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We’re not done with this season as Chase Elliott and Joey Logano lead the field of eight into the NASCAR Cup Series semifinals beginning Sunday in Las Vegas.

Seven drivers still in contention come from Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske, and Stewart-Haas Racing, all long-established teams. The outlier is Ross Chastain of Trackhouse Racing, a team in its second season of Cup Series racing. Were it not for mechanical issues, teammate Daniel Suarez could easily have joined Chastain in the next phase of the playoffs.

In short, it’s been an A-plus year for Trackhouse. Now, in the craziness of the action on the Charlotte Roval over the weekend, we may have found next year’s Trackhouse: Kaulig Racing.

Kaulig Racing’s AJ Allmendinger nearly pulled a weekend sweep

AJ Allmendinger was on the verge of becoming the fifth non-playoff driver in six contests to win late in Sunday’s Cup Series race. Allmendinger, the best road-course driver in NASCAR, had huge contact with Chase Elliott and went off the pavement as the final restart in overtime turned into a mosh pit.

Despite it all, ‘Dinger’ finished fourth one day after he won the Xfinity Series race on the Roval for the fourth straight season. The fifth-place finisher was Justin Haley, the driver of the No. 31 Chevy and Allmendinger’s teammate at Kaulig Racing.

Allmendinger led 24 of the day’s 112 laps and was in the thick of the action at the end, so he earned some attention throughout the race. On the other hand, Haley was virtually anonymous. The best guess here is that they’re both going to be hard to ignore in 2023.

Kaulig Racing has had a busy Silly Season

As Kaulig Racing’s first full-time Cup Series season winds down, owner Matt Kaulig and president Chris Rice have been busy. With Justin Haley already under contract for next season, the process began with deciding what to do with the No. 16 Chevy.

AJ Allmendinger has driven the “16” in nearly half the races this season, with the rest of the rides split between Noah Gragson and Daniel Hemric. Gragson, who drives in the Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports, has signed to go full-time in the 2023 Cup Series with Petty GMS, so the Kaulig brain trust had to decide the future of the shared car.

That decision came last week when the team announced Allmendinger will drive the “16” exclusively next season, making him eligible for the playoffs. In the meantime, he is in the thick of this season’s Xfinity Series playoff battle after winning the regular-season championship.

Preparing for Allmendinger’s move to full-time Cup Series duty, Kaulig signed Joe Gibbs Racing driver Brandon Jones for next season, then announced Landon Cassill will retain his Xfinity lineup spot for 2023. Completing its roster, the team revealed this weekend it has picked up the contract of Hemric, the defending champion, for another year in NASCAR’s second-tier circuit.

AJ Allmendinger and Justin Haley could be very competitive

Team president Chris Rice, driver AJ Allmendinger, and owner Matt Kaulig of Kaulig Racing talk on the grid prior to the the NASCAR Xfinity Series Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 30, 2022. | James Gilbert/Getty Images
Team president Chris Rice, driver AJ Allmendinger, and owner Matt Kaulig of Kaulig Racing talk on the grid prior to the the NASCAR Xfinity Series Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 30, 2022. | James Gilbert/Getty Images

AJ Allmendinger Offers Hilarious Take On Tension Between Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson

The Next Gen car rollout worked out extremely well for the second-year Trackhouse Racing team. Ross Chastain, still alive in the Cup Series playoffs, has two victories and 17 top-10 finishes after eight top-10s the previous season for Chip Ganassi Racing. Daniel Suarez went from four appearances in the top 10 in his first season with Trackhouse to 12 this time around.

The reason to be bullish on Kaulig Racing next year has largely to do with Allmendinger’s expertise on road courses, including four finishes in the top 10 this year in the Cup Series. Ten of his 15 Xfinity Series triumphs have come on road courses.

As for Haley, he’s had a quiet season with four finishes in the top 10 and stands a modest 22nd in points. However, Haley, who drove for Spire Motorsports last year before Kaulig acquired the charter, has come on strong in the second half of the season. He has finished worst than 21st only once in his last 14 outings, including third at Texas Motor Speedway and fifth at Charlotte in the last three weeks.

The Roval represented a breakthrough for Kaulig, which put both cars in the top five for the first time. The organization had experienced all the usual growing pains in its first season, ranging from hassles getting through pre-race inspection to slow pit stops.

With a year under its belt, a superb road course driver going full-time, and Haley’s penchant for finishing races higher on the pylon than he started, the Kaulig bunch has a reason to feel optimistic about 2023.

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