October 4, 2023

Back to the drawing board for Kaulig Racing after a failed 1-2-3 finish in Atlanta

HAMPTON, Georgia – Kaulig Racing was about to hit the big time.

On paper, the results didn’t look too shabby. Daniel Hemric finished second and Justin Haley finished fourth, with Chandler Smith standing out of the trio in 20th. But a potential 1-2-3 banner finish for the organization was not cashed in at Saturday night’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Alsco Uniforms 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

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

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

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

The dwindling laps and ensuing overtime after an Austin Hill caution on lap 161 seemed to throw the team into trouble, with the Kaulig cars, led by Haley, looking to set the pace and put themselves in a position to simultaneously take a blocker and control the front rows. However, the team was unable to position themselves accordingly, with problems with the team’s fuel and a push from Hemric giving Nemechek a chance to take control and keep them out of the field.

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

“In reality, it probably falls on my lap,” Hemric said. “If I don’t get shuffled up to fifth there before the yellow comes out, we’ll line up and control all of the front row and at least half of the second row, and I think our chances increase significantly at that point. So I’ll take the blame that we had to pick just about everything we had to pick on the last reboot, and at the end of the day, that set the tone for the green and white checkered.

“Daniel has 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 key because he had some blocking, and if you take the shortest row you’re behind people you haven’t raced with, so as I said to Matt (Kaulig, team owner) I’m going to go back and look at it and see what it was. But yeah, the main 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 Leaderboard

Going forward, the team will look to regroup both on and off the track, ranging from continuing to bring fast cars and competing to improve the right leadership to achieve that team-wide success.

“Just get fast cars,” Haley said. “We brought here fast cars that struggled in the spring and looked good today.”

“I need to do better as a leader in the store,” said Rice. “I need to make sure I do better with everyone, and as I’ve told them, I’m taking full blame, and I’ll take it on my hip and figure out what I need to do differently to help everyone be able to winning these races because Matt Kaulig deserves to win these races, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Despite being unable to cash in on Saturday, Kaulig will reconvene next week, adjust and perhaps surpass the same cusp that couldn’t be overcome this time. Kaulig and the Xfinity Series will race July 15 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the Ambetter Health 200 (3 p.m. ET, USA, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

“In reality, I think we should just communicate and just kind of know what’s expected,” Hemric said. “Justin Haley is one of the best superspeedway, this type of racer in the game right now, but he’s also here to win, so yeah. We just talk about and try what we could and should have done differently.”

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