bit ... Now I feel like we're back on that forward progression and I feel really good about the direction we're going."
Allgaier, in his fifth full season on the Nationwide circuit, has three career victories and has never finished lower than sixth in the standings - but a new year brought major changes for the No. 31 car.
Allgaier's team, Turner Scott Motorsports, hired crew chief Scott Zipadelli to work with him in 2013. Zipadelli, who helped Boris Said win a Nationwide race in Montreal in 2010, has nearly 200 series races to his credit as a crew chief.
Despite a few rough patches, Allgaier and Zipadelli have proven a good pair so far.
Allgaier was third in Phoenix in March. Two weeks later, he won the pole at Bristol, leading 62 laps before finishing eighth. Allgaier then went three straight races with no finish better than 10th before earning his second top-5 at Talladega earlier this month.
Allgaier said he's been encouraged by the improvement and believes the work the Turner Scott team has put in with himself, Nelson Piquet and Kyle Larson will lead to a strong summer for all three cars.
"He's very talented. Obviously he brings a lot of things to the table that we've known about, but we just didn't necessarily know how to put it into place," Allgaier said of Zipadelli. "Some of the stuff you're going to see in the summer months is kind of a culmination of all three of our Nationwide crew chiefs getting together and helping us progress our program."
Allgaier even spent the weekend trying to emulate Zipadelli. The Nationwide series was off last weekend, so Allgaier flew to Toledo, Ohio, and served as a crew chief for his father Mike's ARCA team. His driver, Kelly Kovski, finished a respectable ninth. Still, Allgaier discovered he's much more comfortable in the driver's seat.
"It was a bit interesting, but glad I was able to do it," Allgaier said. "I learned very quickly that that's not where I want to be at. But I enjoyed it. It was a good experience. It gives you a new outlook on crew chiefs and what they go through on a race weekend."
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