Five years ago, Matt Kaulig had a vision. That vision included motorsports, particularly NASCAR.
In 2014, LeafFilter Gutter Protection, Kaulig’s business, entered the NASCAR world to sponsor Blake Koch while competing for Go Fas Racing in two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races. The next season, LeafFilter continued its partnership with Koch at TriStar Motorsports for 24 races. Come 2016, Koch was signed on to be Kaulig’s first primary driver for startup race team Kaulig Racing.
While finding his driver, Kaulig needed a marquee person with a multitude of racing knowledge. In came veteran crew chief Chris Rice, who at the time was working for NTS Motorsports in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, though that team shut down at the conclusion of the season.
Since then, the team has continued to grow, now almost 30 employees deep.
“We were having so much fun and spending so much money and being entrepreneurial, I thought, ‘S—t, I can do this,’” Kaulig recently told Frontstretch of wanting to dip his toes into NASCAR ownership. “I found Chris Rice and hired him and continued growing this team.”
In the team’s first race at Daytona International Speedway in February 2016, Koch scored his first career top-10 finish (ninth) in his 146th series start. Throughout the season, the No. 11 team would record four additional top 10s, with a season-best effort of eighth (three times). Koch nearly made the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway had things worked out perfectly at ISM Raceway in the penultimate race of the season. When the checkered flag dropped at Homestead, Koch was seventh in points.
2017 was even more successful — another trip to the postseason and five more top-10 finishes, improving its company-best result to a sixth at Phoenix. However, Koch was relegated to 11th in points. Again, not too shabby for a second-year team.
For the 2018 season, Kaulig signed Ryan Truex for the season, who was coming off a ninth-place finish in the Truck Series championship standings (first driver to miss the playoffs) in 2017 for Hattori Racing Enterprises.
The alliance between Kaulig and Truex found instant success, scoring back-to-back top 10s in the first two races of the season. With a season filled with highs, Truex made the playoffs but made an early exit in the Round of 12, finishing 11th in points.
Over the offseason, Kaulig Racing signed on young hot shoe Justin Haley to a multi-year deal to drive the No. 11 Chevrolet. And to date, 2019 has been Kaulig Racing’s best year, running two and even three cars in some events.
“I think it’s been great,” Kaulig said of Haley’s rookie season. “It’s his first time in these cars and it’s been great. It’s been a tough year losing Nick Harrison [crew chief, who passed away in mid-July] halfway through the season.
“When we had to go through all of that, I don’t think it set Justin back, but it was difficult and adversity. He’s only a 20-year-old kid, but it’s actually been a great year for the team.”
Through the opening 29 races of the season, Haley has a quartet of top-five finishes, though posting a single-season best 18 top-10 finishes for the race team. The top fives have come at a variety of different tracks: Dover International Speedway, a one-mile, high-banked track; Charlotte Motor Speedway, the quintessential 1.5-miler; Daytona, which features superspeedway pack racing; and Indianapolis, a 2.5-mile track with spread-out, high-downforce racing.
Kaulig believes the success is just part of the team’s growth and is proud of the organization’s efforts.
“I think we’re further ahead than we thought we would be,” Kaulig said. “This is hard. It’s hard to win. These guys have been doing this for 50 years, and for us to just start off a team and now we have two wins, we’re winning big races and have been in the playoffs every year that we’ve been in it. That’s hard to do, too. I think we’re a lot further ahead that we thought we would be.”
The two victories Kaulig alluded to were Ross Chastain capturing the checkered flag at Daytona in July (Kaulig Racing ran three cars and took the checkered flag positions 1-3, though the No. 10 failed post-race inspection and was credited for last) and AJ Allmendinger recently winning on the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL in late September.
Last season, Kaulig Racing only ran two cars once at Indianapolis. In 2019, the company has rolled out multiple cars for 14 races and will do so again this weekend at Kansas Speedway.
Kaulig believes the team is ready to take the next step.
“Just continuing to build our program,” Kaulig said. “We do want to win a championship. We’ve been in the playoffs for the past four years. We use the term ‘trophy-hunting,’ but we just want to get more trophies and build our team and build our organization.
“I believe if you’re not continuing to grow, you’re beginning to die. But it all comes down to sponsorship. If you get two cars – if we had three teams or four teams that we had sponsorship or three or four drivers that had sponsorship, we would run that many cars. We’d run eight if they’d let us, but they only let you run four.”
Kaulig did confirm that there will be races in 2020 that the team unloads “three and four cars.” On Tuesday (Oct. 15), the team announced it has added Chastain for the full season next year, running the No. 10 car. Haley will also be back in the No. 11.
Through the first eight months of the season, Kaulig Racing has more victories than JR Motorsports, which is something not many people would have expected. The owner hopes to continue that trend in the near future with more trophies.
“It says we’re a winning team now,” Kaulig added. “We’re building something special. We want to win championships, we want to win more races, and so it shows that proves that we can do it and actually get it done.”
- The Xfinity Series heads to Kansas Speedway this weekend to kickoff the Round of 8. Christopher Bell heads into the weekend as the championship leader, +48 points on the cutline for the Championship 4. Cole Custer sits second, +36 points, with Tyler Reddick, +30 and Austin Cindric +3 holding the last two spots. Justin Allgaier sits just below the cutline in fifth, -3, Chase Briscoe is sixth, -4, Michael Annett, -8 and Noah Gragson, -12.
- As noted, Kaulig Racing signed Ross Chastain for the full 2020 season. In four races for the team this season, Chastain has two top 10s and the win at Daytona. All 79 of his laps led have come in a Kaulig Chevrolet, as opposed to 0 in 13 starts for JD Motorsports.
- On Wednesday night (Oct. 16), Kaulig Racing’s No. 10 transporter was involved in an accident on I-40. According to a release from the team, both hauler drivers were alert and transported to the hospital for further evaluation. The team will still field both entries this weekend.
- Initially, Ryan Truex was only slated for a handful of races with JR Motorsports this season. But after adding one over the summer at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, he will finish the year with six starts total in the No. 8 car, the last coming this weekend at Kansas.
About the author
Dustin joined the Frontstretch team at the beginning of the 2016 season. 2020 marks his sixth full-time season covering the sport that he grew up loving. His dream was to one day be a NASCAR journalist, thus why he attended Ithaca College (Class of 2018) to earn a journalism degree. Since the ripe age of four, he knew he wanted to be a storyteller.
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