INDIANAPOLIS — Ed Carpenter Racing started it all off with their first victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway back in May’s GMR Grand Prix. It was also Rinus VeeKay’s first career NTT IndyCar Series triumph in the process. 15 days later, Meyer Shank Racing pulled the victory off in the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 with Helio Castroneves. It was Castroneves’ fourth Indy 500 win putting him in that special exclusive club. That was also MSR’s first ever INDYCAR win too.
Then on Sunday to wrap up the INDYCAR-NASCAR doubleheader on the road course this weekend, Kaulig Racing scored their first ever NASCAR Cup Series win with this being AJ Allmendinger’s second ever.
“That was fun,” Allmendinger said in scoring his second win in his 375th start. “Yeah, I mean, it was — that was chaotic. Honestly we didn’t really have a race-winning car on outright speed, probably about seventh to tenth. I sped on pit road, so I just kind of carried on for how I felt yesterday, so put us in the back there, and we were just fighting hard.
“I thought we probably maybe would get in the edge of the top 10 and have a solid day. For a makeshift really pit crew — I shouldn’t say makeshift, but a crew that we don’t work with all the time, they did a fantastic job, great pit stops.
“But yeah, once that chaos started happening and we started getting close to the front, I had a really good restart on the front. I think we were restarting 17th with eight to go and was able to get to seventh through all that mess and thought, all right, now we’re at least in shouting distance of it.
“Knew a couple of the cars had older tires, and that second restart, got to third, and it’s like, okay, now we’ve got a shot at this.
“The best part is when you’ve got Matt Kaulig and Chris Rice on the radio just going, Hey, we’re not here for friends, we’re not here for points, we’re here to win this race, so win it or basically bring it back on the hook. That kind of frees up a race car driver to go after it.
“I just can’t believe the way it played out. I had a great restart. I thought I might take the lead off Turn 2, and Denny kind of leaned on me, which he should; I would have done the same thing.
“I saw Chase come back on the racetrack. Well, at that point they were just telling me that he had a penalty, so I thought, all right, maybe I can kind of make a run for the last lap and a half here with Denny, and then had contact, and all of a sudden the seas parted and then from there it was just run like hell because I knew Kyle and Chase and Ryan were back there and they were pretty good all day. I put in about as good of a lap and a half as I could.”
Allmendinger said he had 2013’s Indy 500 in the back of his mind there. He often wondered if that was his lone shot at Indy lore. Then came Sunday.
This win comes in just the team’s seventh career start. They’re a full time Xfinity program that’s moving up to the Cup Series in 2022 with two cars, one for Justin Haley and the other for a cast of drivers that includes Allmendinger.
“We went into this season knowing that we were going to run a handful of Cup races, maybe eight or ten. We’re running the road courses, we’re running the superspeedways,” said Kaulig.
“One of the reasons that Chris (Rice) and I talked about doing that is just to get — just almost to get familiar with the Cup Series. It’s a little bit different than the Xfinity Series, and the garage is different and people — we wanted people to know who we were and what we’re all about.
“We knew putting AJ in the car every week at these road courses would actually give us a chance to run really well, and so I don’t think it’s — it’s not an announcement to the sport or to other teams that we’re here. I mean, we’ve been here — we feel like we’ve been here and growing towards winning this championship in the Xfinity Series and then being able to compete in the Cup Series.
“But you know, what it does allow us to do is it more legitimizes us as a successful race team so that you get — it’s better for your employees, it’s better for your drivers, it’s better for your crew chiefs and engineers. It allows you to get more and better people. It allows sponsors to trust that you’re going to show up and be great.
“So for me, it shows that more than anything, and that’s what I’m really happy about. All the success that we’re having on the track, I get happy for all of our teammates, but I’m really — it’s growing our business as Kaulig Racing. So that’s really exciting.”
What’s ironic about this is that Allmendinger is the glue between MSR and Kaulig. He’s great friends and used to race for MSR. He was emotional when they won the Indy 500.
“Memorial Day weekend there I sat in my house bawling, like watching — when Helio won, just knowing everything that Mike had been through, I like literally just couldn’t stop crying during the day because I was so happy for him,” Allmendinger said. “I just remember thinking, God, I wish I could just share that with him.
“Like to show who Mike Shank is, he came to our race at Mid-Ohio the next week. He had better things to do, but came and supported us, and we won there.
“I mean, it’s just unbelievable to be able to like now have this rich history and be able to share that with him and do it in the same year, it’s like both of these — I drive for Mike and it’s the same thing with Matt and Chris. Like I drive for them, but I’m not the driver and they’re my bosses. Like they’re — we’re all brothers and close friends, and you want success for that, and you want to be able to share that.
“Like to be able to do this now on the same year, it’s like — I’m sure me and him are going to — we actually have his golf tournament tomorrow so that’s going to be fun. Like I don’t know what to do. Like it’s going to be insane. We’re going to be sitting there like, really? Like the same year we just did this?
“It’s so — special is not even — like the biggest understatement in the world.”
Now, he’s with Kaulig who they, like Shank, grew up coming to this track and have had similar paths to full time opportunities in their respective series.
“Well, it’s a really surreal situation,” said Matt Kaulig. “I’ve been coming here since I was a little kid. I lived in Cincinnati, grew up in Cincinnati and then lived in Chicagoland, so we’d come down to the Indy 500 every year, and just to be — and I was at the very first — the Brickyard 400, that inaugural race, I think, back in ’94. So I’ve been to several of those.
“To actually be the team that gets to do that is just — it’s actually surreal. Even just sitting in front of you guys right now and looking at the empty track and knowing that we were just out there and have this trophy now is just — I’m really excited for these guys that have been doing this.
“These guys have been doing this their whole life. I’ve been doing it for six years. Just really proud of you guys and all of our teammates that have made racing their life and NASCAR their life.
“So the fact that we were able to deliver this is really cool. It’s unbelievable. I thought I was going to throw up walking down pit road.
“To win a Cup race and to sit in an amazing venue like this and think about it, I don’t even know what to say.
“I told somebody down there just a minute ago, they said, just soak it all in, and I said, I can’t; I don’t even know what to do. I still have cold chills.
“I love these guys. AJ knows how much I love him. He was at my house the other day. And yeah, to win a race here, I still want to cry, but I can’t — everybody at Kaulig racing, my wife that’s here and put up with me when we didn’t even have nothing. When Matt Kaulig said, Hey, you want to start a race team? I’m like, You’re crazy; it’s October 31st. He said, No, let’s do it. To win it at Indy five and a half years later, I love it.”
This is a feel good story again in a feel good place in racing. It doesn’t get any better than that.