Kaulig Racing announced Wednesday that AJ Allmendinger will return full-time to the NASCAR Cup Series in 2023, driving the team’s No. 16 Chevrolet.
The news emerged during a presentation during Kaulig Racing’s Fan Day festivities at the organization’s Welcome, North Carolina, race shop. Allmendinger will team up alongside Justin Haley in the two-car Cup Series effort for team owner Matt Kaulig and team president Chris Rice next year.
It’s the latest leg of a career resurgence for Allmendinger, 40, who stepped away from a full-time Cup schedule after the 2018 season before returning to Xfinity Series competition with the Kaulig Group. Next year. He added to an increased workload on Xfinity with a partial Cup Series task last year, bringing Kaulig his first Cup Series win of 2021 at Indianapolis.
“I’ve always told Matt and Chris over the past four years, and especially the past two full-time years in Xfinity, that I would always do what’s best for the company,” said Allmendinger told NASCAR.com last weekend at Talladega. Superspeedway, where he earned his fourth Xfinity Series victory of the season. “Something I discovered when I thought I was retiring or semi-retired when I was doing the TV side of things for NBC, I really enjoyed that side and needed a break from the race, at least full time.
“But as I started to run a few races with Kaulig Racing in the first year and then especially in 2020, having success, like the weekends when I wasn’t there, I started to really miss it. And that’s what led to doing the Xfinity side full time. And from all of that, I really enjoyed the team, the atmosphere on the race track, the atmosphere away from the race track, and I really appreciate everyone and I appreciate and love the hard work and the support and the trust that they give me, and so yeah, I wanted to be totally open to whatever they wanted to do.
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Kaulig has been in Cup Series racing full-time this season, jumping with two charters to field the No. 31 Chevy for Haley and the No. 16 Chevy for a rotating cast of drivers — Allmendinger, Noah Gragson and Daniel Hemric. With Allmendinger moving to a full schedule, Kaulig will now have two drivers eligible to compete for the Cup Series title next season.
Allmendinger said the organization’s plan was to have just one driver in the No. 16 race next season, and the full-time opportunity was there for him if he pushed for it. obtain. But Allmendinger said the bolstering of the Cup Series program could not come at the expense of the Xfinity Series outfit, which gave Kaulig its start of team ownership and what Allmendinger called “the heart of our business”. .
“It was Matt and Chris’ decision because this program has to be good because it’s Matt and Chris’ baby and it always will be, no matter what,” Allmendinger said. “The Cup program, for sure, it must be strong. But you know, it’s probably a longer process than I’m here, isn’t it? …To help develop it full time is something I’m really looking forward to and hopefully it will help us get to the next step whether it’s testing or working simulation or just focus on this car every week.
This news is fully endorsed by Rice, who was promoted from general manager to team president in 2019.
“I think what AJ brings to us is the familiarity of the same driver in that car all the time and just to continually develop that program,” Rice said. “I mean, we’re a year away, and I know we won last year, but you know, it’s always hard to do. I’m really excited. He wants to do it. You know, we’re doing it. love and he will be missed doing the Xfinity program. But I think what we have there, and his help with that will always be good. So excited.
“At the same time, I don’t want to be here every Sunday to keep him calm,” Rice added with a laugh, noting Allmendinger’s sometimes spirited transmissions on the team radio. “So I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
It’s also been quite a leap for Kaulig Racing, which entered NASCAR racing as a one-team Xfinity operation in 2016. It’s become a three-car armada on this side, and the organization that has first dipped its toe in Cup Series waters with a Daytona 500 one-off in 2020 is now finding its way into the big leagues of stock car racing.
Allmendinger is regaining his footing after a circuitous route to Cup competition. He earned veteran status with stops at former team Red Bull, teams owned by Richard Petty and Roger Penske before settling with JTG-Daugherty Racing – a syndicate that produced the first Cup Series victory for both, in 2014 at Watkins Glen.
When that partnership ran its course after more than five seasons together, Allmendinger stepped aside and found a role for 2019 with NBC Sports as a broadcaster for several forms of motorsports. When Rice came calling later that year with the possibility of a handful of starts on Xfinity, Allmendinger found his future home.
“When we hired him five years ago, I took a leap of faith and called him. And it was like, ‘Hey, can you come help us?’ He did it,” Rice said, noting the multitude of stories that have since emerged. He can laugh about it now, but post-race tech issues led to Allmendinger’s disqualification from his first two Xfinity starts. with the team. Adding an extra layer of insult to this latest DQ, Rice said the team neglected to book him a hotel room for the weekend. Much more recently, the stories involve trophies – including material earned for two consecutive Xfinity Regular Season crowns.
“He bought in and he believed,” Rice says. “He’s bought in and that’s what’s key to mine and his relationship. I’m accepting no matter how he feels, how crazy he looks on the radio. I mean, I I’m always going to love him no matter how angry he gets. And that’s what makes us a good… I feel like saying a couple, but it’s kind of a weird couple, right? So it’s just, he’s one of those guys you want on your side, you know. No matter what, good or bad, you want him on your side.
Membership was reciprocal.
“Chris, the first thing he said, from day one, he said, I don’t want you to be miserable. Like, I just don’t want you to go back to that place you were before,” said Allmendinger. “At the end of the day and probably as weird as it sounds because I’ve been running all my life, I’m probably more comfortable in my skin than I’ve ever been, which means that we had success and I checked a lot on my wish list of what I would like to do. And you know, it was tough because I thought I was finishing the first time, I was like, ‘well, you know, I had an okay career, I guess, you know, I won in a lot of different things, that not many people can say that, but man, I wish I could do this or do that or just be successful. Well, it kind of happened now.
Although Wednesday’s announcement shifted some of the organization’s focus to next year, Allmendinger still has a lot to do in the remaining weeks of this season. He has one Cup Series start left on his 2022 schedule — Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM) — and the final five-race stretch to the playoffs of the Xfinity series, where he is already locked in the knockout stages.
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It’s a distinct pair of opportunities for Allmendinger to help further the mission for Kaulig’s long-term goals, but also to continue the revival of the veteran driver’s career.
“There’s so much more to it, like really wanting to work as hard as possible to keep moving forward and hopefully help us out,” Allmendinger says. “And that’s what I told them, as long as you think I’m helping us, I want to keep doing it. Anytime you think I’m not helping us, please tell me and we can talk about other things. We can go a different direction or I can step away from driving and be part of the team if that’s what you want, but I feel like I’m at my best in my stock- because life, and I got better and so that was kind of why I wanted to do it.
“Maybe it’s because of trust, maybe it’s naive, maybe it’s stupid and maybe it’s a combination of everything, but I really believe that if we continue to improve, and I continue to improve, we can go racing with the best teams I may be stupid to think that now, and it’s naivety or confidence that maybe shouldn’t be there , but I really believe that if we keep doing the right things and keep moving forward and improving, like we can go racing with these guys.”