by Ben Schneider
LASTCAR.info Guest Contributor
On Sunday afternoon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Kaulig Racing picked up the team’s first victory in NASCAR’s Cup Series with A.J. Allmendinger. It was already Kaulig's eleventh win in NASCAR overall, accounting for their ten Xfinity Series wins.
It’s easy to forget just how young the team is. Just over two years ago, the team was still in search of their first Xfinity win and only running one car in the series full-time. Team owner Matt Kaulig is the owner of LeafFilter, which originally entered the sport in 2014 - just seven years ago - as a sponsor of Blake Koch at TriStar Motorsports. In 2016, Kaulig began fielding his own startup team with Koch as the driver. The team hired Ryan Truex in 2018, who scored the team’s first top-five finish at Mid-Ohio that season.
The 2019 season marked Kaulig’s breakout year. They hired Justin Haley as the flagship No. 11 team’s driver, a position he holds to this day. They started a second part-time team, the No. 10, after running a single race with Austin Dillon the previous year. The biggest highlight of the season, however, would come in a one-off third entry, the No. 16, driven by Ross Chastain to the team’s first-ever win at Daytona. Allmendinger, who has since emerged as the team’s veteran leader, would score a second win on the Charlotte Roval later that year. This would re-ignite Allmendinger's passion behind the wheel, and he’s back full-time in NASCAR, truly enjoying his role in the team's rapid growth.
In 2020, Haley and Allmendinger added three and two wins respectively, while Haley made the Championship Four at Phoenix, finishing third in the final point standings. Kaulig also entered Haley in a one-off Cup entry in the Daytona 500. Now, three full-time Kaulig entries are going "trophy hunting" - each capable of winning on any given Xfinity weekend. In the Cup Series, they have launched a part-time program with the intention of running full-time in 2022, having secured not one, but two charters for next season. And now they have a Cup win of their own.
In an era of mergers, short fields and disappearing teams, it has been hard for fans of the underdog to keep the faith. The era of the Charter System has seen the closures of many small teams their Charters were supposed to protect.
There has arguably never been a harder time to be an underdog in this sport. Costs are higher than ever, and the current business model has virtually locked out any team not among the 36 who possess Charters from competing at the top level on Sundays.
And yet, in the midst of it all, Kaulig has found a way to grow from a midfield, independent, single-car Xfinity program into a championship-contending Xfinity team with a startup Cup program that already has a race win on their résumé - a first for “open” teams in the charter era.
It’s truly the perfect underdog story: a driver whose passion and entire career has been completely rebuilt by a team that, in less than half a decade, has gone from struggling to crack the top-ten to competing for wins in each of NASCAR’s top two divisions.
For fans of the underdog looking for someone to support, is there really any need to look anywhere else?