Matt Kaulig’s goal when he entered NASCAR in 2016 was to win a race. Now he has built a powerhouse that he hopes to continue to expand.
Several new team owners have entered the NASCAR Cup Series within the last year or so, including celebrities such as Pitbull, Michael Jordan, and Floyd Mayweather.
Entrepreneur Matt Kaulig finds himself among that new wave of owners. Kaulig Racing, which have competed full-time in the Xfinity Series since 2016, made their Cup Series debut in the 2020 Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway before running a part-time schedule in 2021
After purchasing two charters from Spire Motorsports last year, they now compete full-time with two cars in 2022: one for Justin Haley and one shared between A.J. Allmendinger, Noah Gragson and Daniel Hemric.
But it wasn’t always Kaulig’s vision to get to this point.
We had the chance to talk to him last week after his team’s first few races as a full-time Cup Series team.
“When we started the team back then with [team president] Chris Rice, I honestly don’t know that we envisioned even having more than one car in the Xfinity Series — ever,” Kaulig told Beyond the Flag. “We were just venturing into a sport that’s really hard to get into. It costs a lot of money if you’re going to run right, if you’re going to compete and want to win.
“Those were our goals and we know it would be a struggle and a really difficult thing even to get up there in the top 10, top five, and win races in the Xfinity Series. So no, would’ve never dreamt or thought that we could run on Sundays, much less compete and much less win in the Cup Series.”
Kaulig Racing: Will Cup Series team be a distraction?
The team still compete in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with three full-time entries. A.J. Allmendinger, Daniel Hemric, and Landon Cassill are their drivers.
Matt Kaulig believes that having a Cup Series program will only make the Xfinity Series team stronger, not serve as a distraction.
“We think it makes it better,” he admitted. “Even with most of those guys getting full-time. Landon is driving some Cup races as well, not for us but for Spire, this year. So all of our drivers who we have in the Xfinity Series are going to be running Cup. And so it gets those guys better competition, they get more seat time.
“All of our crew chiefs and engineers, we definitely just work on Xfinity cars and have all of our people working on Xfinity, and then we have separate people working on the Cup stuff. So the same people aren’t doing Cup and Xfinity. That’s definitely a separate team. But we feel it helps our overall program, it definitely helps our Xfinity program, being in the Cup Series. And that’s why other Cup teams do that, they run Xfinity as well, because it just helps get everybody used to it.”
Kaulig Racing to the Cup Series: Perfect timing
The timing of Kaulig Racing joining the NASCAR Cup Series was ideal, given the fact that their full-time entry came along with the introduction of the Gen 7 car. But that timing was a coincidence.
“We ran part-time last year, we ran eight or nine races,” Matt Kaulig said. “The plan was to do that, to run eight or nine or 10 races, but the plan was to do that in 2020. But then COVID-19 hit and we weren’t able to qualify — if you remember with all that stuff, you lined up, so teams like us weren’t even allowed to try to qualify, and everything was based on points and owner points. So we weren’t even able to do it.
“It actually worked out really great for us because the Next Gen car and that whole situation where we’re able to compete right away. But the whole intention was to run part-time in 2020 and then run full-time last year in 2021. But it just got pushed off a year just because of COVID-19. And again, everything happens for a reason, I think, and so everything just worked out great for us.”
Interestingly, had there been no COVID-19 pandemic, the Gen 7 car would have launched in 2021. But even then, the introduction of the new car wasn’t why Kaulig was interested in joining.
“No, it just so happened to coincide with our timing,” he explained. “It ended up being a really, really great situation for us because everybody is in the same situation. Every team going into this year, everything is new. Even the guys that have been doing this for 50 years, RCR and Hendrick, everybody is in the same boat with this Next Gen car and just starting over. We didn’t have to buy a bunch of race cars last year or the year before, and so it just worked out great. So it was just good timing. But honestly, just coincidental. Nonetheless, really good timing for us.”
Joining the sport at roughly the same time as Pitbull, Michael Jordan, and Floyd Mayweather? Also good timing.
“That’s good timing!” he exclaimed. “It’s actually a really exciting time. It’s a really exciting time for NASCAR, fans, and for everybody involved. For those guys to be in the sport now, it just adds an element of excitement for fans, for competitors. It is the next generation. I think NASCAR is doing a great job. We’ve had some amazing events so far, out at the L.A. Coliseum and all the hoopla and fun around that for fans and for the teams; it’s been great for us.
“The Daytona 500 a couple weeks ago was just absolutely amazing; the place was packed. It was a spectacle, to say the least. You do have celebrities walking around, you have celebrities at the car. Even Emmitt Smith, we were lined up next to Emmitt Smith’s car! Emmitt Smith is out there on the [Xfinity Series] grid; and so it’s just super exciting. I’m super excited for fans, and everybody likes that and is excited by it. Just go out there and try to win!”
Kaulig Racing’s charters: Not one, but two
In some respect, the fact that Matt Kaulig was able to make the move when he did is a surprise. While it may have come down to good timing on his part, there were several other owners looking to purchase charters, specifically for this year amid the launch of the new car.
Some weren’t able to do so. But Kaulig ended up being able to purchase not one, but two — an impressive feat, given the state of the charter market.
“A lot of people ask — our intention, and even when we started one car back in 2016, the intention was just that, was to do that: run one car. Our intention getting into the Cup Series was to run one car. We knew even last year that it was just going to be Justin Haley, that we were going to move Justin up, and run a car.
“But we did have the opportunity through Spire to acquire two of them. So when we started talking to them about buying one – or started talking to everybody about buying one – the opportunity came up where we were able to get two. And they’re hard to come by! If they would have offered, or if we would have been able to get maybe four last year or a couple years ago, then we would.”
Even 23XI Racing, the team co-owned by Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin, almost missed out on a second charter for 2022. And the Justin Marks and Pitbull-owned Trackhouse Racing Team needed to acquire Chip Ganassi Racing to land two of their own.
“It’s very well documented how many people are looking for charters,” Kaulig continued.” Denny Hamlin and those guys were searching and trying to buy, Trackhouse ended up having to acquire and buy a whole race team to get charters. So we were thrilled we were able to do that. But that’s why you see we’re running full-time with two cars but sharing that second car, just because we had the opportunity to and we’re just kind of getting our feet wet with that second car while Justin Haley runs for points.”
Ironically, Haley competed in a number of races for Spire Motorsports over the last few years, in addition to competing for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series.
“[Team owner] T.J. [Puchyr] has been a good friend of ours for a few years,” Kaulig said. “I think [Justin running there] had something to do with it; it wasn’t the reason why they sold them to us, but just our relationship with them and with other teams certainly helps. Nobody wants to help somebody who you’re not friends with. But it didn’t have a whole lot to do with the fact that Justin was already there, it just so happened to be that he was already there.”
Kaulig Racing: Why one car is shared between three drivers
The decision to run Justin Haley in one car and multiple drivers in the other car is one that Matt Kaulig feels will help the team in the long run.
“We’re trying to build a team,” he said. “And so even with our drivers, these guys are young. They are young guys. Daniel was in the Cup Series full-time a couple years ago and then came back in the Xfinity Series, but he’s still way young in his career. I think he aspires and wants to get back to the Cup Series. He’s a great driver, won the championship last year.
“I think Noah’s a great young talent, a great young driver, so able to get him in the fold, in the mix. And he wants to get up in the Cup Series, so we’re able to accommodate that.
“We have three Xfinity cars and we’ve been used to doing what we do in the Xfinity Series, and then we wanted to get part-time into the Cup garage and the Cup Series and just get used to that and get our guys used to it and girls used to it and our drivers used to being in that level, and develop crew chiefs and car chiefs and engineers. We’re kind of doing that ourselves, homegrown.
“And so it’s a big task to have two cars in the Cup Series. So one full-time for points and then one shared and then see what happens. See if one of those drivers or crew chiefs step up where we can make a decision about taking one of them full-time in the Cup Series.”
But again, he is adamant that the NASCAR Cup Series program won’t take anything away from the Xfinity Series program.
“But our focus is also just to win a championship in the Xfinity Series,” he continued. “A.J. won the regular season championship last year, and now we were able to get Daniel, who won the championship, to come over to Kaulig Racing. So we’ve really got two championship drivers right now in two of those cars. And we feel really good about it. We’re looking for big things out of all of those guys this year in the Xfinity Series while we develop and start to ramp up our Cup Series business.”
Kaulig Racing: Out after just one win?
Perhaps the biggest thing that Matt Kaulig revealed was the fact that, when he entered NASCAR, he wasn’t sure whether or not his team would continue after they got their first win — if they ever got it.
“The goal was always to get a win,” he admitted. “And I didn’t even know if we got a win if we would just stop; it was almost like, that situation!”
They scored their first Xfinity Series victory with Ross Chastain in July 2019 at Daytona International Speedway, and they scored their first Cup Series victory with Allmendinger last August at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
They have since added 13 more Xfinity Series victories and sent Haley to the Championship 4 in 2020 and Allmendinger to the Championship 4 last year.
So suffice it to say that they didn’t stop, and they don’t plan to stop.
The same applies in the Cup Series. Their first win is only the beginning. Instead of a “win and we’re done” mentality, now there is less pressure than ever on the team; it’s very rare that you can say a new full-time Cup Series team already has a win entering their first full season of competition at the sport’s top level, but that is the case for Kaulig Racing.
“Major, major, majorly; it definitely takes off pressure,” he said. “We felt like we had pressure – our only goal in the Xfinity Series was to win a race. When we started a team, really the only reason I started the team was to go try to get a win. If we were going to spend all the money sponsorship-wise, it is really expensive to go run for some of these top organizations.
“So if I was going to spend that much money to go full-time racing, I figured maybe we can do it, and being entrepreneurial, it’s like, I think we can do this ourselves. We have a better chance of developing a program and maybe going after a win if we do it ourselves.
“But yes, already winning a Cup race just takes all of the pressure off the whole team, the whole organization. It’s like, ‘hey, we’ve already done that, now let’s just go compete’, and we know it’s going to be super hard to compete, these guys are really good, they spend a lot of money, they’ve been doing it for years and years and years. And you see the drivers who you’re out there competing against, they’re the best in the world.
“So already got the win, already got the trophy, already got the Brickyard, it’s almost like everything else is just now building the business, building the organization to be able to compete on a weekly basis and put ourselves in a position to maybe go get trophies. We’re definitely hunting trophies in the Xfinity Series, and we’re just trying to compete with the big boys in the Cup Series.”
Kaulig Racing: A strategic expansion
Kaulig Racing have expanded during their seven years in NASCAR, and they plan to continue to do so. However, the key is not trying to get too big too quickly, a lesson that Matt Kaulig learned from being involved in business before starting his race team.
“I started a business out of my house, LeafFilter, back in 2005, and just grown the organization almost systematically,” he explained. “And just being smart about it. Not expanding too fast, not getting too big, not spending too much money where you’re handcuffed. Even with that business, just started expanding throughout the United States and Canada. As we said today, we’ve got 140 LeafFilter offices in the U.S. and Canada. It’s a giant business, we have really, really great people, and we’ve got a whole army of men and women out there who are doing great in business.
“We’re doing the same thing with NASCAR where we’re systematically growing it, not growing it too fast. We’ve gone from one car in the Xfinity Series to one car and a part-time car. And then we were two full-time cars in the Xfinity Series, with a third part-time. And so just growing it, we’re doing the same thing in the Cup Series. We do have two cars.”
Kaulig Racing now have five full-time cars total, with three in the Xfinity Series and two in the Cup Series. The goal is eight total, with four in each.
“Our ultimate goal, which probably won’t take too long, is to have four cars. I want four cars in the Xfinity Series and four cars in the Cup Series, and try to grow both of those programs. But you can’t do that all at one time or else it’s just too much, even with people and resources and everything else.
“I think the lessons that I’ve learned in business are definitely applying to our NASCAR business and just expanding. Again, you saw us run eight or nine races last year in the Cup Series just to get our feet wet, just to get everybody used to it so that when we did jump in full-time, we were kind of used to it and it’s not all brand new.