DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 14: AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #16 Celsius Chevrolet, walks the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2024 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) | Getty Images
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 14: AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #16 Celsius Chevrolet, walks the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2024 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) | Getty Images

AJ Allmendinger wants to help Kaulig Racing out in any way possible

By Dustin Albino

The question AJ Allmendinger was asked frequently during the 2023 season was which series he would be competing in the following season. In December, we found out the answer. 

Kaulig Racing announced Allmendinger would return to the Xfinity Series after a  full-year stint in the Cup Series, driving the No. 16 Chevrolet. In that lone season, he was victorious at the Charlotte Roval. 

“I don’t look at it as a demotion – I know a lot of people do – but it’s still Kaulig Racing,” Chris Rice, president of Kaulig Racing, said of moving Allmendinger to the team’s Xfinity program. “He’s still going to run a bunch of Cup races and be involved in the day-to-day operations with us. I look at it as, ‘How do we grow Kaulig Racing?’ And the best opportunity for us to grow Kaulig Racing is for him to come in there and push us to make us better.”

That’s why Allmendinger was hired by Kaulig in the first place in 2019. The team knows he maximizes his equipment and his subtle feedback can elevate the entire program. 

Allmendinger wasn’t shy, however, about preferring to remain in the Cup Series full time. But the team had to make a business decision, as Rice said it costs the team somewhere between $16-$17 million to field an entry. 

“There’s a point, especially for Matt [Kaulig], where you’ve got to figure out what is the smart thing to do,” Allmendinger said. “I’ve always told them that I’m willing to do whatever they want me to do. I’ve always been brutally honest with them. With that, my alliance is to [Kaulig], so if you want me to run Cup, Xfinity, trucks, whatever, I’m going to do it for you guys. 

“We know on the Xfinity side of it, that’s where Matt and Chris’ heart really is. It’s a better opportunity to win trophies and a championship.”

Rice agrees completely. The team handles business in its own way.

“We don’t do anything that you have to do it this way because it’s been done that way for 50 years,” Rice said. “We do it the way that is going to keep Matt Kaulig in the game and push Kaulig Racing forward. A lot of people bash us about that – and I’m fine with that. I’d rather them bash us about that as we’re winning trophies and hanging banners than going out of business and selling teams.” 

Allmendinger made it clear that he hopes to see Kaulig elevate its performance to compete for wins weekly at the Cup level. He just doesn’t know if it will be during his period of driving racecars, as Rice said he’s signed up through the 2027 or 2028 season.

“I think it’s frustrating that we don’t get the opportunity to [compete for wins] and it’s just hard to break into the mold of big teams when it comes to Hendrick, Penske, Gibbs and things like that – that’s what is frustrating is it’s hard to just get that,” Allmendinger added. “Even with the way the finances work for the little teams to try to get in there and get the manufacturer help, that’s the frustrating thing. I feel like we can compete at the highest level and, hell, we won last year.

“We show when we are at our best that we can run with them. It’s just few and far between at times.”

The exact number of Cup races that Allmendinger will run has yet to be determined. He believes it will be somewhere between 12 and 15, though noted it’s a “sliding scale.”

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 16: AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #16 Celsius Chevrolet, drives during practice for the NASCAR Xfinity Series United Rentals 300 at Daytona International Speedway on February 16, 2024 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) | Getty Images
(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) | Getty Images

In two full-time seasons with Kaulig at the Xfinity level, Allmendinger is undefeated in picking up regular season titles. He ran five races for the team in 2023, piling up top 10s in all five and scoring a pair of victories at Circuit of The Americas and Nashville. 

Though watching from afar, Allmendinger noticed the 2023 season pan out similarly to the previous two years for Kaulig at the Xfinity level. The team fired out of the gate with tons of speed, only to fade as the season progressed. He thought the team fell considerably off on its road-course program during the season. 

The 17-time Xfinity race winner returns to the series with stacked competition. Realistically, there are more than 15 teams that could compete for a playoff position, which will make life more challenging for the No. 16 team. 

“It’s not just showing up and, if we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot, it’s an automatic top 10,” Allmendinger said. “For a couple of years, I felt like that.”

In Allmendinger’s two previous postseason appearances, he battled for the championship at Phoenix in 2021 and narrowly missed the Championship 4 in 2022. 

The team must improve on its short-track program to be a realistic threat for the Xfinity championship in 2024, though Allmendinger noted: “If you make your cars fast, they are going to be fast everywhere.”

Allmendinger kicked off his season with top 10 efforts in both the Cup and Xfinity Series at Daytona.