AJ Allmendinger is making a return to full-time Cup Series racing. Kaulig Racing announced on Monday that the 40-year old driver will race in all 36 points paying races next season in the No. 16 Chevrolet for Kaulig in NASCAR’s premiere series.
Allmendinger first went full-time Cup Series racing back in 2007 with the newly started Red Bull Racing. He’d remain full-time through 2018 with multiple stops along the way. He’d run for Michael Waltrip Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Team Penske, Phoenix Racing and then JTG Daugherty Racing along the way. While he used to strive to be a Cup driver, once he did, it became miserable. He wasn’t winning and not driving cars capable of doing so.
When an opportunity came to step back in 2019, he chose to do so. He ran part-time for Kaulig during the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series slate. The relationship started off rocky. Not personally, but for on track problems which Matt Kaulig and Chris Rice were fearful they’d lose their prized possession.
Kaulig started a business out of his basement and it went from a seed to growing to over 110 locations. In 2014, he merged his two passions with his personal business and racing. Now in 2019, he had a chance to get a driver like Allmendinger and he was already nervous he was going to lose.
Allmendinger had 2 rules, no Cup racing and no superspeedways. Well, his first start with them was on a superspeedway at Daytona. He pushed Ross Chastain to the win that night for Kaulig’s first win.
Allmendinger flew back to Charlotte after the race happy. When he was home, he got a phone call that his car was disqualified. Instead of a runner-up, he was scored in last. Similar scenario in his next start for them at Watkins Glen. After a night of not having a hotel room, he scored another top two, then another DQ. This wasn’t going well.
Allmendinger didn’t need this. He was already over the heartbreak of racing and was settling into his role in the broadcast booth. However, Allmendinger also stayed true to his word and true to his focus to Kaulig. He was 3rd the next time out, then two starts later, he won on the Charlotte ROVAL.
That’s what brought him back to that role in 2020. It started rough again. A DNQ for the season opener in Daytona. Allmendinger was so mad he drove a rental car 8 hours north back home to North Carolina. Was this the end?
Instead, it wasn’t. It was just the beginning of a path that led Allmendinger back to a full-time Cup ride.
The California native was as relentless to the team as the team was to him and they each wanted to keep going. COVID then hit. Allmendinger stepped up more for the program. 2 more wins and 6 total top 5 finishes in 11 races led him to being full-time in the series the last 2 years.
He made the Championship 4 last year and coming off the heels of a Talladega win this past Saturday, he’s a strong contender to make it back to Phoenix next month with a shot at a title. With Kaulig in their first year also in the Cup Series now, they have Allmendinger running the 16 car on a part-time basis this season.
Now, he moves up to full-time again.
“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. 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.”
Allmendinger won the Cup race at Indy in 2021 as his passion has been rejuvenated.
“I first called AJ (Allmendinger) in 2019 to ask if he would run a couple Xfinity Series races for us,” said Chris Rice, president of Kaulig Racing. “He agreed to do five, and he was disqualified in the first two races. Although it was two, tough results, AJ saw what we were trying to build here at Kaulig Racing, and better yet, he believed in what we were building. 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.”
2022 marked Kaulig Racing’s first, full season in the NCS with Justin Haley in the team’s No. 31 entry, as well as the No. 16 entry shared by Allmendinger, Daniel Hemric and Noah Gragson.
“I’ve always told Matt Kaulig and Chris Rice that I will do whatever they think is best for the company, and as long as I am helping the team, I will keep doing it,” continued Allmendinger. “I love working with Justin (Haley) as well and being able to see his growth. I think we have more growth to do together, and it makes returning to the Cup Series full-time with Kaulig Racing an easy decision.”
Since joining Kaulig Racing, Allmendinger has earned 11 wins, seven of those coming on road courses, making him the winningest, road-course racer in NASCAR National Series.
“It’s hard to not think of AJ Allmendinger when you think of Kaulig Racing,” said Matt Kaulig, Kaulig Racing team owner. “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 AJ Allmendinger out of retirement, not once, but twice now, to compete for Kaulig Racing full-time!”
Allmendinger will kick-off his return from retirement at the 2023 Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Sunday, February 5th.
As a result, it shuts the door on a ride on the Cup level and opens one up on the Xfinity Series side that was since filled quickly.
There’s not much left in terms of ride movement in the Cup Series for 2023.
Despite being a free agent at the end of the 2023 season, Kyle Larson elected to sign a new deal early. That announcement took place a couple of weeks ago. Larson is locked into a new contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2026 season.
Kyle Busch we also know is going to the No. 8 Chevrolet at Richard Childress Racing in 2023 and will be replacing Tyler Reddick in that seat. RCR maintains that they will keep Reddick for next season but acquire a 3rd charter and put him in a 3rd car while doing so. 23XI Racing is firm that they don’t want to expand to a three-car team next season because it’s too late to get a charter and do so. The 45 seat is Kurt Busch’s so long as he wants it and the 23 ride is Bubba Wallace’s. Reddick will come over in 2024 into the 45 seat or at that point they’d get a 3rd car. Right now, they don’t need it.
As far as what else is to announce? It’s down to the 18 seat and more than likely…2024.
Hendrick Motorsports has all 4 drivers signed with 3 of the 4 already reaching long-term deals this season. Chase Elliott signed a new contract on the eve of the 2022 season while William Byron inked a new deal not too long ago too.
Team Penske has also signed 2 of their 3 drivers to long terms deals within the last month and are going to obviously bring back rookie Austin Cindric for 2023 as well. I also don’t see Harrison Burton being one-year experiment so expect Penske and the Wood Brothers to remain the same next year as this.
Stewart-Haas Racing lured Aric Almirola to skip retirement and to sign a multi-year deal to remain in the seat of the No. 10 Ford. Smithfield also will stay. The other 3 drivers are back for 2023 too.
Joe Gibbs Racing has Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell already under contract, they signed Martin Truex Jr. to a one-year deal back at the end of June and now with Busch leaving, have 1 seat left. All indications are that Ty Gibbs will land there.
23XI Racing has Bubba Wallace signed long term as they just signed a deal a month ago and a seat for Kurt Busch so long as he wants it.
Petty GMS Racing signed Erik Jones to an extension and Noah Gragson to a multi-year deal recently too.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and JTG Daugherty Racing signed a deal back in June.
Trackhouse has both drivers locked in for 2023. RFK Racing does as well.
Front Row Motorsports has both cars open but I don’t see why either drivers isn’t retained. Kaulig Racing has Justin Haley back and the other seat open. Then it’s down to Rick Ware Racing and Live Fast Motorsports.
However, where this gets interesting is how everything is going to play out for 2024.
We know Reddick is going to 23XI Racing. Does Kurt Busch return?
Busch leads a large group of a talented free agent pool. He, Harvick, Truex Jr., Alex Bowman and Daniel Suarez are on it. How does this all play out?
Does Busch retire or does 23XI have to find a 3rd charter? Does Truex Jr. come back or does JGR need to find a 4th driver? Does Harvick comeback or is SHR eyeing a new driver? Ryan Preece would make the most sense there.
Can Suarez back up 2022 with a better 2023? He can’t regress. Does HMS think Bowman has shown enough for another contract or do they make a run at a 4th driver?
That’s where this all gets interesting. One could make a case that Busch, Harvick and Truex Jr. all retire together.
While 2023 has a few pieces to shore up, 2024 is already starting…
What about on the Xfinity Series side of things? It looks like the top drivers this season are all graduating up to the Cup level. Ty Gibbs is likely in the 18. Gragson moves to the 42. Allmendinger now to the 16 in Cup too. They currently sit 1-2-3 in points and have combined to have won 16 of the 28 races this season including 5 straight.
So who’s next?
If you look at the list of names in the NASCAR Cup Series, you’d notice a lot of them are graduates of the NASCAR Xfinity Series as well.
The 2019 Xfinity Series season saw 24 of the 33 races won by either Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, Chase Briscoe or Austin Cindric.
Custer, Reddick and Bell each moved up to the Cup ranks a year later. Briscoe and Cindric picked up their slack. They won 15 of the 33 races all by themselves. Justin Haley and Noah Gragson picked up where Briscoe and Cindric did from 2019 in reaching victory lane 5 times between the duo.
Like the year prior, Briscoe moved up. Cindric remained last year and between he, Haley and Gragson, they won 9 times. Harrison Burton won 4 times.
2021 saw Cindric and Haley move up full-time in the Cup Series. 2022 allowed Gragson to shine. It also promoted Ty Gibbs in the process. Gragson and Gibbs have combined to have won 11 of the 26 races this year. Next year, both are likely set to graduate up to the Cup Series too. We know Gragson will with Petty GMS Racing. Gibbs is more than likely to replace Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Toyota with Joe Gibbs Racing.
So who’s next?
Custer, Reddick, Bell, Briscoe, Cindric, Haley, Gragson, Burton and now Gibbs will all be Cup Series drivers in 2023.
Who’s the next one to step up?
The thing is, as the youth movement has grown so heavily in Cup, there’s not a lot of places to eventually move up into.
Team Penske has all 3 of their drivers locked up for the long run. They have Burton stashed away at the Wood Brothers. Hendrick Motorsports has 3 of their 4 cars locked down until at least 2026 with Alex Bowman set for a contract extension next season.
Does Stewart-Haas Racing or JGR have room?
We know Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. are entering contract years in 2023. Aric Almirola now has a few years left. SHR also has Ryan Preece sitting there but with Chase Briscoe and Custer, I don’t see more than 1 more seat left for them. JGR has Bell and Gibbs set with 2 more spots to groom.
Which is why I wonder if more veterans shine in 2023 in NASCAR’s version of AAA.
Justin Allgaier turned 36 this past June. He’s a 19-time Xfinity Series winner. What about Josh Berry who will be 32 in a month and is back for a 2nd full time season in 2023. He’s won 4 races in the past 2 seasons.
Brandon Jones moves over to JRM next year in the 9 seat and will turn 26 near next year’s Speedweeks. 2023 will be his 8th season already in the series.
I can see Austin Hill back for a 2nd year with RCR. He’s 28 and will be 29 next April. Does Daniel Hemric return? I can see him back in the 11 but they’re working on funding still. He’ll be 32 in January. Chandler Smith is only 20 but takes over for Allmendinger in the 16. Landon Cassill returns to the 10 seat.
The tide may have turned in the series to more veterans.
Granted, you still have Sam Mayer (19 years old), Sheldon Creed (24 years old) and Riley Herbst (23 years old) who can contend but none of these 3 have ever won an Xfinity Series race before.
What about Sammy Smith? He just turned 18. Does Toyota move him up in to an Xfinity Series seat since they’re losing KBM? That could also open a door for Corey Heim who is also 20 and could factor into this. John Hunter Nemechek is 25 and is a part of Toyota’s future too.
That’s why I can see next year being heavily dominated by veterans in this series where it hasn’t recently been so.