I watched the end of this year’s August Xfinity Series race at Daytona pacing around the room and stuffing my face full of snacks. I was nervous but in a good way. The kind of anxious excitement you get from a sporting event where absolutely anything can happen.
I thought aggression, desire, and boneheadedness would screw half the field over, to be completely honest with you. But, I mean, It’s Daytona. The place where teammates become enemies and alliances don’t matter when the finish line is in sight. But then, Kaulig Racing happened.
Kaulig was a unit. The team spent their entire race working together, ensuring all three of their cars stayed up front and in contention. And obviously, it worked.
A.J. Allmendinger, Justin Haley, and Jeb Burton stuck together, planned throughout the entire event, and executed a perfect three-wide maneuver that secured a one-two-four finish for the team at the end of the race.
In terms of pure teamwork, the Kaulig drivers are the best teammates in NASCAR. But they’re more than just teammates.
Fun With Friends
Think about the ending of that race. Justin Haley just scored a massive win at Daytona of all places. But he just barely edged out A.J. Allmendinger, his teammate who had led most of the final few laps. Not to mention his other teammate Jeb Burton, who had ridden around in the top 10 all day, finally worked his way to the very front and had a chance to score only his second career win. But it was Haley who walked away with the victory.
Imagine what Allmendinger and Burton must have been feeling. Both of them were mere inches away from winning at Daytona, both of them had the lead coming to the finish, and both of them had every right to be bitterly disappointed in how the finish turned out. Crushed? Probably. Bitter? Surely. In tears? Who could blame them?
But when the media interviewed them, both drivers were all smiles. Sure, they each wanted to win and would have liked to have bested Haley at the line. But they were both genuinely proud of their teammate, happy that a Kaulig car took home the win, and was laughing and joking during the interviews. They were proud of their friend.
Who else in NASCAR is like that? Sure, you’ll have those moments on momentous occasions. Like Jimmie Johnson giving Chase Elliot a push back to the garage after the latter’s first win at Watkins Glen. But consistently? Week in and week out? Not a chance. Not like Kaulig Racing.
What This Means For NASCAR
This isn’t even close to the first time Kaulig has had something like this. Just look at Talladega earlier this year and the celebrations from the rest of the team after Burton’s win. Or Allmendinger’s post-race festivities and interviews after his wins at Mid-Ohio and Indianapolis. The man kept the interviewer waiting for well over a full minute after hugging his entire crew, the car owner, and, in one case, his still-helmeted teammate for crying out loud.
When you have Cup teams like Penske, Gibbs, and Hendrick that seem to personify “business-before-pleasure,” Kaulig’s attitude stands out.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with most teams’ approaches. It is a business, they do have some fun, and there’s nothing wrong with what they do. But I’ll never think of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch as close friends who would be overjoyed to see the other win. That’s exactly what Kaulig Racing brings to the table. It’s refreshing.
But Kaulig? Kaulig Racing is made up of friends, not just teammates. Their sheer enthusiasm is infectious. It makes them fun to watch and so much fun to root for. It’s the same energy as rooting for an underdog who’s just happy to be there and racing for the love of the sport. Except said underdog is perfect and wins—a lot.
Owner Matt Kaulig is part of it. He’s extremely passionate about the sport and his race team. And A.J Allmendinger has every right to be over the moon at his career renaissance. But the entire team? That’s special. And it’s something NASCAR needs more of.
I’ll admit it. I’ve made more effort to tune into Xfinity races more often to watch Allmendinger and the rest of Kaulig Racing. I guarantee I’m not the only one.
Feature Image Credit Embed from Getty Images