Allmendinger back at Daytona in 1st Cup race since 2018

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Cody Ware, left, and A J Allmendinger talk on pit road before the NASCAR Xfinity Series auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – AJ Allmendinger is back, racing for wins this time, and eager to help young Kaulig Racing reach the big show.

Allmendinger will run his first Cup race since the 2018 season finale in Kaulig's first Cup race not at a superspeedway. The team last week made its second Daytona 500 — a critical first step in trying to become a full-time Cup team — and now its dusted off ol' ‘Dinger to take another shot Sunday on Daytona’s road course.

Allmendinger is a ringer with 15 appearances in the Rolex 24 sports car race in Daytona. Nearly everyone else? The bulk of the Cup field ran it for the very first time last August, when the pandemic pushed Daytona's winding 14-turn, 3.61-mile circuit onto the calendar for the first time.

His familiarity with Daytona made Allmendinger the smart pick for Matt Kaulig to take another step forward. NASCAR added Sunday's road course race to the schedule in December and Kaulig persuaded his “trophy hunter” Allmendinger to help pull the team to the top level.

“I am pumped to be racing in the Cup Series for Kaulig Racing,” Allmendinger said.

Allmendinger was weary of the grind when he lost his job at the end of 2018. He had no desire to drive for mediocre teams just to have a seat. He decided to move on with his life.

He planned to do television work and maybe moonlight for team owners he considers friends. Kaulig kept Allmendinger engaged in 2019 by giving him quality cars that could win in five Xfinity races. The program swelled to 11 races last season and the “Trophy Hunter” had three victories in 16 starts.

Allmendinger was helping Kaulig grow a program. The team started in 2016 and this season Allmendinger will run full time for the Xfinity championship as one of three Kaulig contenders. He'll also drive select Cup races as part of Kaulig's development.