NASCAR team makes surprising Daytona 500 driver decision

A.J. Allmendinger is set to return to Kaulig Racing's NASCAR Cup Series team for the Daytona 500, despite moving back to the Xfinity Series.
Harrison Burton, Jimmie Johnson, A.J. Allmendinger, NASCAR, Daytona 500
Harrison Burton, Jimmie Johnson, A.J. Allmendinger, NASCAR, Daytona 500 / Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

After months of rumors, Kaulig Racing confirmed a few weeks ago that A.J. Allmendinger is set to move back to the NASCAR Xfinity Series on a full-time basis for the 2024 season, a move that many viewed as surprising considering the fact that he won a race in his first full Cup Series season with the team in 2023.

Additionally, Allmendinger delivered the team their first ever Cup Series win back in 2021 when they were still just competing part-time in the series. Still, they felt that his talents were better served full-time in the Xfinity Series, where he won five races in both 2021 and 2022 as a full-time driver and two races in both 2020 and 2023 as a part-time driver.

It had long been rumored that Ty Dillon, who lost his ride with Spire Motorsports to rookie Carson Hocevar after the 2024 season, would replace Allmendinger behind the wheel of the No. 16 Chevroletnext year.

Now Allmendinger has been confirmed for a somewhat surprising return to the No.16 Chevrolet for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.

A.J. Allmendinger confirms NASCAR Cup Series return for Daytona 500

With the 42-year-old Los Gatos, California native not competing full-time in the Cup Series in 2024, this announcement ensures that the No. 16 Chevrolet will end up being a shared entry. Dillon could still end up driving it, but his exact role has not yet been confirmed.

Allmendinger figured to be a part of the team's Cup Series plans in 2024, even as a full-time Xfinity Series driver, but having him drive their second chartered car, rather than an additional non-chartered car, is what comes as somewhat of a surprise.

The fact that the No. 16 Chevrolet is set to be a shared entry means that there are 34, not 35, drivers set to compete full-time in 2024, unless Kaulig Racing add a non-chartered car for the Daytona 500 (and potentially other races) and put Dillon behind the wheel. Rick Ware Racing could technically add another one to make it 35, but their second chartered entry will also likely be a shared entry.

What makes the move even more interesting is the fact that Allmendinger has never been a huge fan of superspeedway racing, so the fact that he is set to compete in the Daytona 500 may raise some eyebrows.

Having said that, he is arguably the best driver within Matt Kaulig's organization -- Xfinity Series or Cup Series -- and having him back behind the wheel of the No. 16 Chevrolet for the "Great American Race" is undoubtedly the right decision.

His three most recent Daytona 500 starts have all produced top 10 finishes, including a third place finish in 2017 and a sixth place finish in his first Daytona 500 start with Kaulig Racing in 2023.

The No. 16 Chevrolet remains a chartered entry, so Allmendinger is locked into the 200-lap race around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) high-banked Daytona Beach, Florida oval.

Kaulig Racing's only full-time driver for the 2024 Cup Series season is set to be Daniel Hemric, whom the team promoted from their Xfinity Series program to replace the Rick Ware Racing-bound Justin Haley behind the wheel of the No. 31 Chevrolet.

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The 66th annual Daytona 500 is scheduled to take place on Sunday, February 18, 2024. Fox is set to provide live coverage from Daytona International Speedway beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET. Begin a free trial of FuboTV and don't miss any of the action!