Article originally published on Forbes by Greg Engle
AJ Allmendinger is jumping feet first back into the NASCAR Cup series pool. In a widely anticipated announcement Wednesday, Kaulig Racing said they will put their once part-time Xfinity star in a second fulltime Cup entry next season.
“When I first went to Kaulig Racing to compete part-time in 2019 and 2020, I remember how I felt on the weekends that I wasn’t racing and how much I missed it,” Allmendinger said. “Competing full-time is a mentally tough battle at times. No matter how much work you put in as a driver, there’s a chance you will not achieve success. For a while, I think I lost that competitive drive to be the best. Kaulig Racing helped me find that again. I now feel more competitive than ever and believe there is more success to be earned as a team.”
The former open wheel star made his Cup series debut in 2007 earning a fulltime ride with Petty Motorsports in 2009 after part time stints with the now shuttered Red Bull Racing. He moved to Team Penske in 2012 replacing Kurt Busch but was released from the team prior to the end of the season after failing a drug test.
After his release he spent time in the Cup series with Phoenix Racing in 2013 but was also tapped by Penske to return for two road course races in the NASCAR Xfinity series winning both with the team as well as six IndyCar races for Penske. He then moved to JTG-Daugherty Racing where he scored his first Cup win in 2014. He announced his retirement from fulltime racing at the end of the 2018 season.
Kaulig Racing lured him back in 2019 and he ran five Xfinity races with the team earning the team its second-ever win at the inaugural Charlotte ROVAL race. He returned to Kaulig Racing in 2020 for another limited Xfinity schedule, winning two races out of 11 starts, before deciding to compete full time in the Xfinity series for the 2021 season where he won the regular series title and finished 4th in the final standings.
This season Allmendinger has won 4 Xfinity races, won his second consecutive regular season title with the team and is currently among the favorites to win this year’s NASCAR Xfinity title to be decided at Phoenix in November. In addition, he’s made 13 starts in the 2022 Cup series in Kaulig Racing’s No. 16 Camaro, and has one runner-up finish, five top-10 finishes and has led five laps.
Allmendinger’s return to the Cup series fulltime was just one of the moves Kaulig announced Wednesday.
In 2023, Allmendinger will race the No. 16 fulltime in the Cup series leaving the Xfinity duties to newly signed driver 20-year-old Chandler Smith.
“Kaulig Racing has grown from a small team to a multi-series, powerhouse team in just a few short years,” Smith said. “I’m honored to take over the No. 16 car that has had so much success these last couple of years.”
In his two seasons in NASCAR’s Truck Series, Smith has five wins, along with 22 top five and 32 top-10 finishes and has led 746 laps. He currently sits second in the Truck Series playoff standings.
“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.”
The new lineup will give Kaulig a team of drivers that should make the rest of the fields take notice.
Since joining Kaulig Racing, Allmendinger has earned 11 wins, seven of those coming on road courses, making him the winningest, road-course racer in NASCAR National Series.
“It’s hard to not think of AJ Allmendinger when you think of Kaulig Racing,” said Matt Kaulig, Kaulig Racing team owner. “When we started this team in 2016, I never imagined we’d have won as many races as we have, including a Cup Series race and two regular-season championships in two years. We are all truly excited to be able to say that we were able to get AJ Allmendinger out of retirement, not once, but twice now, to compete for Kaulig Racing full-time.”