Article originally published on Crain’s Cleveland by Joe Scalzo

Matt Kaulig once spent his weekends avoiding tacklers.

On Sunday, Oct. 8, he embraced one.

A.J. Allmendinger rode his No. 16 Chevrolet to victory at Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, giving Kaulig Racing its first NASCAR Cup Series victory of the 2023 season.

Afterward, as confetti rained down on his car in the winner’s circle, Allmendinger jumped out of his window, spotted Kaulig — a former University of Akron quarterback — and jumped on his back, yelling, “I love you!” 

It was an emotional moment for the 41-year-old Allmendinger, who won his first Cup race since 2021 and who became a first-time father last month. 

“I hate crying right now, but it’s a freaking Cup race, man,” said Allmendinger, who hadn’t finished higher than fourth in a Cup race this season. “You don’t know when it’s ever going to happen again.”

The Kaulig Racing team entered Sunday’s racing having earned three top-five finishes this season and 10 top-10 finishes, but its three drivers had combined to lead just 42 laps. At Charlotte, Allmendinger led for 46 laps and gave Kaulig Racing its second career victory. The first came two years ago when Allmendinger won the Verizon 200 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“I love all the men and women at Kaulig Racing so much,” Allmendinger said afterward. “This is why you do it. All the blood, sweat and tears.”

Kaulig is the founder of Leaf Home and the executive chairman of Hudson-based Kaulig Cos. He founded Kaulig Racing in 2016, first as an Xfinity Series team before adding two Cup Series charters. 

“It’s always fun winning,” Kaulig Racing president Chris Rice said. “I don’t have a voice, but I’m smiling. I hope we make you smile by everything you do.

“To everybody back in Ohio, we appreciate you and love you. I hope you enjoy watching us win because that’s what we love to do is trophy-hunt.”

Joe Scalzo:, (216) 771-5256, @JoeScalzo01