Tuesday, 23 July 2024

Allmendinger win is big boost for Kaulig Racing, but what does their future hold? Featured

Posted On Monday, 09 October 2023 23:29 Written by
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A.J. Allmendinger celebrates his Cup win at the Charlotte Roval on Sunday, October 8, 2023. A.J. Allmendinger celebrates his Cup win at the Charlotte Roval on Sunday, October 8, 2023. Photo courtesy of Team Chevy

As we look back at the weekend at the Roval, first things first I want to do is congratulate A.J. Allmendinger on his well-deserved win in the Cup race.

With so many drivers acting completely devoid of emotion after wins — treating victory like a foregone conclusion and running through their sponsor list in a drone-like state — it was nice to see someone get a win and have it actually mean something to them.

At age 41, A.J. has been through a lot of ups and downs in his long career in both open-wheel racing and Cup racing. You might think he wouldn’t get caught up in moments like he did on Sunday, but the opposite is true. He knows he’s not going to be racing forever, and cherishes every moment like this — especially something as rare as a Cup victory.

Allmendinger — who I would argue is one of the more likable drivers in the Cup grid — could be seen visibly wiping tears during the cool-down lap, and was equally emotional in his post-race interview.

“It's a freaking Cup race, man. You don't know when it's ever going to happen again. Let's go! … This is the only reason you do it. You fight. All the blood, sweat, tears, everybody at Kaulig Racing has just been such – I wouldn’t say a down year, but an up-and-down year,” he said. “I love all the men and women at Kaulig Racing so much. First of all, hi to my beautiful wife and my new baby boy. I usually give these checkered flags away but I'm going to have to wrap this around Aero. My mom and dad, all my family and friends - those people see how much anguish and how much I put it on my shoulders when we're struggling. It just means the world.”

The win was the third of Allmendinger’s long career, and now the question turns to his future. Will he remain in the 16 car in Cup, where he narrowly missed out on a playoff spot in 2023? Or will he stay with Kaulig but move to their Xfinity series program, where he has been dominant at times in the past?

Reports indicate either is possible, but if Kaulig is serious about trophy hunting in 2024, they would be wise to keep A.J. in the car next season. With five road course races on the 2024 schedule, there’s a lot of opportunity there for some wins if they can put together a competitive car, given Allmendinger’s obvious skill gap over his rivals on road courses.

With the #31 Cup car changing drivers from Justin Haley to Daniel Hemric in 2024, they need a veteran driver to round out the lineup, and will not benefit from having another young driver take over the #16 car.

In the end, the team will make whatever decisions it has to make. But from a common sense perspective, I hope A.J. sticks around at least one more year at the Cup level, which would be the best path forward for both A.J. and the long-term future of Kaulig Racing at the Cup level.


Championship fight moves on to next round

We’re now down to eight drivers in the playoffs, and without a doubt the favorites to battle for the title have to be William Byron and Denny Hamlin. These two are consistently fast and rarely have an off-week, and I’d probably lay money on Byron at this point if I were a betting man.

In terms of the other competitors, Martin Truex Jr.’s luck should run out soon, as he’s been advancing by the skin of his teeth and that won’t work for making the final four. Also, Kyle Larson is struggling these playoffs and making unforced errors, and will need a major step up to compete.

Chris Buescher, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick or Ryan Blaney could play spoiler and be a surprise final four entry and title contender. I’ll say Buescher would be the most likely to succeed in making the final four out of this lot.

Playoff disappointments

Rowdy is out. Kyle Busch couldn’t keep the momentum of his three-win regular season going in the playoffs, and he has been eliminated. But it was a strong first year at RCR, and I’m sure Kyle will be back to contend and win more races next year, though he has admitted he will have to adjust his driving style to fit the new car.

Bubba Wallace had a valiant run, but it wasn’t meant to be this year, as he fell short of the round of 8. Still, this was his strongest and most consistent year in Cup so far. He’s running up front regularly both in qualifying and in the races, and that bodes well for an even stronger performance in 2024.

Joey Logano got knocked out in the first round, which is disappointing. Penske is holding on to hopes for a title with Blaney, but I would say that’s a long shot. The team needs to make strides in 2024 if they’re going to be more serious competitors throughout the year and in the playoffs. Austin Cindric in particular needs to step up and become a serious contender, now that the team has committed to his return. That 2 car is used to having winning drivers in it, and the Captain will want that to continue.

Denny embraces his villain role

Denny Hamlin is the new Kyle Busch. And by that I mean he’s the guy who gets all the boos now.

And while I don’t really understand why people are booing him, I think it’s good for the sport to have a heel character. If everyone is beloved, things are a bit boring, so I’ll look forward to Hamlin continuing to embrace his transformation into the villain in the years to come now that he has extended his contract with Joe Gibbs Racing.

On that note, I must say that Coach Gibbs was quite smart not to repeat the Kyle Busch scenario and let Denny get away. Locking Hamlin in was the only logical choice, and now Denny can end his career in a Gibbs car before retiring and living out his years as an owner at 23XI Racing.

And considering the tremendous amount of success Denny has had in his career, it would be ideal to see him squeak out a title in those final years. If he can’t, he’ll be known to history as the Mark Martin of his generation (aka “best driver to never win the Cup”).



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Matt M. Myftiu

Matt Myftiu has been a journalist for two decades with a focus on technology, NASCAR and autos.

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