A.J. Allmendinger won a race in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season. But he might not be back competing full-time for Kaulig Racing in 2024.
Kaulig Racing knew in July that they were going to need a new driver for the No. 31 Chevrolet in the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season, with Justin Haley opting to leave for Rick Ware Racing. They subsequently named Daniel Hemric, who joined their Xfinity Series team last year, Haley’s replacement.
But there is a good chance that the team’s full-time Cup Series lineup will see 100% turnover from 2023 to 2024, with Ty Dillon rumored to replace A.J. Allmendinger after Allmendinger spent just one season behind the wheel of the No. 16 Chevrolet.
On the surface, the move makes little sense. Allmendinger, who is responsible for both of Kaulig Racing’s Cup Series wins, returned to the Cup Series full-time for the first time since 2018 in 2023, and he won at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval in October.
But Allmendinger losing his ride probably wouldn’t be “losing his ride” in the traditional sense of the phrase, in that he has long said that he is open to doing whatever team owner Matt Kaulig and team president Chris Rice feel is best for the organization as a whole.
That very well may mean a move back to the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
Perhaps Allmendinger wants to compete for a championship and be a weekly contender in the Xfinity Series, something that even as a race winner, he simply can’t do in the Cup Series with where Kaulig Racing currently stand.
With all due respect, Kaulig Racing aren’t winning anything with Hemric and Dillon in the lineup. But even with a talented driver such as Allmendinger, they aren’t a top-tier Cup Series team either.
So there is actually some logic behind having their best driver compete for them in the series where they have had the most success and can legitimately win the title, especially since they need drivers there after Hemric’s promotion and Chandler Smith’s departure, presumably to Joe Gibbs Racing.
In two full seasons (2021 and 2022) with Kaulig Racing’s Xfinity Series team, Allmendinger secured 10 wins. In select starts as a part-time driver over three seasons (2019, 2020, and 2023), he secured five more, including two in five starts during the 2023 campaign.
And let’s not forget another thing: this would not mean that Allmendinger can’t compete for Kaulig Racing in the Cup Series next year.
Kaulig Racing ran a third car in select races throughout the 2023 season, and when Allmendinger delivered the team their first Cup Series win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2021, he did so as a part-time driver in just his fourth Cup start for the organization.
With this team not yet being a championship-caliber team over the course of an entire 36-race Cup Series calendar, there is very little downside of giving their road course ace a limited schedule to go along with a full-time potential Xfinity Series title run.
It gives them their best chance of adding to their Cup Series win total while giving the program their best chance as a whole to win as much as possible. If this move is confirmed, the concept of “trophy hunting” will have never been more evident.
The only real question is why not bring in a driver other than Dillon, who has statistically been the worst driver over the last two seasons and how now lost his ride after four straight years, to replace Allmendinger. But that’s a subject for another day.