The announcement comes amidst a chaotic silly season for Kaulig in 2024. Justin Haley is leaving the team for Rick Ware Racing next season. Filling his seat will be Daniel Hemric in his return to the Cup Series. Meanwhile, AJ Allmendinger is still unsure of his 2024 plans, despite an emotional Cup win at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. Allmendinger knows he’ll be full-time with Kaulig next season, but he isn’t sure if it will be in Cup or Xfinity.
In the end, both of Kaulig’s full-time Xfinity seats might need to be filled, or one Cup and one Xfinity ride should Allmendinger be demoted. Not to mention the team’s third Xfinity car, which it has used as an all-star car this season (originally the No. 10, now the No. 11 as Hemric is vying for the owner’s title for the No. 10). If the team decides to make that one a single-driver ride, that leaves yet another seat open.
Several drivers have been linked to Kaulig for next season. Most notably, Ty Dillon has repeatedly popped up as a candidate to take Allmendinger’s Cup seat, mainly due to sponsorship. Noah Gragson has also been linked to reunite with Kaulig, perhaps in a full-time Xfinity seat. Gragson drove part-time for Kaulig’s Cup team in 2022.
Kraus, in particular, has seemingly taken on a role with Kaulig as its reserve driver, as he is the team’s simulator driver and practiced and qualified Allmendinger’s Cup car at Richmond Raceway while Allmendinger was competing in the Xfinity race at Road America. Kraus could be a very likely option to earn a full-time Xfinity ride.
But lost in all this is that Kaulig is going through yet another rebuilding phase. Since entering the sport of NASCAR as a whole in 2016 with driver Blake Koch, the team has impressed everyone. Koch drove the No. 11 car in 2016 and 2017, even earning a shocking seventh-place points finish in 2017 after a magical run in the first edition of the Xfinity Series playoffs.
But after that season, Koch was ousted in favor of Ryan Truex. Truex didn’t last much longer, as he only went a full season before the up-and-coming Haley was tapped to take over the seat, which he kept from 2018-2021.
Then Kaulig Racing expanded, and expanded very quickly. The team opened a second part-time all-star entry, which would become a full-time seat. The first full-time driver of the No. 10 was Ross Chastain in 2020, who was promoted to the Cup Series at season’s end, leaving Kaulig to find another driver to take over.
Jeb Burton got the nod, winning his first career Xfinity race at Talladega Superspeedway in a rain-shortened affair. But he too only lasted a season. He jumped to Our Motorsports and the team signed Landon Cassill for 2022.
Cassill was supposed to drive the No. 10 in a multi-year deal, but sponsorship issues kept him from a full-time ride — or any ride for that matter, as Kaulig seemingly didn’t retain him at all for 2023.
Then the team opened a third part-time entry, the No. 16, which also became full-time for Allmendinger in 2021. Then came the part-time Cup car in 2021 that eventually became two full-time cars in 2022, plus a third part-time entry in 2023 (not to mention a one-off fourth Xfinity car for Haley at Daytona International Speedway in August 2022).
The issue that Kaulig Racing faces is that its rapid expansion has led to stretching equipment, personnel and sponsorship money thin. And it seems more often than not that the team keeps having to find new drivers, seemingly having to rebuild once every two-ish seasons or so.
Speaking of sponsorship dollars, team owner Matt Kaulig owns LeafFilter Gutter Protection, a regular sponsor of the team. There is an interest in potentially scaling back his sponsorship of his team, but nowadays it seems you can’t hire talent if they don’t bring money. At some point, the outside sponsorship dollars likely take precedent over talent.
And in 2024, that could very well be the case.
If Dillon is signed to the Cup team in 2024, one has to question the wisdom of team’s motto, “Trophy Hunting,” and whether or not that’s still a relevant thing to say. Between Dillon and Hemric, both drivers have a combined zero Cup wins and a combined two Xfinity wins — for Hemric, his lone win in the championship race at 2021 to give him a series title, for which he has since done nothing to defend.
Dillon and Hemric aren’t “trophy hunting” material. Kaulig’s Cup program only has two wins, both from Allmendinger on road courses. Haley’s No. 31 has come close, but hasn’t quite found speed to compete up front. Hell, neither of the Cup teams do; the only reason the program has wins is because of Allmendinger’s expertise on road courses.
Kraus has not proven he is “trophy hunting” material yet. How can he with a part-time schedule? Gragson and Allmendinger are both proven winners in the Xfinity Series, but Gragson isn’t confirmed to sign there, and Allmendinger may not even be Cup racing next year.
All of Kaulig Racing’s “trophy hunters” save for Allmendinger will not be with the team come 2024: Haley, Smith, Chastain and Burton. And with more and more seats continuing to fill up for 2024, Kaulig Racing is running out of viable drivers to consider for its several open seats.
It’s only a matter of time before money gets put over talent, and then, unless Kaulig gets its program together, it might need to rethink the whole “Trophy Hunting” thing.
About the author
Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. He is an editor and co-authors Only Yesterday (Wednesdays) and Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer and dabbles in SRX coverage too. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is currently pursuing a master's degree. He is a theatre actor and fight choreographer-in-training in his free time. He's a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.
You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.
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