A.J. Allmendinger was the surprise winner this weekend in the NASCAR Cup Series race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. His win was the second of his Cup career and the first for Kaulig Racing in the Cup Series.
The organization will expand to include a two-car Cup Series team in 2022 after purchasing two charters from Spire Motorsports. Justin Haley was announced as a full-time driver for the team in 2022 while the second car is planned to have an array of drivers filling it throughout the season. Allmendinger is expected to return to the NASCAR Xfinity Series in a full-time effort and run part-time in the second Cup car, a similar schedule to what he’s done in 2021.
However, Allmendinger proved again on Sunday (Aug. 15) that he can win at the Cup level. Wins are hard to come by and making the playoffs is a rare feat not many drivers get to enjoy. Allmendinger is an accomplished road racer and with a plethora of road races on the Cup schedule, it would make sense for the team to change course and put Allmendinger in a full-time Cup ride for 2022.
We’ve decided to put that up for debate. Should Kaulig Racing change course and move Allmendinger to a full-time ride in 2022? Luken Glover and Clayton Caldwell debate.
The Time is Right
It has been quite the past couple of seasons for Allmendinger. For many, it has been fun to watch the revitalization of his career. After scoring just three wins from 2006 to 2018 in NASCAR, he now has six wins from 2019 to the present, with more very possibly coming this season. Allmendinger’s personality and re-invigorated perception of racing has played a key role at Kaulig Racing. He has meshed perfectly with team owner Matt Kaulig and team president Chris Rice. This trio has done a lot of things together already, and the sky is the limit for how far they can go.
Allmendinger should be considered for the full-time ride because of his veteran presence. For example, flash back to 2018 when Roush Fenway Racing put Matt Kenseth in the No. 6 car part-time. Kenseth brought a unique prospective and load of experience and knowledge to feed the team data and feedback. Not too long after, he scored a stage win at the Brickyard 400. A year later, the No. 6 team made the playoffs on points with Newman behind the wheel. RFR has fallen off since, but a veteran presence could be just what Kaulig Racing would need to continue to grow.
Matt Kaulig has been very patient with climbing the ladder. His preference on growing the team mirrors that of a professional sports team looking to build, gain experience and compete for wins down the road, such as the Philadelphia 76ers and the process (yes, I know that hasn’t produced the greatest results).
Allmendinger’s role at Kaulig not only reflects his energetic personality, but also his commitment to success and being a mentor within the team. Just look at his teammates since he joined Kaulig: Ross Chastain now has a Cup ride as one of the most established prospects in the Cup garage and Haley continues to get better each year.
Allmendinger is a team player too. He could have easily requested more time as part-time driver in both Xfinity and Cup. However, he let things play out and he was rewarded with a full-time Xfinity opportunity. Additionally, he earned just his second career Cup win in only his fourth start of the season. Patience is a virtue and a team spirit goes a long way. He has stuck to helping his teammates at superspeedways, leading to Kaulig being the dominant force on superspeedway racing in Xfinity.
The Los Gatos, California native is at a point of his career where he is having fun. He is 39 years old and having more success in just under three years than he did in 13 years in the top three series. Kaulig took a leap of faith on him in 2019 and he has delivered. No career lasts forever and A.J. certainly isn’t a young gun anymore. But he has the opportunity to help the team grow and establish their Cup program like he did in Xfinity.
He deserves a lot of credit for where the team is today and could have that on his list of accomplishments possibly with Cup. As younger prospect are groomed, Allmendinger could provide the veteran presence, mentor Haley, and warm the seat for whoever Kaulig taps for the ride in the future. And let’s not forget that there will likely be a similar number of road courses in the future to what we have in 2021. Those alone present strong opportunities for him to make the playoffs.
There are a list of deserving candidates in the garage and Allmendinger may enjoy what he’s doing right now. The grit and grind of the grueling Cup schedule may not be something he wants, as it takes a lot to run 38 weekends a year with non-points races. However, if the door is open, Kaulig should take it. Yes, there may be younger guys or drivers with more wins. But no one on the short list knows the team from the inside like Allmendinger does and not too many could meet the same relationship that Allmendinger fits in with Kaulig and Rice. His energy, talent, and perspective meet the same aspirations that Kaulig Racing desires. – Luken Glover
There are Better Options
If I were in charge of Kaulig Racing, I wouldn’t change my plans for the team’s second Cup car in 2022.
Kaulig Racing has said the plan is for the team to run multiple drivers in the second car and there’s a reason for that – money. That is probably because of the financial undertaking it is going to take to field a car at the Cup level in 2022, let alone a two-car team. With the new car coming and the amount of money teams are going to have to commit for the initial investment, money is going to be the most important thing next season.
Going part-time and getting drivers in the car who bring as much money as possible is probably the best way to go for Kaulig Racing’s second car. If the team elects to go with a veteran driver, that driver may ask for a bit more money due to their experience. Plus, the drivers that are currently available don’t bring a ton of money to the table, which as I mentioned earlier is important.
If the team chooses to switch gears and run for the championship in that car, Allmendinger should not be the driver they choose. Winning a race at the Indianapolis road course does not change that. I think A.J. is a solid driver but there are going to be some drivers who are better hires than him and quite frankly are better on the majority of tracks than Allmendinger. If they want to run for a championship with a full-time driver, I believe there are better options.
I’ll start with Ryan Newman. Newman is a free agent at the end of the year with the news that Brad Keselowski will take over driving duties of the No. 6 car in 2022. There’s no question the results have not been there for Newman over the past year and change. Coincidence or not, ever since his terrifying accident in the 2020 Daytona 500, Newman has struggled. However, I believe that is more of a product of Roush Fenway Racing’s failure to provide a good enough racecar than it is of Newman’s driving abilities.
Newman has just one win in his last eight seasons. The stats don’t lie, but he also provides something that a lot of the other drivers don’t – an engineering degree from Purdue University. Newman knows what it takes to make a car fast and his understanding of engineering was a big reason he was hired at Roush Fenway a few years back.
With the new car coming in 2022, he can provide that key information that is needed to help an organization getting their feet wet in the Cup Series. The distance between first and 30th setup-wise next season is expected to be very slim. Newman has the potential to give that little extra information needed to help make an organization successful.
I also believe Matt DiBenedetto would be a better hire for the team for 2022. DiBenedetto has become a pretty popular driver of the last couple of seasons due to his popularity on social media and the fact that he has come out of nowhere to have a nice couple of seasons in the Cup Series. That popularity can help woo some sponsorship.
If you look at the statistics of DiBenedetto’s career, it’s clear he can provide more than Allmendinger on the oval tracks. Allmendinger provides Kaulig Racing with a solid leader and someone who can help guide younger drivers, but he’s recorded 13 top-five finishes in his Cup career in 375 starts. Of those 13, nine of them have either come on a superspeedway or road course.
In contrast, DiBenedetto has nine top-five finishes, only three of them have come on a road course or superspeedways. I believe on a standard oval track, where NASCAR does the majority of its racing, DiBenedetto is a better option for Kaulig Racing than Allmendinger if they choose to run a driver full-time in that car.
In the end, the organization is probably better off financially to go with an array of drivers who can bring the biggest profit to the car. If Kaulig Racing chooses to run for the championship in their second car, they have better options to go with than Allmendinger. – Clayton Caldwell
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