How Matt Kaulig exceeded his own expectations by creating one of NASCAR’s next-gen racing teams

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When he formed his own racing team in late 2015, Matt Kaulig had one goal in mind: to compete and maybe win. a race.

An accomplished businessman and CEO of LeafFilter Gutter Protection, Kaulig started a single-seater team to race full-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series after initially getting involved with NASCAR as a sponsor. With little racing history and a huge amount of resources, Kaulig Racing’s eventual vision was to be able to win an Xfinity Series race – something seemingly impossible.

Seven years later, Kaulig Racing has far exceeded its initial vision. The team has become a powerhouse in the Xfinity Series and also earned its first Cup Series win at Indianapolis a season ago. It has two full-time Cup teams complementing three full-time Xfinity teams, and Kaulig himself has become a prominent figure among a new generation of young, forward-thinking NASCAR car owners, something he would hardly have could imagine a few years. from.

“We far exceeded our expectations,” Kaulig told CBS Sports, reflecting on his original vision. “Just have a car, maybe we can compete for a win, let’s see how to do that. And I would say our five-year plan is to figure that out. Now we figured it out, but it just happened to be in growing up and having two cars, then having three cars, then getting a Cup team and getting two charters in the Cup Series.

“But that was our plan. To win a race. And I don’t think we ever had any other goals or visions or anything other than that.”

A former college quarterback for the University of Akron, Kaulig oversaw his racing team’s transition from a mere upstart to a model organization whose foothold in NASCAR continues to grow. This week the team held an open house to show off its immaculate new 32,500 square foot racing store in Lexington, North Carolina, which is home to the two full-time Cup teams it has started fielding. this season.

Kaulig’s team became an outstanding success story, especially since its growth under someone who had previously been a racing underdog was unlikely and rare. Over the years many car owners have come and gone in stock car racing as a number of owners with deep pockets and high ambitions fail to properly execute the team building process or put in place the right compatible personnel.

But Kaulig made wise personnel choices in assembling his race team, evidenced by his hiring of longtime crew chief Chris Rice as team president. A longtime runner from southern Virginia, Rice found he could believe Kaulig had the right plan in place given his athletic background and business acumen.

“He knows what the sport is like, he understands things aren’t always going to be good. So I knew it would be good for NASCAR, because we’re not always going to win, are we? We want , but we’re not always going to win,” Rice told CBS Sports. “I knew it was going to work. … I knew he was a rock star in running a business, enterprising. So I knew he wanted to do it. He’s a racing fan, he wanted winning trophies, and I knew he was a guy who was going to be here a long time. And he’s going to be here a long time.

Kaulig Racing built a foundation in its first two seasons with journeyman Blake Koch as its driver, then put Ryan Truex behind the wheel for a year in 2018. But in 2019 Kaulig opted for its major key element with the hiring of Justin Haley as the team’s “franchise” driver. Haley drove the team’s flagship No.11 in Xfinity, going from rookie to race winner to championship contender, and was brought to the Cup as a driver of the team’s No.31 from This year.

“We’ve seen in the past that it takes a rookie two or three years to gain ground and be competitive every week in the Cup Series. It definitely takes a second, doesn’t it? And a lot of good drivers don’t understand that opportunity to prove themselves…just knowing they have my back…it just means the world,” Haley told CBS Sports.

While the team has several other riders – including AJ Allmendinger, who leads the company with 10 wins and serves as Haley’s veteran mentor – Kaulig thinks highly of Haley’s abilities to the point that he is considering having his youngster driver and his still – The emerging racing team rises to the top of NASCAR side by side.

“You see young talent and you know and hear from the garage who the up-and-coming drivers are. And if you can get your hands on one of those guys when they’re young then they can be part of your organization and help you out. to grow,” Kaulig explained. “I hope Justin finishes his career here. I talk about it all the time with him.

After building a force in the Xfinity Series, the introduction of the Next Gen car allowed Kaulig to expand to two full-time Cup Series teams. And while the team’s Cup operation has struggled growing, there have been some bright spots in the first third of the 2022 season. Allmendinger came within two corners of victory at the Circuit of the Americas, and Haley had a strong third-place finish at Darlington a few weeks ago.

Results like this illustrate how advanced Kaulig is for a young racing team and suggest the arrow is pointing up in their development.

“I imagine in five years we will be competing for championships in the Cup Series,” Kaulig said. “We will have four cars. If you were to ask me what the future holds, this would be it. … We’ll be one of the teams competing – I don’t mean the dominant teams – but one of the teams competing in the playoffs, to win races, and that’s what we want to do. “


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