Rise of A.J. Allmendinger, Kaulig Racing is a refreshing story for NASCAR Featured

Posted On Sunday, 22 August 2021 12:15 Written by
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A.J. Allmendinger's win at Michigan Speedway on Saturday was the latest victory for Kaulig Racing, one of the newer teams on the rise in NASCAR. A.J. Allmendinger's win at Michigan Speedway on Saturday was the latest victory for Kaulig Racing, one of the newer teams on the rise in NASCAR. Photo courtesy of Kaulig Racing / via Twitter

BROOKLYN, Mich. — In a sport like NASCAR, where it generally takes many years to establish yourself as a competitive team, it’s rare to see a new team break through as a serious contender for race wins and championships. That’s especially true at the Cup level, but also at the Xfinity level, where a few teams have dominated wins for years (Joe Gibbs Racing, Jr. Motorsports, Team Penske, etc.).

That’s what makes the rise of Kaulig Racing over the past few years a truly inspiring story that fans should embrace. It reminds me of how Furniture Row Racing grew from a small, upstart team based in Denver to winning a title with Martin Truex Jr., before eventually shutting down.

Hopefully, Kaulig doesn’t follow the last part of that blueprint, as they’re a team on the rise (entering Cup full-time in 2022, in addition to maintaining its Xfinity teams) that would be a strong addition to the garage for decades to come.

In addition to young, up-and-coming stars like Justin Haley, Jeb Burton and Kaz Grala, the team’s resurgence is being led by veteran A.J. Allmendinger, who has seen his career and love for the sport resurrected by the Kaulig Racing team. Most recently, this success has been shown with back-to-back wins by the Dinger in the Cup series race at Indianapolis (Kaulig’s first Cup win ever), and the Xfinity series race on Saturday at Michigan, which featured a spirited battle over multiple late restarts, against competitors including Josh Berry and Brandon Jones.

Nearly 40 years old and highly accomplished in almost every form of motorsport, to see a NASCAR career resurgence from Allmendinger at this point in his career is inspiring. It’s something you rarely see, to be honest, and I hope the wave lasts a few more years. He’s a genuine threat to win the Xfinity title in 2021, and should compete again in 2022. If Kaulig ever lifts him up to their Cup team, a program which starts full-time in 2022 with a one-car team and Haley behind the wheel, I bet he would compete for titles and race wins there, too.

The relationship is symbiotic. Allmendinger was fed up with running mid-pack, as he had for most of his career with teams who couldn’t offer competitive equipment, so he stepped away from the sport briefly. But the Kaulig team’s spirit, led by owner Matt Kaulig, was enough to lure him back, and this fateful decision has led to both a rejuvenation of Allmendinger’s career, and a meteoric rise of this once small, part-time team.

In addition to the Cup win, Allmendinger has now won 3 Xfinity races for Kaulig this season (and 6 overall since 2019).

With ample sponsorship and talented drivers who can win races, Kaulig should continue to compete strongly in Xfinity for years, and if Haley can do well in Cup there is opportunity to expand that program into a multi-car team and compete for wins at the top level.

For fans used to seeing the same Cup teams (Hendrick, Penske, etc.) compete for all the wins, 2022 will be a breath of fresh air. 

Trackhouse is becoming competitive with Daniel Suarez and will add Ross Chastain to their lineup. 23XI Racing is rumored to be adding Kurt Busch to race alongside Bubba Wallace. Brad Keselowski moving to Roush Fenway as a part-owner. And both Kaulig and GMS Racing are moving up to the Cup series.

Add in the unknown factor of the Next Gen car debuting, and the potential for new intrigue and fresh faces up front and in Victory Lane are much higher than ever before.

As someone who has followed and covered this sport for 25 years, this gives me high hopes for next season and beyond. A sea change like this was inevitable, with so many of the big owners getting up in years, and the Next Gen was the perfect opportunity for it to happen. I hope this is just the beginning, and more owners (including Dale Jr. and Jr. Motorsports) end up making the move to Cup to shake things up even more.

In the meantime, I am glad to see the Kaulig team succeed both at the Xfinity and Cup levels, and hope they are just the first among the emerging teams to do so. Competition keeps a sport healthy and helps it grow, and that’s exactly what NASCAR needs.

Matt M. Myftiu

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

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