Race Weekend Central

The Underdog House: Kaulig Racing Concludes Big Week in a Big Way at the ROVAL

Top Dog: Kaulig Racing

The first full week of October was one to remember for Kaulig Racing fans. It started on Oct. 5 when the team announced that AJ Allmendinger will return to full-time racing in the NASCAR Cup Series in the No. 16 for 2023, with Chandler Smith replacing him in the team’s Xfinity Series No. 16.

On Oct. 8, you can hear WWE’s Paul Heyman’s famous phrase announcing the reigning, defending, undisputed, [ROVAL] champion of the world … AJ Allmendinger! The “Dinger” won his fourth consecutive Xfinity race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, a race he has never lost at the Xfinity level.

Then came Sunday, Oct. 9 when the team announced that Daniel Hemric, who was eliminated from the Xfinity playoffs following the ROVAL, will return to the No. 11 in 2023.

At the end of 109 laps at the Bank of America ROVAL 400, Kaulig made a statement with authority by landing both Allmendinger and Justin Haley in the top five.

Let’s start with Allmendinger. The 40-year-old came into the race high on confidence, and boy did it show. With no points on the line, the No. 16 driver could focus on going for the win. Allmendinger made a case for that by taking the lead early in stage two and leading until he pitted with three to go in the stage, a strategy meant to put him back at the front for the final stage.

Despite battling issues with his gear getting stuck, Allmendinger ran in second for most of the final stage to Tyler Reddick. The team appeared to wait longer than expected to make its final pit stop, allowing both Chase Elliott and Reddick to cycle ahead of him.

Allmendinger fought past Reddick and tried to chase Elliott down, but the difficulty of passing and the prowess of Elliott seemed to be too much … until it was all reset. A yellow flew for debris lined the field up again for a restart with three laps remaining.

In what had been a calm, strung out race, the switch flipped in the final laps and drivers scrambled for position. Allmendinger forced his way past Elliott in turn 3 but was immediately sent by Kevin Harvick for the lead in the midst of madness. Once again, another caution flew for debris.

After the green flag flew for an overtime restart, Allmendinger jumped to third. However, he could not catch the top two and was passed by Kyle Busch on fresher tires, putting him in fourth at the finish.

For Haley, it was arguably his strongest run of the year. The Winamac, Ind. native is a sneaky good road course racer, and he may have awakened fans with a fifth-place run.

The No. 31 driver quickly climbed into the top 10 in stage one from 13th. After restarting toward the front in stage two, Haley put his pink machine in the third position.

For the remainder of the race, it was the 23-year-old outdueling several big names to run inside the top five. And despite all of the chaos on the last couple of restarts, the young driver kept his nose clean and came home with an impressive top five.

Allmendinger has certainly validated Kaulig’s decision to put him in the No. 16 full-time. The result is his fourth consecutive finish of seventh or better in his starts behind the wheel. In 14 starts, he has six top 10s, tied for the fourth-most top 10s he has recorded in a season. Keep in mind, that is among eight previous full-time seasons and 14 altogether.

For the first time in his career, Haley has two top fives in three races after finishing third at Texas Motor Speedway two weeks ago. It is also the first time Kaulig has placed two cars inside both the top 10 and top five in the same race.

One thing is for certain: this small team that Matt Kaulig dreamed up will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

Underdog Highlights

While coming up just short of the top 10, Erik Jones made an epic run to 11th at the finish. In what was a fairly quiet day for the No. 43, Jones got put in the wall by Joey Logano on the second-to-last restart. On the last restart, Jones restarted just inside the top 20. Through smoke, beating and banging, Jones scooted to his third straight finish of 11th or better.

Behind Jones was a driver who quite possibly had one of the most eventful days: Corey LaJoie. In the first stage, LaJoie tangled with Noah Gragson, causing both to miss the backstretch chicane and prompting LaJoie to show his displeasure with Gragson. Later on, he once again experienced drama in that chicane, getting turned in a four-wide situation and making significant contact with Chase Briscoe.

During the final stage, LaJoie was alongside Daniel Suarez, who was multiple laps down with a power steering issue. Entering the frontstretch chicane, the steering problem caught an innocent victim, as LaJoie got turned across Suarez’s nose. That was only the beginning.

LaJoie quickly caught back up with Suarez, whose in-car camera was being used by NBC as he was going into turn 1. LaJoie sent his car into the back of Suarez, sending the No. 99 wide. Meanwhile, LaJoie avoided most of the madness in the final laps to earn a strong 12th-place finish, his best career road course finish. As expected, however, Suarez was not impressed.

In the four previous road courses of 2022, Michael McDowell had not finished worse than eighth. It appeared as though that trend would continue at the ROVAL, as McDowell ran inside the top 10 for much of the race and ran some of the fastest laps at times. Unfortunately, he got into the turn 1 wall on the second-to-last restart, costing him several spots. It only worsened on the final restart, as the No. 34 got caught up in a first-turn accordion effect. McDowell suffered fairly significant damage and was relegated to an unfortunate 27th-place result.

NTT IndyCar driver Conor Daly’s Cup debut was an experience to say the least. It immediately began in Saturday’s practice session when Daly’s No. 50 for The Money Team Racing lost steering and hit the turn 3 wall.

The race didn’t get much calmer. Daly had two left front tires pop and the center console of his car caught on fire at one point. Despite a 34th-place finish, it was exciting to see another open-wheel racer get their shot at the tests of a heavy stock car.

Underdogs Sound Off

AJ Allmendinger (fourth): “When you are that close to winning, it’s for sure disappointing. But I’m happy with the way this No. 16 Action Industries Chevy was. It was really fast. We just need to work a little bit on pit road. We lost that little bit of track position, and it was a track position game. Once I got around the 8 (Tyler Reddick), I was burning my stuff up trying to catch the 9 (Chase Elliott). With those restarts, I knew I was kind of used up already. I got a good restart there and when Chase and I touched kind of through (turn) two, I went to set up for three and it turned me sideways and I slid a little more. That was unfortunate because that allowed the 4 (Kevin Harvick) to get to my bumper and we know Kevin is going to do that if he gets any chance. That’s a part of racing and going for the win. That second restart there, it was just a couple of guys with better tires, and you are just a sitting duck.”

Top 10 Underdog Moments Since 2000 – No. 5

We have officially made it the top five underdog moments of the century! And this is one most veteran fans will remember for ages.

The 2009 Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway presented the action and finish that you can only expect from Talladega. 13 years later, the closing laps are still in promotions across TV and the internet.

In a race that featured 57 lead changes, it was the last lap that most will remember. With Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. paired up coming to the white flag, Carl Edwards was pushed by Brad Keselowski for the lead. Keselowski, who was making his fifth career Cup start with Phoenix Racing, hooked up with Edwards’ No. 99 all the way to the tri-oval.

Entering the tri-oval, Keselowski looked high before ducking low under Edwards. The two came together and sparked one of the most spectacular and horrifying crashes witnessed. Edwards went airborne, was struck by Newman, and hit the catchfence upside-down. Fortunately, Edwards was uninjured and infamously jogged to the start/finish line. Meanwhile, Keselowski led his only lap of the race and just the third of his career to earn his first win of 35 wins currently. It was also the lone Cup win of Phoenix Racing’s tenure.

Small Team Scheme of the Week

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, signified by pink colors being displayed on clothing, flags, logos, and even race cars. Each Cup car carried a pink window net this weekend in support of “Window of Hope”, the second year it has been a part of the ROVAL weekend. Kaulig Racing took it a step further with Haley’s No. 31 LeafFilter Chevrolet, trading the usual green and white colors for bright pink. It was a great combination for a worthy cause that earned plenty of exposure during the race.

About the author

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Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

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