CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Kaulig Racing is unlike any other NASCAR race team.
Yes, that’s a broad statement, as each NASCAR race team is generally unlike. However, Kaulig Racing is an entirely different cup of tea when compared to other NASCAR programs.
A good example is that is anytime Kaulig Racing wins a race, regardless of which driver wins, the team’s other drivers always make their way to congratulate their teammates before they get to victory lane.
Instances are easy to find. When Jeb Burton won his first NASCAR Xfinity Series race earlier this year at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, his teammates, A.J. Allmendinger and Justin Haley, were two of the first people to congratulate him.
A similar thing happened at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in early June, when A.J. Allmendinger completed a rousing drive through the field following a pit-road penalty to earn his second victory of the season.
Upon completing a burnout near the start/finish line, the first person to reach Allmendinger was Haley, who had finished second. It’s becoming a common occurrence for the team, which had won 10 Xfinity Series races between 2019 and June 5.
In short, Kaulig Racing is more close-knit and down-to-earth than some of its competition. The team members may as well be family.
“You saw Justin’s reaction, even at the end of the race,” team owner Matt Kaulig said when discussing Allmendinger’s victory at Mid-Ohio. “He just unbuckled his belts, jumped over the wall and came to give A.J. a big hug. He’s genuinely happy about it as if he won. I know these guys feel good about each other.”
When Allmendinger joined Kaulig Racing, he was all but done with racing in NASCAR. He’d struggled to find success for years, managing to win one NASCAR Cup Series race at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) Int’l and two Xfinity Series races.
However, when he joined Kaulig Racing for a few events in 2019, he began to feel like he loved the sport again. He won on the ROVAL at Charlotte Motor Speedway, added two more victories last year and had won twice already this season.
Eventually, Allmendinger was convinced to return to full time racing with the team this season, but he had to promise Kaulig Racing general manager Chris Rice that he’d continue to have fun and enjoy himself like he had the previous two seasons.
“I’m a different person than I was in 2015. Because of that it just allows me to have fun with it,” Allmendinger said. “God, sure I’m still competitive. I’m still sick, before the race I’m sick inside. I’m so nervous that I want to go out there and run well and win this race, things like that.
“It goes back to 2019 here (at Mid-Ohio) where I really kind of fell in love with the team,” Allmendinger added. “We had a terrible practice. Matt’s got 500 LeafFilter employees out there. In my mind I thought, ‘Oh my God. Here it is again. Dude, you’ve got to go out there and perform a miracle and make it happen.’”
It was at that moment that Rice told him exactly what he needed to hear.
“Chris pulled me aside and said we’re not winning today. Relax, we’re not good right now. Just go give everything you have and that’s all we ask. At the end of the day let’s try to be better the next race we go to,” Allmendinger said. “I thought, ‘Oh my God.’ That lifted everything off my shoulders and we finished third and I was thrilled with it.”
It’s that kind of mentality that seems to make Kaulig Racing different. It’s not a three-car team, but one team with three race cars.
“When Justin wins, when Ross (Chastain) won, when Jeb won this year, I feel like I’m still a little part of that. We’re all winning. That’s what I love doing,” Allmendinger said. “At the end of the day I love driving the race cars, it’s fun to run in this Xfinity Series and having cars that are capable of winning every weekend. I just want to be a part of whatever their growth is.”
Speaking of growth, Kaulig has confirmed plans to move to the NASCAR Cup Series next season with Justin Haley driving. Allmendinger will race full time in the Xfinity Series for a second consecutive season, while racing part time in the Cup Series.
“No matter what role it is, I just want to keep being part of the growth because I truly enjoy it,” Allmendinger said. “That’s something since 2019 I’ve enjoyed more than I thought I would, just trying to help the team succeed.”