Chandler Smith has enjoyed a moderately successful debut season in the Xfinity Series with Kaulig Racing and may yet race for the championship next month but his immediate future with the team remains an open question.
Sportsnaut has learned that Smith, who signed a three-year deal with Kaulig before this season with select starts in the Cup Series, has interest in moving to Joe Gibbs Racing (Xfinity) in 2024 in a return to the Toyota pipeline.
Such a move would require a buyout of the two remaining years of their contract with Rice simply saying that ‘money talks’ when asked about it over the weekend at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
At the same time, Rice also expressed hope that the two sides could keep racing together because the Kaulig Racing team president says history has shown that a second year of chemistry and experience pays dividends.
That is for a team that has already won once at Richmond in April and has advanced to the Round of 8 with a chance to race for the championship if he can successfully navigate the races at Las Vegas, Homestead-Miami and Martinsville.
Has he asked for a buyout?
“Ask his agent,” Rice said on Sunday night.
The Smith camp isn’t keen on the idea of a buyout purely from the standpoint that they feel Kaulig was only able to sign the driver with Toyota’s blessing after a five-year stint in which they raced Late Models, ARCA and Trucks under the TRD banner.
Kaulig has a contract with Smith for two more seasons and that contract details the terms of a buyout for a potential early exit.
Allmendinger and the other Cup car
Rice also said to expect an announcement on the second Kaulig Racing car over the next week or so and that was before AJ Allmendinger won on Sunday at the ROVAL.
Daniel Hemric was signed last month to drive the No. 31 Cup Series car once Kaulig and Justin Haley was unable to reach terms on an extension. Haley will move to Rick Ware Racing, which has a technical alliance with RFK Racing next season, as the opening salvo of the Robby Benton led organization attempting to build a winner.
That leaves the matter of the No. 16 car, with Allmendinger not expected to return to the Cup Series, instead returning to the Kaulig Racing Xfinity Series car next year instead. Numerous names have been attached to the No. 16 Cup car but Rice did not offer much in terms of detail when asked during the post-race press conference alongside Allmendinger and team owner Matt Kaulig.
He did admit that a decision was made but they haven’t announced yet.
“We do want to win races and we love AJ,” Kaulig said. “We haven’t all decided — actually we just haven’t announced yet exactly what we’re doing. I think we’re pretty clear on what we’re doing, we just haven’t announced anything.
“I actually defer most of these questions to Chris.”
“Wait for the announcement.”
Allmendinger has said he will be in a Kaulig racing suit next year and ultimately that he is more than happy to race whatever car they want him to race but his first preference is the highest level.
“I’d preferably like to stay in Cup,” Allmendinger said. “That was always the thought, to try to move the program along but at the end of the day, it’s a business and it’s about trying to find the funding for it.
“At the end of the day, Chris and Matt have always done right by me. They probably tell me more information than I need to know. We have such a good relationship off the race track. It’s about what they want and what’s best for the company.
“I’ll do whatever is best for them — Cup, Xfinity, full-time, part-time. They’ve always done right by me and I’ll do whatever is right by them.”
Reading between the lines, this is a funding related matter, and what Rice did offer on Sunday night during the winner’s press conference is that Allmendinger doesn’t always agree with the decisions even if he ultimately supports it.
Rice also said that’s a healthy dynamic.
“I’ll tell you over the last month, he’s been very key and pivotal to everything we’re doing at Kaulig Racing,” Rice said. “He knows everything we’re doing at Kaulig Racing, and he supports 98 percent of it I would say. He shouldn’t support it all because that’s what makes you better. …
“He showed up in a Nebraska shirt. He didn’t know what he was going to do. He had no idea. We didn’t have a hotel room for him when he went to Watkins Glen. We got him disqualified two races in a row, and he still came back. He drove home from Daytona when he missed a race and he still came back. That’s the AJ we love.”