Race Weekend Central

Fire on Fridays: The Oddity Behind Kaulig’s Rebuild

On Oct. 22, Kaulig Racing announced that it will part ways with NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Chandler Smith after 2023, just one season into what was supposed to be a three-season deal.

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.

See also
The Underdog House: AJ Allmendinger Finding Late Season Success

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.

The team has also called on the services of Derek Kraus and Layne Riggs in the Xfinity Series. Both have shown flashes of excellence in their respective times behind the wheel.

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.

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Jesse Love Driving for RCR in Xfinity

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

Frontstretch.com

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. 

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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Rick

Spot on, a tough but accurate article.

Dawg

All I have to say about this, is that if Ty Dillon is even considered for the 31 Cup seat, & the fact that the Dinger isn’t locked down for the 16 for ’24 tells me that they’re more interested in getting paid drivers who can being the most $$.

Rather than trying to get the best available drivers. Little wonder that Hailey is leaving to drive the 51 car. Shouldn’t be much pressure on him in that car. If it runs top 20, that’s cause for celebration.
I’d love to see the alliance with RFK, & Hailey pay dividends, but they probably won’t happen quickly.

Rodman

I really do wish Kaulig could be considered as a legitimate Cup series team. Fan of “The Dinger” but their action this year when being so close to the being in The Playoffs proved they are not truly serious. Adding Hemric was the icing on the cake for being labeled “also rans”.

Christopher Lowe

Kaulig biggest mistake was expanding to quickly to fast. They were not ready to be two car cup team in 2022 and the fact that they went with three different drivers for that car shows it. Noah Gragson admitted toward the end of 2022 on DBC that he was not running as hard as he should be on the cup side because of him fearing that he would be injured and not wanting to cause him to miss his chance at an Xfinty title. There failure to pull him out of the car showed that they were not ready.

Also, they have refused to cut back on the Xfinty program when they desperately need that funding to go toward there cup team. In all honestly it would not surprise me if in a couple of years if they sold their charters or shut down there Xfinty team.

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