Kaulig Racing solidified a key vacancy in its NASCAR Xfinity Series program Wednesday, announcing that top talent Chandler Smith will drive the team’s No. 16 Chevrolet starting next season.
The move comes in conjunction with the announcement that AJ Allmendinger, the current driver of the No. 16 Camaro, will move to Kaulig’s Cup Series operation full-time next year. Smith was introduced as his replacement during Kaulig’s Fan Day festival at the team’s race shop in Welcome, North Carolina.
The 20-year-old prodigy has blossomed since joining the Camping World Truck Series full-time in 2021, winning five races for Kyle Busch Motorsports. That includes three victories in this year’s campaign, where Smith is currently ranked as the top points-earner still contending in the series’ playoffs.
Smith will be inheriting a ride that Allmendinger has carried to 12 wins in the last four years, but he also arrives as a bright prospect and fresh face in a veteran Kaulig Racing lineup.
“Youth,” Kaulig team president Chris Rice said when asked about Smith’s attributes. “I mean, you look at it, we’ve got Justin Haley that’s young, and then you look at our other guys, and they’re older, right? And he’s youth. I think that you can run to 45, heck, 47 (years old). You know, AJ is gonna be 41 next year, so, but he brings a lot of youth so if we can continue to build within that, we will have spaces for those guys.
“So he brings a lot of youth but he also brings a lot of different views. He’s a very outgoing guy, and I think with the other two teammates he’s gonna have, they’ll just bring him in, love him and care for him, and I’m sure it won’t be an AJ in the car, but I think he can get there in time.”
The move shifts Smith from Toyota’s pool of development drivers to Chevrolet’s prospect list. That mimics the transition between manufacturers made last month by Kyle Busch, Smith’s team owner who will shift his Cup and Truck Series allegiances to Chevy next year.
Smith made his first two Xfinity Series starts (Talladega Superspeedway, Dover Motor Speedway) this spring for Sam Hunt Racing. He’s also a 10-time winner in the ARCA Menards Series, collecting his first victory as a 15-year-old rookie in 2018.