By: Ashley McCubbin
Over the past five years, there was a span where people began to question the future of NASCAR and whether it’d be able to withstand the changes within and outside of the sport with companies. Though it seems those thoughts are totally forgotten, as a result of a series of owners becoming involved.
“There was a time when over the last couple of years where wasn’t a lot of new sponsors coming into the sport, sponsors were leaving, and we didn’t have a lot of owners coming into the sport – whether they’re superstars or just people that wanted to invest,” A.J. Allmendinger told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “I don’t want to say it was bleak, but it was definitely concerning.”
While the focus through the off-season has been on the likes of Pitbull and Michael Jordan laying their framework in the sport, there are several others who should be brought into the conversation.
Five years ago, Matt Kaulig did not know much about racing, or hold an interest in the sport, but has invested a considerable amount of money and time in through the past four years. Starting small, he was able to build up to a three-car NASCAR Xfinity Series, making the Championship 4 with Justin Haley last season.
Kaulig took the next step this year, entering the NASCAR Cup Series part-time, with Allmendinger scoring a top-10 finish on the Daytona International Speedway road course despite a speeding penalty. There are already aspirations being discussed in going full-time in 2022 and beyond.
“That’s a huge deal,” Allmendinger commented. “And then you have people like Michael Jordan and Pitbull and now Alvin Kamara is being apart of it, new companies like Hyperice that are on the car for Kaz Grala and my car this weekend – that is a huge deal for NASCAR racing and much needed. I’m excited to be apart of the sport and watch the growth. That’s part of the reason why I came back full-time – to be back with an organization like Kaulig Racing and Matt Kaulig, Chris Rice, and all the men and woman at Kaulig Racing, to see the growth of the team and to be a small part of that.
“Like, I really love driving, but being apart of the growth of Kaulig Racing has made me excited and wanted me to be apart of the sport even more. So to have that interest from all aspects of life – whether Matt Kaulig, Michael Jordan, Pitbull, so on, that’s huge for NASCAR. Hopefully we can keep this going.”
Corey Lajoie is also a benefit of the new investments, driving for Spire Motorsports.
“I think that just shows the level of excitement people have,” LaJoie said. “And also, the business model that NASCAR is trying to push toward makes some financial sense for somebody to get into the fold with this Next Gen and be able to compete right off the bat. So, I think the trajectory of NASCAR is certainly looking up. We can talk about the Daytona 500 TV numbers all day, but you’ve got to take into consideration all the variables that they’ve dealt with.
“I think there’s more excitement behind NASCAR since the late ‘90’s, just with all the personalities coming in and stuff we’re doing off the race track as well as on the race track now and going into the future.”
Jeff Dickerson and Tj Puchyr founded the organization in 2018, with Haley squeezing them out a win at Daytona in the rain delay in 2019. However, they were scuffed in seeing how many “pay to drive” entries they fielded with drivers dubbed as having lackluster talent. The questions seemed to be fading as the team brings in Lajoie for 2021, and influence from longtime Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Steve LeTarte with eyes on improving.
While admitting they are not at the level of being able to win right now, LaJoie feels the door may open with the Next Gen car on the horizon.
“The Next Gen car with a single source manufacturer, if we can get a couple more partners in the fold where we can have a comfortable racing budget with some of the teams like Hendrick and Stewart Haas, I really do think that we can compete for some races, short tracks, maybe every week,” he commented. “I think I have a little bit of things to learn just to learn the tricks the Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, what those guys do to close races out I’ll have to learn that stuff when time comes. But I’d like to think that if I’m in a Top 10 car I can make that thing just get up there and contend for wins one day.”
It seems the expansion is only set to continue with “four or five more heavily backed owners looking to try to get a charter to come into this sport,” per LaJoie.
It can only mean one thing – racecars are here to stay for a long time.