By: Ashley McCubbin
Although a lot of focus is on Justin Haley’s chance at a championship this weekend at Phoenix Raceway, there is another discussion brewing at Kaulig Racing.
After fielding a pair of full-time entries and A.J. Allmendinger part-time for 2020, the team has only confirmed Haley for the full schedule in 2021. With Ross Chastain moving up to the NASCAR Cup Series with Chip Ganassi Racing, it has left a pair of rides with a lot of questions surrounding them.
When Kaulig Racing teased Haley’s return and Allmendinger running Martinsville Speedway last week, a lot of fans hoped it was instead the announcement of Allmendinger returning to the organization, possibly full-time in 2021.
Being able to work together once again for 2021 is something that Haley would welcome, too.
“AJ is a great teammate,” Haley told POPULAR SPEED. “He’s always been good to me. We ran some races together at GMS. AJ is great – he’s a team player. He’s very negative, but he comes out very positive when it’s done. He’s a great guy, brings a lot to the table when it comes to car set-up and stuff like that. Even the weeks he doesn’t race, he’s in our competition meetings, listening to our in-car radios, working really hard with us to get us better, so I’d love AJ to come back next year for how ever many races.
“Even if he doesn’t come back, I know he’ll call or text me and check up on me like he always does.”
The topic came up about Allmendinger last month after he won at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, and he did not turn the idea down.
“If the opportunity was (there) to go full-time, I’d definitely talk about it and enjoy it,” he told POPULAR SPEED last month. “But I’ll be honest – I have the best of the both worlds in working for NBC Sports and going to cover the IMSA race like I have to do now, and working with those guys on that side of it is so enjoyable, and showing up at the races that we choose and being fast makes it a lot of fun.
“It’s what I told Chris Rice and Matt Kaulig – I’ll race as much as you want to as I’m having a lot of fun.”
No matter what happens for next year, though, the influence and experience from both Allmendinger and Chastain ahs benefited not only Haley as a driver, but the team as a whole. They enter this year as part of the Championship 4 for the first time in their existence in a year that Haley scored 10 top-five’s and 20 top-10’s, including three trips to victory lane.
Though despite the opportunity before, he also recognizes the team could be even stronger if they improved their mile and a half program.
“We struggle sometimes, but sometimes we’re really good on the mile and a halves so it’s hit and miss,” he commented. “If we can keep working on that every week next year and get better, I think we’re close. The high grip stuff, low grip stuff is where we struggle, so just keep pushing forward on that and keep doing the little things to get better each and every week.”