A.J. Allmendinger Returns to the NASCAR Cup Series in 2023

A.J. Allmendinger celebrates his win at the 2021 Verizon 200 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

In an announcement expected this upcoming Wednesday, Kaulig Racing will announce A.J. Allmendinger as their full-time driver in the Cup Series

Bobby Scott and Bob Russell once wrote in a song “The road is long with many a winding turn…” and a road it has been for a 40-year-old driver from Los Gatos, California. From tumultuous beginnings to a lack of success, he opted not to be held down and allowed their ability to profess. It wasn’t until a meeting with an entrepreneur that stock car racing aspirations caused him to reconsider. A.J. Allmendinger is returning full-time to the NASCAR Cup Series.

History Lesson

In a career that began racing BMX bikes when he was five, Allmendinger moved up the ladder to quarter midgets where he competed on oval tracks across the west coast. When he elevated his career to karting, he captured two Grand National Championships in the IKF. When he was 20, he earned an opportunity to compete in the penultimate season of the Barber Dodge Pro Series, where he saw a 60% success rate en route to capturing the overall championship.

It was this performance that garnered the attention of Carl Russo and RuSport who signed him to compete in the 2003 Toyota Atlantic Championship. “The Dinger” went on to capture the series championship. This success inspired the team to move up to the Champ Car World Series for 2004. Despite placements of sixth and fifth in the standings and eight podium placements over 31 events, he was released from RuSport and replaced with 2002 CART Champion Christiano De Matta.

Five days later, Allmendinger was signed by Indeck Forsythe Racing, where he captured his first Champ Car victory in the Grand Prix of Portland. In the nine races he drove for Forsythe, he ran well before a lucrative offer led him to greener pastures.

Stock Cars Come Calling

Despite his open-wheel success, the Dinger cited a lack of marketing, sponsorship, and the effects of “the split” in American open wheel racing as what led him to stock car racing.
Saying to TSN in 2007:

“It’s opportunity…Between the (NASCAR) Cup (Series), Busch (Series) and (Craftsman) Truck (Series), you can still make a living in racing. You can go out, show your talent, get noticed and move your career forward. Unfortunately right now you don’t have that in open-wheel racing in North America. It comes down to who has money, who can most help bring sponsorship in…Champ Cars were awesome cars to drive, the most fun cars I’ve ever driven and we took them to some real badass venues – Long Beach, Surfers Paradise, Toronto. They were awesome races to go to, and there is still a good potential package there – the racing and the venues are great…But the marketing and the sponsorship isn’t there, and for that you need one series. So be it Champ Car dying and IRL taking over, or the other way round – it needs to be one series. To have all the best open-wheel drivers on this continent racing against each other, you’d hopefully get some sponsors back and get a decent TV package…In the long term, it would work for the standard of the series too: you’d get drivers there on merit rather than because of how much money they bring.”

Though the money was there when he signed with Red Bull Racing, the duo only qualified for 47.2% of events in 2007. He only posted two Top 10 finishes the following season before being released from his contract that September.

Over the next three seasons, he would compete for Richard Petty Motorsports, placing 15th in the final standings in 2011. After a brief tenure at Team Penske, he competed for JTG Daugherty Racing between 2013 and 2018, posting his first career victory in the Cheez-It 355 and placing a career-high of 13th in the final standings.

Despite moderate success, it was not what Allmendinger envisioned his stock car career to be. For 2019, he opted to reevaluate his career as he competed part-time in the Xfinity Series and worked as a color commentator for NBC’s motorsports coverage.

Resurgence with Kaulig Racing

After part-time success that resulted in 2 victories in the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series season, Allmendinger was announced as Kaulig Racing’s competitor for 2021, where he would go on to capture five victories en route to the regular season crown. The Dinger became the heavy favorite to be announced as the franchise’s face when they planned on expanding to Cup competition in 2022, but owner Matt Kaulig opted for youth over experience and signed Justin Haley instead. In combining back-to-back regular season championships and nine victories over the past two seasons, if any Xfinity Series competitor is worthy of an opportunity, it’s the Dinger.

The success he has had in this short time span with Kaulig has showcased what he will bring to the table as the face of a franchise. It is this success he showcased when he piloted a Lola Ford in the late 2000s, and the success he envisioned when he made the transition to stock cars 16 years ago.

A generational talent, in the right circumstances, can fully showcase to the world why he is one of America’s best.

In a career overshadowed by the successes of Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., the Busch brothers, and more, an opportunity has arrived where he can display full potential and capability to compete for a cup championship

This is the Dinger’s best chance.

Featured Image Credit: Sean Garnder/Getty Images