When A.J. Allmendinger last ran a NASCAR Cup Series race, he was a full-time driver. Three years later, he will return to the premier series as a road course ringer. On Thursday, Kaulig Racing announced Allmendinger will run the Cup race on the Daytona road course on 21 February, driving the #16 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE in his first premier series event since 2018.
“I am really looking forward to racing in the Cup Series once again, but more importantly, I am pumped to be racing in the Cup Series for Kaulig Racing,” Allmendinger stated. “I keep wanting to help Kaulig Racing grow as much as possible, and the next step is racing in some Cup races with them. Daytona is a prestigious race track to compete at, whether you are on the oval or road course, so this is a great place for Kaulig Racing’s first non-superspeedway Cup race.”
Allmendinger raced in the Cup Series from 2007 to 2018. Despite a slow start for the Champ Car veteran as he struggled for a newly-formed Team Red Bull, he would become a reliable driver for the most part as he raced for the likes of Richard Petty Motorsports and Team Penske. In 2014, after two seasons marked by a suspension and bouncing between part-time rides, he joined JTG Daugherty Racing and scored his first series win at Watkins Glen.
Upon losing his ride at JTG after the 2018 season, Allmendinger joined Kaulig for a part-time Xfinity Series schedule in 2019. His stint began in unusual fashion as he scored top fives in his first two starts but was disqualified from both, followed by a win at the Charlotte Roval. In 2020, he increased his slate to include more ovals, which paid off when he scored his first NASCAR oval victory at Atlanta. A repeat at the Roval allowed him to end his eleven-race 2020 schedule with two wins, six top fives, and eight top tens.
For the 2021 season, he will race for the Xfinity title in Kaulig’s #16 as part of the team’s first three-car effort. Kaulig is also expanding their top-series program, which they débuted in the 2020 Daytona 500 for team-mate Justin Haley, as their #16 Cup car will run the road courses and superspeedways; there are eleven such races on the 2021 calendar. Kaz Grala will drive the #16 in the Daytona 500 and is also expected to run more events, though his schedule was not revealed.
While Grala scored a top ten in his Cup début on the Daytona road course in 2020, it is unsurprising that Kaulig is turning to Allmendinger for the 2021 race. The California native has extensive experience on such tracks, having won five times in the road course-exclusive Champ Car World Series and, more pertinently, being the overall 2012 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona winner. He also serves as a sports car analyst for NBC when not in the driver’s seat.
In the world of stock car road racing, all but one of his six NASCAR wins have come on road courses. His lone Cup victory at Watkins Glen was the result of a dramatic battle with fellow road course star and ex-RPM team-mate Marcos Ambrose, while he won both of his Xfinity starts for Penske in 2013 as a ringer. He also finished fourth in the Xfinity Series’ first trip around the Daytona road course last August. In eleven total Xfinity road course races, he has four wins and nine top fives
“Having A.J. compete in our very first non-superspeedway Cup race was really a no-brainer for us,” Kaulig president Chris Rice added. “Kaulig Racing is honored to be able to be get AJ back into the Cup Series for the first time since his retirement. I think he will pick right back up where he left off as a road course ace.”
Should Kaulig decide to keep Allmendinger in the car for every Cup road course race in 2021, he will have six more opportunities to shine. After Daytona, other road courses include Circuit of the Americas, Sonoma, Road America (where he won in 2013), Watkins Glen, the Indianapolis road course (fourth in the 2020 Xfinity race), and the Roval.