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A.J. Allmendinger: Helping Build Kaulig Racing Cup Program is 'Special'

A.J. Allmendinger stopped by Racing America's The Bullring this week to talk about the emotions he shared after winning last weekend's NASCAR Cup Series race at the ROVAL, and he shared some insight into his 2024 plans.


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Leave it to A.J. Allmendinger to feed us the most emotional moment of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season. After scoring his third-career NASCAR Cup Series win in last Sunday's Bank of America ROVAL 400, tears flooded Allmendinger's eyes, and he gave one of the most heartfelt post-win interviews in recent memory.

This week, Allmendinger stopped by Racing America's The Bullring to talk about the win, the emotions he shared, and why he was so emotional about the win at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. It turns out, there were a lot of factors that contributed to Allmendinger's reaction following the race on Sunday.

Allmendinger, who was a career journeyman racer through the course of his NASCAR career prior to landing a solid position at Kaulig Racing, says it's a special feeling to help build a program up off the ground floor.

"It really is [special]," Allmendinger stated in the interview on The Bullring. "Just with Matt and Chris -- and all of the men and women at Kaulig Racing, but definitely Matt and Chris, because at the end of the day, they're my bosses, but it never feels like that. They're some of my best friends. When you come to a race team like this, when I walked into the shop in April or May of 2019, at that point they had won no races. There were no banners hanging in the shop. Obviously, Ross [Chastain] was able to get the first win for the team at Daytona, and it's carried on to as many wins now as this organization has in Xfinity and now two Cup wins. It's fun when you're able to build a race team together like that and really made me feel like I'm a huge part of it.

"I've been so fortunate in my life to be at teams like Team Penske and to drive for "The King" Richard Petty, and things like that. And you're a part of that history, but when you're kind of growing that history and building that resume together, it makes it a different type of special. Matt and Chris have always made me feel like I'm a huge part of this team."

Allmendinger has been very open all year long about his frustrations earlier in the season about how he and his No. 16 Kaulig Racing team were performing. Those frustrations were amplified by the fact that Allmendinger feels like an instrumental component of the team. When they fail together, it's a reflection not only on the team but on him, as well.

There was so much hope that Allmendinger could come in and elevate Kaulig's upstart NASCAR Cup Series team into a Playoff contender this season, especially with how good the team looked at the end of the 2022 campaign. However, the California native says he and the team internally expected to get smacked down to Earth a little bit when 2023 began.

They just underestimated how big of a leg up the super teams like Hendrick Motorsports would have as they pulled away in the offseason with their endless resources.

"Honestly, it's just a part of it. Last year, we had a lot of strong runs. Especially at the end of the year," Allmendinger explained. "It's part of the reason I've said I want to go back to Cup to help keep building this program. But knowing also you give teams like Gibbs, Hendrick, Penske, Stewart-Haas, and so on a whole offseason to work on a car that the previous year nobody had a chance to work on. Heck in most of those races, especially the first half of the season, you didn't have enough parts to get to the racetrack. You were just trying to build the race car, get it to the race track, and then really develop it as you raced it.

"So, you give those teams a whole offseason to start developing and finding where the areas on these race cars are for speed and things like that," Allmendinger continued. "You know showing up to Daytona you're probably not going to be quite as competitive as we were at the end of last year. Now, we were off more than I expected. We definitely got behind. It took until May or June for us to really start to figure that out. Since then, we've had more speed. But it is a grind. Even when it's going well, it's hard, and then when you're struggling, it's even more difficult. I felt like from basically the middle half of the season on, that's kind of where I expected us to be. But we just honestly got too far behind at the beginning of the year, and it put us in a hole."

While they were in a hole, Allmendinger and the No. 16 team finally started reeling off some solid results in the mid-portion of the NASCAR Cup Series regular season, and incredibly, the racer mounted a challenge as the Playoffs loomed near.

Ultimately, Allmendinger fell just short of a Playoff berth, but he and his team went down swinging for sure.

After the disappointing start to the season, followed by the Playoff rally, which came up just short, Allmendinger had been feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders.

When he crossed the finish line ahead of the competition in the Bank of America ROVAL 400, the weight was lifted. And as the weight was lifted, Allmendinger was free to let the emotions out.

"I've always said that I just wear my emotions on my sleeve. Everybody saw how much it meant to win that race," Allmendinger said. "I put a lot of that pain and anguish of the whole team when we're struggling on my shoulders of trying to raise our game and us to be better. There are definitely times when I always say I have the best life possible, and sometimes it's the reason why I'm the most miserable person on the planet because it's not good enough. I want to wake up and be better the next day and raise us to a new level. When we are able to win like we did on Sunday, you see those raw emotions come out. I love sharing it with everybody."

So, what's next for Allmendinger in 2024? If he had it his way, he'd be back in the NASCAR Cup Series full-time in 2024. While that still could be what happens, Allmendinger says he will do whatever Matt Kaulig and Chris Rice need him to do.

"I'd preferably love to keep building the Cup program," Allmendinger explained. "That's my first choice. But Matt and Chris, I've told them since day one, especially as I went full-time in 2021 back in the Xfinity Series and what we've done over the last three years full-time racing, that I'm always going to do what they ask because they have given me more opportunities, and allowed my dreams to come true by kissing the bricks twice at Indy, winning two more Cup races, winning on ovals. When I ended what I thought was my full-time racing career in 2018, I had three wins in NASCAR. I think now I'm at 20 or something like that, and I've gotten to kiss the bricks. The point of that is I'm always going to do what they ask."

If Allmendinger wants to come back to the Cup program full-time, what would be the hold-up on him reprising his role in the No. 16 car? In a word, money.

"Part of this sport, unfortunately, is that it takes a lot of money. That's what they're searching for," Allmendinger admitted. "I'd love to be a part of the Cup side of it."

Regardless if the funds are found for Allmendinger to contest a full NASCAR Cup Series season next year, or if he returns to the NASCAR Xfinity Series full-time in 2024, Allmendinger says he will remain in the NASCAR Cup Series in some capacity next season.

"I'm still going to race Cup next year, no matter what," Allmendinger said. "Whether it's on a part-time basis, the road course races or we do more races. I think people saw the emotion and thought, 'Man, this may be the last time he races Cup this year,' no, that's not it. It's the emotion was just real because it was a Cup win. I'm always going to do what they want, and we're working on those plans. They may already have them lined up, and I just don't know yet. I'm going to be in a Kaulig Racing Chevy for the rest of my career for however long that is, and I hope it's for a long, long time."

Here is a clip from The Bullring, where Allmendinger talks about his 2024 plans:

Regardless of what your thoughts are of Allmendinger as a race car driver, you have to admit the sport could use more of his energy and emotion. We'll soon find out what the official plan is for Allmendinger and Kaulig Racing in 2024.

Photo Credit: Tyson Gifford, Racing America

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