This NASCAR Culture article was originally published on Heavy.com
Kaulig Racing has only competed in NASCAR since 2016 but the team has secured 15 total wins across the Xfinity and Cup Series. Good equipment and reliable partners both play a role, but the in-house culture adds a significant competitive advantage.
Kaulig Racing owner Matt Kaulig and team president Chris Rice provided this insight during a January 13 sitdown with Heavy. Rice explained that the intensity level increases dramatically during Cup Series events, whether they are practice sessions or full-on races. He sees how the stress can get to other teams and potentially have a negative impact on their performance, so he focuses on maintaining that Kaulig Racing culture and keeping everyone loose.
Does this approach of focusing on fun and positivity lead to wins during the season? It’s hard to argue with the 2021 Xfinity Series season. AJ Allmendinger won five times, locked up the regular-season championship, and reached the championship four. Justin Haley and Jeb Burton, who moved to Our Motorsports for the 2022 season, both reached the playoffs after wins at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. Read More From HeavyBet $5, Win $150 on Any NFL Playoff Game This Weekend
“1,000%. Yes,” Rice said about the competitive advantage. “Our team yesterday at Daytona ran the most laps. We ran like 130-some laps. We ran a full Cup race, and [the crew chiefs] were okay because they knew that’s what we want to do. We want to have fun with it. We need to give Daniel Hemric some time, give Justin Haley some time. Those guys, knowing the light feeling and having a plan before they ever go there and understanding what the vision is, works.
“We know walking in a Cup garage, the intensity goes up. Everybody’s all like, ‘oh, we gotta go win.’ I look at that, even at a test, and I’m going, ‘wow, this is not good.’ If we can keep our culture the way our culture is — and that’s what [Matt Kaulig] allows us to do — we will have a competitive edge. Will we win next year? Man, it’s gonna be really hard. It’s gonna be really hard. But will we go every week and try to win? Absolutely.”
Trophy Hunting Is Still Serious Business
Kaulig Racing does not hide the fact that the team loves to have fun even while chasing trophies. The drivers — especially Allmendinger — put their big personalities on display while Kaulig and Rice spend a considerable amount of time joking around and interacting with fans throughout the race weekend. Even the social media team gets involved by photoshopping Justin Haley into various scenes as an “elf on a shelf.”
This approach is not something created for social media. It stems from the people in charge of the organization. Kaulig has made it clear that he wants to enjoy competing in NASCAR, and he partnered with a team president that feels the same way.
“I do say all the time, ‘like if this isn’t fun, I’m not doing it.’ I have several different jobs and ways to make money,” Kaulig explained. “We do this one because it’s fun and it’s super bada** to be in NASCAR. Right? And to have race teams and do that. But it’s fun.”
However, that emphasis on having fun does not mean that the team is taking the sport less seriously than everyone else. Kaulig and Rice both realize what is at stake, and they put in hours and hours of work to ensure that everyone in the building will continue to have a place to call home.
“And not to make light of it because we are super dead serious about winning and getting after it and are fully realizing that this is people’s career,” Kaulig continued. “All of our drivers. I mean, this is their dream. This is their career. This is Chris’s career. This is everybody in the race shop and our PR team. It’s their career and we want to give everybody a great experience and be part of winning”
“That is something Matt has instilled in me that allows us to run a race team,” Rice added. “That pandemic hit, Matt Kaulig was the first one to send a video to everybody, every race team member. ‘Nothing changes. We got to win, we got to win, we got to win. Nothing changes. Your pay is not gonna change. nothing changes.’ So Matt has done that.”
This Culture Will Continue With a Move to the Cup Series
Kaulig Racing has used its culture to achieve success in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, but now the team will take on a new challenge. The 2022 season will mark the first time that Kaulig Racing has fielded full-time entries in both the Xfinity Series and the Cup Series.
The Cup Series lineup will feature Haley as the full-time driver of the No. 31 Chevrolet Camaro. The No. 16 will have Noah Gragson, Daniel Hemric, and Allmendinger as a rotating cast of drivers. The Xfinity Series lineup will consist of Hemric (No. 11), Allmendinger (No. 16), and Landon Cassill (No. 10).
Taking on the Cup Series and Xfinity Series simultaneously will not be a simple task. The competition is at another level on Sunday afternoons. However, Kaulig Racing will move toward the 2022 season with the knowledge that all four drivers have the talent behind the wheel to contend for wins. Allmendinger already proved this by winning the Indianapolis Motor Speedway race on August 15, 2021.
Another factor that will help Kaulig Racing prepare for the new challenge is the continued focus on culture. The team will embrace the fun of the Cup Series, as well as the “rookie” title that will accompany its first full season.
“The Cup Series, I mean, we’re so new in that thing, and we so realize that we’re young and our drivers are young and our crew chiefs are… it’s such a good, awesome spot to be in,” Kaulig said. “For us, it’s just fun. I mean, we’re running full-time for the first time with charters in the Cup Series, and so we look for that to be just a fun rookie year experience for our guys and for us. And then we’ll see what we can do.
“We actually do have great racecar drivers in those cars. We have great people building those cars, and Chevrolet has been absolutely amazing. Our partners at RCR [Richard Childress Racing] and Chris, I mean, everybody actually has a lot of experience. We’re not even going into this thing as rookies. But we’re kind of treating it that way.”
Kaulig Racing will make its full-time Cup debut during the Busch Light Clash at the LA Memorial Coliseum on February 6. The team will then take on the season-opening Daytona 500 on February 20.