By Jacob Seelman, Kickin’ the Tires
Revealed during the team’s Fan Day festivities in advance of this weekend’s playoff doubleheader at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, Allmendinger will be “back, back again” in the NASCAR Cup Series full time next year.
The Los Gatos, Calif., native – who will turn 41 prior to the start of the 2023 season – will pilot team owner Matt Kaulig’s No. 16 entry as he returns to NASCAR’s top level for the first time in five years.
Allmendinger retired from full-time Cup Series racing at the end of 2018, but returned to the driver’s seat part time the following year to run five NASCAR Xfinity Series events for Kaulig Racing.
A win at the Charlotte ROVAL came that fall, followed by two wins in 11 starts in 2020 before full-season efforts in the Xfinity Series materialized for both 2021 and this season.
Now, on the strength of back-to-back regular season titles in the Xfinity Series, Allmendinger and Kaulig feel that the time is right for the Golden State veteran to try his hand at a Cup Series championship run.
“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,” noted Allmendinger, whose past Cup Series stints came with Red Bull Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Team Penske, Phoenix Racing and JTG-Daugherty Racing. “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,” he added. “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.”
In addition to Allmendinger’s success with Kaulig’s Xfinity Series operation, he also earned the team’s maiden Cup Series triumph in just its seventh premier level start, driving to victory lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2021.
Altogether, Allmendinger has won 13 races for Kaulig Racing between the Cup Series and Xfinity Series since 2019, including the most recent Xfinity Series playoff race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
“It’s hard to not think of AJ Allmendinger when you think of Kaulig Racing,” admitted 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!”
Team president Chris Rice has long praised Allmendinger’s tenacity behind the wheel, noting that he’s been an integral part of the team since first coming to drive at Kaulig Racing three years ago.
“I first called AJ (Allmendinger) in 2019 to ask if he would run a couple Xfinity Series races for us,” recalled Rice. “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.”
Allmendinger will serve as the full-time teammate to Kaulig Racing mainstay Justin Haley, who piloted the team’s No. 31 entry this year in his first full season at the Cup Series level.
The two have had a fun and unique dynamic through the years, which Allmendinger expects to continue.
“I love working with Justin (Haley) as well and being able to see his growth,” said Allmendinger of the Winamac, Ind., young gun. “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.”
Allmendinger will make his final scheduled Cup Series start of the season in Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN, SiriusXM).
His full-time Cup Series return kicks off with the preseason Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Sunday, Feb. 5, before the 65th annual Daytona 500 on Feb. 19 at Daytona (Fla.) Int’l Speedway.