NASCAR Cup SeriesNASCAR Xfinity Series

Kaulig Racing promotes Allmendinger to Cup, signs Chandler Smith

3 Mins read
Credit: Kaulig Racing

After four years away, A.J. Allmendinger will be back in the NASCAR Cup Series as a full-time driver in 2023. On Wednesday, Kaulig Racing announced the two-time defending Xfinity Series regular season champion will drive the #16 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for the entire 2023 Cup season, marking his return to being a top-level regular. Camping World Truck Series driver Chandler Smith has been hired to fill the #16 Xfinity car vacated by Allmendinger.

A former open-wheel racer, Allmendinger was one of Team Red Bull’s first drivers in 2006 before elevating to a full Cup schedule the following year. He would become a journeyman for multiple teams including the since defunct Michael Waltrip Racing and Phoenix Racing, what is now Petty GMS Motorsports, and Team Penske before landing at JTG Daugherty Racing in late 2013. With JTG, he won his maiden Cup race at Watkins Glen in 2014, but departed the team after 2018.

Kaulig recruited Allmendinger to the Xfinity Series in 2019, and he quickly latched on as he enjoyed the less intensive schedule and in a more competitive ride. Since joining the team, he has won twelve times and scored the regular season championship in 2021 and 2022. He currently leads the Xfinity points with four victory, including Saturday’s Talladega event.

“I first called A.J. in 2019 to ask if he would run a couple Xfinity Series races for us. He agreed to do five, and he was disqualified in the first two races. Although it was two tough results, A.J. saw what we were trying to build here at Kaulig Racing, and better yet, he believed in what we were building,” said team president Chris Rice. “After the success we’ve had together since then, we think the next step is for him to help us do the same with our young, Cup Series team.”

Allmendinger was also occasionally called up to the Cup Series in Kaulig’s multi-driver #16, and he broke through with another victory at Indianapolis in 2021. It was the inaugural Cup race on the infield road course layout.

“When I first went to Kaulig Racing to compete part-time in 2019 and 2020, I remember how I felt on the weekends that I wasn’t racing and how much I missed it,” commented Allmendinger. “Competing full-time is a mentally tough battle at times. No matter how much work you put in as a driver, there’s a chance you will not achieve success. For a while, I think I lost that competitive drive to be the best. Kaulig Racing helped me find that again. I now feel more competitive than ever and believe there is more success to be earned as a team.”

“It’s hard to not think of A.J. Allmendinger when you think of Kaulig Racing,” stated team owner Matt Kaulig. “When we started this team in 2016, I never imagined we’d have won as many races as we have, including a Cup Series race and two regular season championships in two years. We are all truly excited to be able to say that we were able to get A.J. Allmendinger out of retirement not once, but twice now, to compete for Kaulig Racing full-time.”

Like Allmendinger, Smith is the points leader in his respective series with three wins, fourteen top tens, and the regular season title in the Truck Series. He arrives from the Toyota camp, where he was a development driver for Toyota Racing Development and Kyle Busch Motorsports. After a meteoric rise in the regional levels, he began competing in the Trucks in 2019 with KBM and went full-time in late 2020 after turning of age. Since then, he has won five times.

“I’m really excited to have an opportunity like this for my rookie year in the NASCAR Xfinity Series,” said Smith. “Kaulig Racing has grown from a small team to a multi-series, powerhouse team in just a few short years. I’m honoured to take over the #16 car that has had so much success these last couple of years.”

In addition to vying for the Truck championship, Smith made his Xfinity début at Talladega in April with Sam Hunt Racing, where he crashed out. Another start came the following race at Dover as he placed twenty-first.

Although Smith has been touted as a potential rising star for Toyota, the manufacturer has been re-shaping its lower-level programme following KBM owner Kyle Busch’s own move to Chevrolet for 2023.

“Chandler Smith is a kid who we see a ton of potential in at Kaulig Racing,” added Rice. “We take pride in giving kids like Chandler an opportunity to compete for wins and be a stepping stone in their career. It’s been exciting to see what Chandler has done in the truck series over two seasons, and we think competing for Kaulig Racing is the perfect next step for both Chandler and our team.”

Justin Haley will once again partner Allmendinger in Kaulig’s Cup team, while Landon Cassill has been confirmed for a second Xfinity season. 2021 Xfinity champion Daniel Hemric‘s 2023 plans have yet to be revealed and is dependent on funding.

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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