When Kaulig Racing announced AJ Allmendinger would return to the NASCAR Cup Series at Daytona International Speedway, running the road course seemed like a no-brainer.
After all, with his Rolex 24 at Daytona experience, Allmendinger likely has more laps around the 3.56-mile combined oval and road course than any of his NASCAR counterparts. The only difference between the sports car and stock car layouts is the additional chicane out of Turn 12 to lengthen the NASCAR course to 3.61-miles.
By the time the Cup race at the Daytona road course rolls around on Feb. 21, it will be less than a month since Allmendinger raced in his 15th Rolex 24. Among active NASCAR drivers, only he and Kyle Larson can claim Rolex wins. Jamie McMurray, who will race in the Daytona 500 in a one-off appearance, also teamed with Larson, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan in Chip Ganassi Racing's 2015 win.
“I am really looking forward to racing in the Cup Series once again, but more importantly, I am pumped to be racing in the Cup Series for Kaulig Racing,” Allmendinger said. “I keep wanting to help Kaulig Racing grow as much as possible, and the next step is racing in some Cup races with them.
“Daytona is a prestigious race track to compete at, whether you are on the oval or road course, so this is a great place for Kaulig Racing's first non-superspeedway Cup race.”
Allmendinger has proven to be the ideal mentor for Kaulig Racing’s young Xfinity Series drivers. Justin Haley has joked about Dinger being a father figure. And Kaulig could not have selected a better nucleus to build its Cup program around—particularly with NASCAR increasing the number of road courses within its top tours.
“Having AJ compete in our very first non-superspeedway Cup race was really a no-brainer for us,” said Chris Rice, President of Kaulig Racing. “Kaulig Racing is honored to be able to get AJ back into the Cup Series for the first time since his retirement.
“I think he will pick right back up where he left off as a road course ace.”
Picking up where left off would be with a solid top-five finish. Since joining the Kaulig contingent in 2019, Allmendinger has produced two wins, a pole and six top-five finishes in eight road course starts with the team. He also led 24 laps in a Watkins Glen race but the car was disqualified. He also proved his proficiency on intermediate tracks such as Atlanta, where he scored his first NASCAR oval win, and Homestead.
On the Cup side, Allmendinger has also displayed his driving skills on more technical tracks such as Dover Downs and Martinsville Speedway. Expectedly, Dinger’s first and only Cup victory was earned at a road course—Watkins Glen—but among his career bests, he’s led more laps at Dover and his only two second-place finishes came at the paperclip.
In addition to his three podium results at the Glen and Martinsville, Allmendinger also has three third-place finishes on the 2.5-mile oval at Daytona. On the surface, the uninitiated might believe all super speedways are created equal. But drivers describe Daytona as a handling track that requires a different skillset from Talladega Superspeedway.
Before Allmendinger’s Cup sabbatical at the end of the 2018 season, the worst finish in his last four Daytona starts was 10th.
Allmendinger is not scheduled to compete in the 2021 Daytona 500. Kaz Grala received the nod to pilot the No. 16 Kaulig Camaro in the 63rd running of the Great American Race. But should Kaulig need someone to come off the bench, the best sub might be under the team's own roof.