Allmendinger back in Daytona for the Daytona 500, why a return to the Cup Series on a full-time basis for him, a journey on his path back

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — AJ Allmendinger is a full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver again. Kaulig Racing announced the move last Fall that he’ll join Justin Haley as a part of their 2-car program in NASCAR’s premiere series in 2023.

That brought up a question as of why now? Why after the last few years of bliss in the Xfinity Series, would Allmendinger rejoin the Cup Series to what he honestly admitted took a toll on him the first time? When Matt Kaulig and Chris Rice first called Allmendinger to see if he’d like to join their program, Allmendinger had 2 rules – no Cup racing and no superspeedway’s. At the time, he was an announcer for NBC Sports specializing in sports car racing.

So what led to him 3 years later being okay with superspeedway’s and 36 points paying Cup races?

It’s the family atmosphere Kaulig has made for Allmendinger.

AUSTIN, TEXAS – MARCH 26: AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #16 Nutrien Ag Solutions Chevrolet, celebrates with his crew after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series Pit Boss 250 at Circuit of The Americas on March 26, 2022 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

“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 has won on the Cup level with them at Indy. He’s won on a superspeedway at Talladega. However, Rice was initially nervous after how the start of their working relationship went but is so proud to see where it has grown today.

“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.”

You also now have to look at Allmendinger being a legitimate championship contender too. There’s 5 regular season road course races now compared to just 2 in his last season, and he could win at any one of the 5 next year. Kaulig is also proven to have fast cars on ovals too for which there’s no reason to think that not only could Allmendinger be a playoff driver, he could make a serious run through the postseason. If he can escape the opening round, the ROVAL is back in the Round of 12 to which Allmendinger is 3-for-5 at.

That could place him into the Round of 8 and in that round, are tracks Allmendinger was strong at last year in scoring 9th in Vegas and 3rd in Homestead.

Nevertheless, this is a remarkable journey for the former open wheel driver that had success in Champ Car, to try out NASCAR, to eventually land a ride with Penske, to failing a drug test for a banned substance, to landing with Penske at Indy for the Indy 500, to making a way back to NASCAR only to get burned out. Now, he’s back and as ready as ever to fight for more wins in what he describes is the most competitive Cup car that he’s had to date.

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