Building Around AJ Allmendinger Set Kaulig Racing on the Path to a Quick Start in the NASCAR Cup Series

Does winning at one level translate to success at the next? Individually and as a team, the Kaulig Racing crew amassed great credentials in the NASCAR Xfinity Series after starting from scratch in 2016. Now, the organization is fielding two full-time cars in the Cup Series, where it will be anything but the start-up 23XI Racing was a year ago.

Do not be surprised if owner Matt Kaulig celebrates in Victory Lane at least once in 2022. AJ Allmendinger already gave Kaulig a taste of what winning at the top level feels like, and the team is ready for more.

Kaulig Racing built its foundation in the Xfinity Series

Kaulig Racing driver AJ Allmendinger poses for a photo during NASCAR Production Days at Clutch Studios on Jan. 18, 2022, in Concord, North Carolina. | Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Kaulig Racing driver AJ Allmendinger poses for a photo during NASCAR Production Days at Clutch Studios on Jan. 18, 2022, in Concord, North Carolina. | Chris Graythen/Getty Images

When the NASCAR Cup Series opens with the Daytona 500, every past Xfinity Series champion since 2009 will be there. Had Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer not retired sooner than expected, the streak would date to 2004. The moral of the story is that winning at the Xfinity level is a valid indication that a driver is likely to have staying power at NASCAR’s highest level.

One of those drivers will be Daniel Hemric, the defending Xfinity champion who is driving a partial Cup Series schedule for the team after an offseason move from Joe Gibbs Racing to Kaulig Racing. Hemric is sharing the No. 16 Chevy with AJ Allmendinger and Noah Gragson, both of whom also raced in the Xfinity Championship 4 last November.

Meanwhile, Justin Haley will drive the No. 31 Chevy throughout the season. The 22-year-old is an interesting story all by himself, having won races at the trucks, Xfinity, and Cup Series levels since 2018. He made three appearances in the Cup Series for Spire Motorsports in 2019 and won the summer Daytona race on the road course …  which brings us back to Allmendinger.

Matt Kaulig hired AJ Allmendinger with a purpose in mind

AJ Allmendinger drove in 371 NASCAR Cup Series races from 2006-18 but was unemployed when Matt Kaulig offered him five starts as a road course ringer in the 2019 Xfinity Series. Dinger responded by winning on the Charlotte Roval. It bought him 11 races in the 2020 season, and he won once apiece on ovals and road courses.

At that point, Kaulig knew he had to sign Allmendinger for full-time duty in 2021.

“AJ has been extremely great for us,” Kaulig told Bob Pockrass of Fox Sports. “As you know, not only does he win trophies for us, but he’s a really great mentor for our younger drivers and he teaches them a lot. He’s been great for us. … We’ve all benefited from the knowledge and the veteran leadership of AJ.”

The 2021 season was marvelous for both driver and team. Allmendinger won five Xfinity races and the regular-season points championship before settling for fourth place in the final standings. But the Cup Series race in Indianapolis put both him and the Kaulig Racing team on the map.

Kaulig has already made the decision to expand into the Cup Series full-time in 2022, but he entered his key driver in five races to test the waters. Running strong late in the race on the Indy road course, Allmendinger took advantage of Chase Briscoe wiping out Denny Hamlin in overtime to pull off what Kaulig hopes is the first of the team’s many Cup Series victories.

Signing AJ Allmendinger showed why the team can compete in 2022

The phrase “trophy hunting” shows up repeatedly on the Kaulig Racing website, and the owner had winning in mind when he signed AJ Allmendinger. The move has worked out as intended, as Allmendinger has accounted for nine of the organization’s 15 race victories.

It was all so obvious to Matt Kaulig. After all, there were 40 drivers out there capable of winning races, but maybe five of them possessed the chops to win on any road course. So, why take a 39-to-1 gamble when you could go with the short odds?

“Not always, but the team with the best players usually wins,” Kaulig told Bob Pockrass. “So, if you can get the best players, you have a way better chance of winning. … Hey, if you can get a great road course racer, then you have a way better chance of winning than we had.”

Winning on the roads is something Allmendinger has already done five times. All he has to do is win once in 2022, and Kaulig Racing’s inaugural Cup Series season would qualify as every bit the success the 23XI’s debut season was.

Don’t bet against it happening.

All stats courtesy of Racing Reference.

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