With two weeks until the next race, NASCAR Cup Series news will be sparse for a few days. Teams began the cross-country trek from Sonoma to their North Carolina shops Sunday night and Monday morning. Understandably, they’ll go low-key for a few days.
In lieu of actual news about Kyle Busch or Martin Truex Jr., Silly Season speculation is a good bet to flare up, and the focus will be on a few drivers. However, there’s one car out there that’s full of drivers, and no one is talking yet about what Kaulig Racing intends to do with that No. 16 Chevy.
Kaulig Racing is running two cars in its first full-time Cup Series season
Trackhouse Racing Is the young NASCAR team creating a buzz. Justin Marks launched last season with Daniel Suarez, who just won his first Cup Series race. Ross Chastain joined this year to make it a two-car operation, and he has won twice already. Michael Jordan’s 23XI Racing beat Trackhouse to Victory Lane last year with the Talladega win by Bubba Wallace.
But Kaulig Racing beat both to their first victory in 2021 as AJ Allmendinger won the road race at Indianapolis, even before owner Matt Kaulig made the formal move to full-time Cup racing.
This season, Kaulig Racing is operating two cars. Justin Haley is full-time in the No. 31 Chevy, but the No. 16 Chevy is a team effort. AJ Allmendinger handles the road courses and a bunch of the races on ovals. Defending Xfinity Series champion Daniel Hemric and JR Motorsports driver Noah Gragson split the remainder of the workload.
The arrangement is close to unique since single drivers handle 32 of the 36 charter cars. Rick Ware Racing puts multiple drivers in the No. 15 Ford, and Spire Motorsports does the same with the No. 77 Chevy. B.J. McLeod is near-exclusive in the No. 78 Live Fast Motorsports Ford that he co-owns.
Justin Haley has been coming on strong for Kaulig Racing
Justin Haley drove for Spire Motorsports in 2021 and switched teams after Kaulig Racing bought his car’s charter. He previously ran five Cup Series races over two seasons, even pulling off a rain-shortened win in the 2019 Daytona summer race.
This season, Haley opened with a pair of 23rd-place finishes, but he has placed in the top half of the field in 10 of 14 races since. Haley ran in the top 10 for portions of the Sonoma race and finished 12th. He stands 23rd in points, which puts Haley ahead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Bubba Wallace, and close behind Michael McDowell and Denny Hamlin.
Haley drives under sponsorship by LeafFilter, the signature business of owner Matt Kaulig.
“He’s a great representative and a great leader for the employees at LeafFilter,” Kaulig told Sportscasting.com “You don’t put your name on somebody’s car or on their chest without them being a great leader and human being and a great young driver. He’s one of the best young drivers in the series.”
Haley’s third place at Darlington is Kaulig Racing’s best finish this season. AJ Allmendinger won the Xfinity road race at Phoenix two weeks ago and came back to take 10th place the next day in the Cup Series race at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Daniel Hemric kicked off the season with 12th place in the Daytona 500 and then ninth at Fontana. Noah Gragson’s top showing has been 18th at Kansas.
The fate of the No. 16 Chevy for 2023 is undetermined
Since the car is racing under a charter, there isn’t urgency to hand the Kaulig Racing No. 16 Chevy to a single driver unless there is a compelling sponsorship consideration. That did come into play somewhat in dishing out assignments this season to AJ Allmendinger, Daniel Hemric, and Noah Gragson.
Owner Matt Kaulig and team president Chris Rice told Sportscasting.com they have been having an ongoing conversation about when the time might be right to settle on one driver. And, yes, that could happen in time for next season, which means it deserves its own place in Silly Season discussions.
“You don’t want to just put somebody in that is going to go run around 25th or 26th,” Rice said. “It comes down to talent. They’ve got to have talent. They’ve got to be sellable. They’ve got to be able to talk (to sponsors). It’s a lot of things that go into that. And when it comes down to it, you have to be able to have the talent to run fast. You can sell people that run fast, right? You can’t sell somebody that runs 30th or 35th all the time. You can, but it’s not the way we want to race.
“We’re going to trophy hunt. So, when it comes down to picking the second full-time guy, it’ll be a long conversation. And I’ll tell you, Matt and I are already having this conversation,”