NASCAR Cup Series
By John Crane
4 Minute Read
Editor’s Note: Today’s Kaulig Racing preview continues NASCAR.com’s countdown of team previews for the 2023 Cup Series season, ranked in reverse order of best finish in last year’s owner standings.
Engine: ECR Engines
Driver-crew chief pairings: AJ Allmendinger-Matt Swiderski (No. 16), Justin Haley-Trent Owens (No. 31), Chandler Smith-TBD (No. 13)
Team outlook: A team with a reputation of consistency at the NASCAR Xfinity Series level has officially trickled over into the NASCAR Cup Series as a big-time player. After briefly hitting the Cup scene during the 2020 campaign, the team has since expanded to a full-time operation, with its first full entry coming in 2022 via the No. 31 Chevrolet piloted by Justin Haley (more on him below). 2023, however, will see the team field not one but two cars on a full-time basis with AJ Allmendinger’s re-entry to the series as driver of the No. 16. A part-time entry via the Chandler Smith-piloted No. 13 will additionally look to make significant noise for the expanding team. With both Haley and Allmendinger already doused with experience and lessons learned from the Next Gen car’s inaugural 2022 season, the pair should check off more boxes as they collectively look to help the team work its way up the standings.
AJ ALLMENDINGER, NO. 16 CHEVROLET
Experience: Eight full-time seasons in NASCAR Cup Series.
2022 stats: Fifth in final Xfinity Series standings; 5 wins, 17 top fives, 28 top 10s (Xfinity); 18 starts; 0 wins, 3 top fives, 8 top 10s (Cup)
2023 championship odds (BetMGM): 100-1
Outlook: After a pair of 33-race seasons at the Xfinity level with Kaulig (2021-22), Allmendinger returns to the full-time Cup fold. Of course, the 41-year-old in Allmendinger certainly isn’t new to the Cup scene, especially regarding the grind that comes from racing a full-time schedule. Before Allmendinger’s full-time return in 2023, the 15-year Cup veteran held full-time experience with LEGACY Motor Club (2009-2011, formerly Richard Petty Motorsports and Petty GMS) and JTG Daugherty Racing (2014-18). Heading into 2023, Allmendinger has amassed 394 Cup starts, two wins, 16 top fives, 68 top 10s and 558 total laps led. His most recent win – 2021 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course – was Kaulig Racing’s first at the Cup level. In other words, if you want a driver with plenty of logged time in a Cup car, look no further than Allmendinger. He’s punched in and out plenty.
Allmendinger’s experience as a road course ringer should help pay dividends in 2023 for both himself and the team – both of his career Cup wins came on road courses (his first win took place at Watkins Glen International in 2014). But solid Cup finishes near the season’s end on intermediates and short tracks – he finished seventh, ninth, third and 12th at Bristol Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway and Phoenix Raceway, respectively, in close to a two-month span – show his ability to race at an all-around level. Allmendinger’s combined expertise should make him a playoff contender and, should a few breaks go his way, could make him a dark horse for a deep postseason run.
RELATED: AJ Allmendinger returns to Cup Series full-time with Kaulig in 2023
JUSTIN HALEY, NO. 31 CHEVROLET
Experience: One full-time season in NASCAR Cup Series.
2022 stats: 22nd in final Cup Series standings; 0 wins, 3 top fives, 4 top 10s
2023 championship odds (BetMGM): 350-1
Outlook: A rookie in 2022, Haley certainly dealt with growing pains early on in learning the full-time trade of driving a Cup car – particularly one in its maiden season like the Next Gen. And while the 23-year-old closed out the year with three straight finishes outside the top 25 (28th at Homestead, 27th at Martinsville Speedway, 27th at Phoenix), there were still glimpses of optimism. A third and fifth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway (Sept. 25) and the Charlotte Roval (Oct. 9) in a three-week span, for instance, showed a touch of the same pedigree that Haley consistently flashed in 2020-21 while in the Xfinity Series, where he collected a combined four wins, 19 top-five finishes and 45 top-10 s.
More familiarity will be the name of the game for Haley heading into 2023. While his sophomore season might still hold a hiccup or two, Haley should be able to lean on Allmendinger for continued guidance on the track and Trent Owens atop the pit box – who returns as crew chief the second year in a row – for more learning opportunities.
CHANDLER SMITH, NO. 13 CHEVROLET
Experience: Zero Cup Series starts before 2023.
2022 stats: Third in final Truck Series standings; 3 wins, 9 top fives, 16 top 10s (Truck); 3 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 1 top 10 (Xfinity)
2023 championship odds (BetMGM): N/A; running part-time schedule
Outlook: 2023 will be an opportunity for the 20-year-old Smith to dabble in the Cup Series for the first time in his career. In addition to attempting to qualify for the 65th running of the Daytona 500, Smith will race at Richmond Raceway (April 2), North Wilkesboro Speedway (May 21), Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 1) and Phoenix for the season finale (Nov. 5). The stretch will be a fine-tuner for the young Smith, who will simultaneously race his first full-time season in the Xfinity Series with Kaulig starting this season, taking over the No. 16 vacancy left by Allmendinger.
2023 will be a season of learning for Smith, no matter the situation. A cup of coffee, if anything else, will provide Smith an avenue toward gaining more exposure as he continues to work his way up the national series chain.
RELATED: Opening championship odds | 2023 schedule
NASCAR.com 2023 team previews schedule
Jan. 23: Non-chartered and teams outside the top 30
Jan. 24: Spire Motorsports
Jan. 25: Wood Brothers Racing
Jan. 26: JTG Daugherty Racing
Jan. 27: Front Row Motorsports
Jan. 30: Kaulig Racing
Jan. 31: RFK Racing
Feb. 1: Legacy Motor Club
Feb. 2: Richard Childress Racing
Feb. 7: 23XI Racing
Feb. 8: Stewart-Haas Racing
Feb. 9: Joe Gibbs Racing
Feb. 10: Hendrick Motorsports
Feb. 13: Trackhouse Racing
Feb. 14: Team Penske