Race Weekend Central

Eyes on Xfinity: AJ Allmendinger Is Fading Into Obscurity

When Kaulig Racing announced AJ Allmendinger would compete full-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this season, it raised some eyebrows. While Allmendinger moved over to Xfinity, Daniel Hemric moved up to Kaulig’s NASCAR Cup Series team.

The team’s second Cup car has run a rotating cast of characters that includes Allmendinger along with Derek Kraus, Ty Dillon, Josh Williams and Shane van Gisbergen.

Rumors are swirling about Kaulig potentially merging with another team. The implications of that could heavily impact Allmendinger. He’s sworn loyalty to Kaulig and has been a good soldier. If the team were to merge with another or go away completely, how can we be certain there would still be a ride for the ‘Dinger? Could his loyalty come back to bite him, resulting in no chairs left to sit in when the music stops?

See also
Ty Dillon Talks Championship Aspirations & the Challenges of Joining a New Team

Switching Allmendinger and Hemric was questionable, but reported to be understandably based on sponsorship. Kaulig lost one of its biggest sponsors, Nutrien Ag Solutions after the 2022 season. After 2023, it lost the partners Chandler Smith took with him to Joe Gibbs Racing. Despite what could easily be viewed as a demotion on a team that had seemed to have peaked, there was a silver lining for 42-year-old Allmendinger: the opportunity to win races and a championship.

Through the first third of this Xfinity season, Allmendinger has been an also-ran, looking nothing like a threat for the Championship 4, let alone the actual title. Through 11 races he remains winless with only one finish in the top five, at Texas Motor Speedway of all places.

The Los Gatos, Calif., native did have a strong run going early in the season at Circuit of the Americas. He led 20 laps and was heading toward a second-place finish behind van Gisbergen. In the first of two overtimes, Allmendinger was penalized for cutting the esses. He had to restart 26th and rebounded to salvage 10th.

COTA aside, he’s led just 12 laps on the rest of the season. For some perspective, the last time Allmendinger ran full time in Xfinity was 2022. That year he led a total of 142 laps in seven of that season’s first 11 events.

So why the regression? At 42 years old, is Allmendinger just hitting his inevitable decline in performance? Based on his early dominance at COTA and strong run at Texas, I think we can rule that out.

Has the depth of the Xfinity field improved so much that Allmendinger can no longer compete regularly inside the top five unless we’re at a road course? I’d argue that’s not it either. There are plenty of competitive drivers and teams in the series this year, but the field was loaded at the top in 2022. When the ‘Dinger won the regular season points championship the year he did it over drivers like Ty Gibbs, Noah Gragson, Josh Berry and Hemric who are now all racing on Sundays.

Allmendinger’s early season fade into obscurity is just a symptom of a bigger problem: Kaulig Racing’s overall decline. Take a look at how they’re doing on the Cup side. Right now their cars are 30th and 32nd in owners points. That’s dire.

On the Xfinity side Allmendinger is seventh in points mostly because of his veteran savvy, not because of speed. He’s only finished outside the top 30 twice, softening the blow of that lonely top five from Texas.

His Kaulig Racing teammate, van Gisbergen, is 15th in the standings. Considering his NASCAR rookie status and Kaulig’s performance overall, he’s done an admirable job. But he is no ordinary rookie, and his performance can be attributed to his immense talent and veteran race craft developed through years of competition in SuperCars.

Speaking of obscurity, his other teammate at Kaulig is Williams. Having driven for underfunded teams his entire career, this was supposed to be a breakout season for Williams. It’s been anything but. He’s currently 21st in points, behind the likes of Leland Honeyman, Jeremy Clements and Aric Almirola who has driven in six fewer races than Williams. It seems like Williams was running better back in his DGM Racing days.

Allmendinger has gone from competing full time on the Cup circuit and winning a Cup race last season at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, to racing in Xfinity and leading double digit laps in exactly one race so far this year.

This can’t be what he envisioned when Kaulig asked him to return to Xfinity. One of the rationalizations he made for the move was competing for wins more frequently than he could in Cup.

“Our goal is always to win,” Allmendinger said before the season began. “On the Xfinity side, if you don’t win, you’re a little disappointed every weekend.”

That makes 11 of 11 weekends of disappointment so far. There is no indication that the next race, at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 25, will provide any relief. But the bounce back could come just one week after Charlotte when the series heads west to Portland International Raceway on June 1. It’s no secret that Allmendinger is at his best on the road courses. Eleven of his 17 Xfinity wins have come on tracks with right turns. All three of his Cup wins have, too.

Portland was where Allmendinger may have put on the most impressive come-from-behind win since Bill Elliott came back from two laps down the old fashioned way to win at Talladega Superspeedway in 1985. In his 2022 win at Portland, Allmendinger had a dreadful first half of the race, going off track repeatedly. He was denied a single stage point, but was able to drive through the field in the final stage and win the race.

If there is any place where he can turn his season around, Portland should be it. The question is, will Kaulig give him a car capable of doing it? With SVG on his team and in the same equipment, we’ll get a very good read on where they’re at as a team, and where Allmendinger’s skillset is in 2024.

See also
Dropping the Hammer: Bring on the Tourney

After Portland, there are still three more road course races left on the regular season schedule. We’ve seen Allmendinger make mistakes in the past when he put too much pressure on himself to win at road courses. Think back to his Cup tenure with JTG Daugherty Racing when he knew those were his only chances to win a race. He was prone to missing shifts and driving the car harder than it would allow.

With each passing race Allmendinger doesn’t win, that pressure will only ramp up. I still think he’ll be able to win at least one race, and Portland could be that one, or it could even be the first of multiple wins. But if he and his Kaulig Racing team don’t find more speed on the ovals, his chances for a glorious return to the Xfinity series will go up in smoke. If that’s the case, lets hope he gets another crack at it next year. If the CW deal helps the series the way I expect it will, teams may be less dependent on drivers bringing sponsorship, which could increase the value of a driver like Allmendinger.

In our last edition of Eyes on Xfinity, we broke down the bad luck Justin Allgaier had experienced throughout the season, and we predicted it would come to an end. At Darlington, that came true in a big way. Allmendinger can only hope he sees a similar turn of events unfold in his favor.

About the author

226d3bd4 6a0b 45cc 82ae Fe13ef329f7e

Steve Leffew joined Frontstretch in 2023 and covers the Xfinity Series. He has served honorably in the United States Air Force and and lives in Wisconsin.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

7 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
WD

The answer is as you have described above .The overall decline of Kaulig Racing. The cup ride has just turned into a rental with too many drivers  Derek KrausTy DillonJosh Williams and Shane van Gisbergen. As for the merger,if it happens may be a good move

gbvette

Apparently Kaulig Racing is a better judge of a driver’s ability than all the media types that were so shocked and insulted when “the Dinger” lost his Cup ride. I guess Kaulig realized his best years were behind him. By the way this isn’t a knock on Allmendinger, I like him but I think age is catching up with him.

Mr Yeppers

I guess it’s a good thing that Harry Gant and Bobby Allison’s teams didn’t give up on them because both of them won multiple races in their 50s, Bobby winning a Daytona 500

Michael Finley

Didn’t Allmendinger win a race last year or

Chad

Bad take, Kaulig took a driver that brought sponsorship money to the team. It was well documented- AJ was not demoted due to lack of results.

Andrew harris

Allmendinger has generally been the best preforming member of Kaulig racing since he’s gotten there and this year has been the same. I believe that his age is an issue in this day and age with regard to sponsorships. When Kaulig branched into the cup series the entire team has suffered. That is where the problem is.

Christopher Lowe

At the beginning of the season someone asked what is the most shocking prediction that you will have for this upcoming season. I said that neither AJ or SVG will finish top 5 in a cup road race or win a Xfinity RC race this season. People called me crazy however so far that has proven to be true. Outside of Portland and the Charlotte ROVAL I don’t see Kaulig having a legit shot at winning a race this year.

Honestly the team would benefit greatly from putting a regular driver in the 16-cup car but can’t afford to. Hemric is doing the best he can in the 31 but he can’t get enough speed out of it. As for Xfinity Aj is the only reason there in the top 10, SVG is doing okay but he is not setting the world on fire like everyone thought he would. As the season goes on the Chicago Street win seems like a right place right time win and less like a generational talent. The 10-Xfintiy car needs a regular driver desperately. As for Josh Williams if he doesn’t turn it around by the summer I don’t see how he gets a second year in the car. In all honesty they need to take him out of the 16-Cup car for the rest of his remaining schedule so he can concentrate on Xfinity.

Share via