By Jacob Seelman, Kickin’ the Tires
LEXINGTON, N.C. – Twenty-year-old Chandler Smith ended up as the somewhat surprising beneficiary of A.J. Allmendinger’s pending return to a full-time NASCAR Cup Series schedule.
Also announced Wednesday as part of Kaulig Racing’s Fan Day activities, the Talking Rock, Ga., native and current Toyota Racing Development driver will take the reins of team owner Matt Kaulig’s No. 16 NASCAR Xfinity Series entry from Allmendinger beginning next season.
Smith will complete his pursuit of a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship with Kyle Busch Motorsports before transitioning to Kaulig Racing for his rookie Xfinity Series campaign in 2023.
“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 honored to take over the No. 16 car that has had so much success these last couple of years.”
Deep in the midst of his second Truck Series season, Smith has five wins, one pole, 22 top fives, 32 top-10 finishes and 746 laps led in 59 career Truck starts.
Smith currently sits second in the series’ playoff standings with one race to go in the Round of 8.
“Chandler Smith is a kid who we see a ton of potential in at Kaulig Racing,” said Chris Rice, president of Kaulig Racing. “We take pride in giving kids like Chandler an opportunity to compete for wins and be a steppingstone 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.”
“Getting to know Chandler has been great, and we are excited to bring more young, talented drivers to Kaulig Racing to help build our program,” added Kaulig. “We are excited to win many trophies together over the next couple of years!”
Smith joined SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s Tradin’ Paint Wednesday afternoon and recalled that, at first, he didn’t realize Kaulig Racing was serious about wanting him to drive one of their race cars next season.
“There was [a] conversation two months ago, but I didn’t know the conversation was serious until about a month ago,” Smith explained in his SiriusXM interview. “When I found out it was serious I was like, ‘Why wasn’t I quite aware of this sooner?’ So once I knew they were serious about this, seeing the plan that they had [put together] for me and that they were pretty excited about the possibility of me coming here as well, I was excited about it because I see a lot of potential here.
“At the end of the day, that’s the kind of place that I want to be.”
Smith, who has been involved in the NASCAR and ARCA portion of Toyota’s driver development system since 2018, revealed later that he did have an option to remain with the manufacturer that propelled his career into the national spotlight.
However, he believes that Kaulig Racing provides him the best opportunity for his long-term future.
“I’ve been a TRD driver for almost seven years now; they’ve gotten me to where I am today and put me in places – like KBM and Venturini Motorsports – that have good equipment and have allowed me to succeed,” Smith added. “I’ll always be grateful for that. Really, a lot of why I got this opportunity [with Kaulig Racing] is because of Toyota.
“With that being said, though, I had quite a few different options for next year … taking off my Toyota cap [and being open],” he tipped. “I had the option of going to JGR; there are just pros and cons to every single deal. At the end of the day, I don’t think it’s any secret that Kaulig Racing is going to be a powerhouse team one day in the Cup Series, and they already are at the Xfinity level. I’m 20 years old and I have time on my side, I feel like.
“I’m a young driver coming over here; they want me to come over here and I think that’s something that’s really good for someone in my position.”
Smith will debut with Kaulig Racing’s Xfinity Series program on Feb. 18, 2023 during the season opener at Daytona (Fla.) Int’l Speedway.
Partner and crew information for Smith’s Xfinity Series effort will be announced at a later date.