Kaulig Racing Has a Serious Problem on Its Hands
Kaulig Racing has quickly become one of the most successful teams in the NASCAR Xfinity Series just seven years after it entered the sport. But AJ Allmendinger‘s promotion to the company’s full-time Cup Series program leaves a void in the Xfinity Series that might be difficult to fill.
Kaulig Racing has grown to be a top-tier Xfinity Series team in short order
Matt Kaulig formed what was then a single-car organization in 2016 alongside Chris Rice. Blake Koch drove the No. 11 car for the first two seasons and managed 10 top-10 finishes, including a playoff berth both years. He did not reach Victory Lane, however, nor did Ryan Truex as his replacement in 2018.
Then former Cup Series driver Allmendinger joined future Cup Series driver Ross Chastain as part-timers for Kaulig in 2019. Chastain grabbed the organization’s first victory in the July race at Daytona International Speedway in the No. 16 car, and Allmendinger took the No. 10 car to Victory Lane in September at the Charlotte Roval.
Justin Haley was the operation’s full-time driver that season in the No. 11 car. While he didn’t win a race, he finished inside the top 10 in 20 of the series’ 33 events.
Kaulig Racing was then on its way and able to legitimately go “trophy hunting,” as members of the organization like to say.
Allmendinger won another two races in 2020, again in a part-time role, while Haley won three times and reached the Championship 4. He ultimately finished eighth in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway and third in the championship standings.
The organization expanded to a third full-time car in 2021 and increased its trophy haul in a single season from five in 2020 to seven the following year. Allmendinger won a career-high five races in his first year back as a full-time driver and qualified for the Championship 4. Haley and Jeb Burton each took the operation’s other two cars to Victory Lane once each.
Kaulig has had to shuffle its driver lineup in recent years
Allmendinger won another five races this past season and was the regular-season champion in the series, but Haley moved to the Cup Series full-time, and Burton went to drive the No. 27 car for Our Motorsports.
Kaulig Racing filled those two open spots with 2021 series champ Daniel Hemric to drive the No. 11 car and longtime veteran of the series Landon Cassill to pilot the No. 10 machine.
Neither Hemric nor Cassill were able to successfully hunt any trophies in 2022, which might not have been much of a surprise. Hemric’s lone NASCAR win in any series came in the 2021 championship race at Phoenix, which won him the title, and Cassill has never won in 560 races across NASCAR’s three national series.
Allmendinger is moving to the Cup Series again full-time in 2023 to drive Kaulig’s No. 16 car, which leaves the Xfinity Series side of the organization with a pair of incumbent drivers who have won one race combined in 810 NASCAR starts.
Chandler Smith will have big expectations after promotion from the Truck Series
20-year-old Chandler Smith will join Kaulig Racing to fill Allmendinger’s spot in the No. 16 Xfinity Series car after two full-time Camping World Truck Series campaigns in which Smith won five races combined in the No. 18 truck for Kyle Busch Motorsports. He also reached the Championship 4 in the Truck Series last year and finished third.
Smith has some big shoes to fill in a car Allmendinger has made one of the most competitive in the series, but Smith might suddenly be the organization’s best chance to win any Xfinity Series races next season.
He already posted a top-10 finish in his third career Xfinity Series race with a seventh-place run for Sam Hunt Racing in October at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The fact SHR had only four other top-10s the entire season makes that performance all the more impressive.
“Chandler Smith is a kid who we see a ton of potential in at Kaulig Racing,” Rice said in a press release announcing the hiring. “We take pride in giving kids like Chandler an opportunity to compete for wins and be a stepping stone in their career. It’s been exciting to see what Chandler has done in the truck series over two seasons, and we think competing for Kaulig Racing is the perfect next step for both Chandler and our team.”
The challenge for Smith could be to avoid feeling too much pressure to win if the organization gets off to a slow start in 2023.
Cassill had his best year to date in 2022 with five top-fives and 12 top-10s, but three of those top-fives came in superspeedway-style races, which account for a small percentage of the series schedule. Hemric dropped back to only three top-fives after he had 15 in his championship year with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Kaulig Racing is potentially poised for a big Cup Series season with Allmendinger and Haley as teammates. The roots of the organization in the Xfinity Series, however, could be in for a bit of a rebuild year as Smith acclimates to the series and his teammates continue to hunt for those elusive trophies.
Have thoughts on this topic? Keep the conversation rolling in our comments section below.