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July 8, 2023

Back to the drawing board for Kaulig Racing after failing to finish 1-2-3 at Atlanta


HAMPTON, Ga. — Kaulig Racing was on the cusp of a race sweep.

On paper, the results didn’t look too shabby. Daniel Hemric finished runner-up, and Justin Haley finished close behind in fourth, with Chandler Smith being the outlier of the trio with a 20th-place result after running out of fuel late. But a potential 1-2-3 banner finish for the organization wasn’t cashed in during Saturday evening’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Alsco Uniforms 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

RELATED: Race results | At-track photos

The sting of what could have been resonated profoundly. A dominant effort from all three drivers through the early, middle and later portions culminated with all three drivers in the top three with less than 20 laps to go. A chance for the hat-trick finish was on the table until misfortune in a late caution and NASCAR Overtime saw the trio split up and eventually falter to Joe Gibbs Racing’s John Hunter Nemechek.

“That’s a bitter feeling,” Hemric told NASCAR.com. “John Hunter did a great job. He was in the mix all night. He did everything right, to be honest with you. We just executed extremely poorly on our part.”

“We were just trying to win,” Haley told NASCAR.com. “We thought we were in a good spot, and we just weren’t.”

The waning laps and ensuing overtime period following an Austin Hill caution on Lap 161 looked to put the team in a bind, with the Kaulig cars, spearheaded by Haley, looking to set the pace and cement himself in a position to simultaneously be a blocker and control the front rows. However, the team could not position itself accordingly, with Smith running dry and a Hemric push providing Nemechek the window of opportunity to take control and hold off the field.

Haley finished the race with a field-high 80 laps led. Smith followed up with five laps led of his own, while Hemric — despite not leading any laps during the race — proved to be the steady presence up front, despite the organization’s overall finish.

“In all reality, it probably falls on my lap,” Hemric said. “If I’m not shuffled to fifth there before the yellow comes out, we line up and control the entire front row and at least half of the second row, and I think our odds go up substantially at that point. So, I’ll take the blame for having to choose kind of all we had to choose coming into the last restart, and at the end of the day, that’s kind of what set the tone for the green-white-checkered.”

“Daniel has got to take the shortest line so he can try to get to his teammates, right?” Kaulig Racing President Chris Rice told NASCAR.com. “That’s the key because he had done some blocking, and when you take the shortest line, you get lined up behind people that you hadn’t been racing with, so like I told Matt (Kaulig, team owner), I’m going to go back and look at it and see what it was. But yeah, the big thing is we lost a race, and it’s never fun to lose a race once you dominate like we dominated tonight.”

MORE: Updated Xfinity Series standings

Moving forward, the team will look to regroup both on the track and off the track, varying from continuing to bring quick cars and vying to improve on providing the right leadership to find that team-wide success.

“Just getting fast cars,” Haley said. “We brought fast cars here which struggled in the spring and seemed decent today.”

“I got to do a better job as a leader at the shop,” Rice said. “I got to make sure I do a better job with everybody, and like I told them, I take full blame for it, and I’ll take it on my hip and figure out what I need to do different to help everybody to be able to win these races because Matt Kaulig deserves to win these races, and that’s what it’s about.”

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