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XFINITY

5 Drivers On The Rise In The XFINITY Series

The first five races are in the books for the XFINITY Series, and so far, it hasn’t been kind to its regulars.

Four of those events have been dominated and won by full-time Monster NASCAR Cup Series drivers. While Tyler Reddick was victorious at Daytona, they led 115 of 143 laps in that race.

Now, it seems the men of NASCAR’s second-tier have struggled in 2018. That’s not the case. Yes, they haven’t been winning races but, there are still regulars finding themselves with impressive starts to the year. Here are a few that have slipped under the radar.

Elliott Sadler

There are only two drivers in any of NASCAR’s top three series that have finished every race in the top-10. Johnny Sauter in the Camping World Truck Series, and Sadler in the XFINITY Series.

The 42-year-old veteran, coming off a season where he was close to his first championship, hasn’t suffered any setback from his disappointment last November. Despite starting in the top-10 once this year, he only finished worse than fifth once, Phoenix (ninth).

As the Dash 4 Cash program starts next month, expect Sadler to remain a contender for wins during the four-race stretch, as he has been on a weekly basis.

Tyler Reddick

Yes, Reddick won the season-opener at Daytona which may make it seem like he’s not an “underrated” type of driver, but his move to JR Motorsports has seen more success than just a win.

After all, taking over the No. 9 is taking over one of the best rides the series has. Look at the fanfare that surrounded Chase Elliott and William Byron after being in the seat (both of whom won the championship in their first year).

Despite having big shoes to fill, Reddick has had the almost perfect transition with the team. He’s second in points, has four top-10’s, and is locked in the playoffs, something no other regular can say right now.

Spencer Gallagher

While GMS Racing has proven to be a dominant force in trucks, the transition up the ladder hasn’t been a smooth one. Last year in their first full-time season, the team had only one top-10 and failed to make the playoffs.It seems 2018, on the other hand, has gotten off on a much better foot.

With Gallagher returning as the driver, GMS already has two top-10’s, and, has zero starts or finishes outside the top-15. Solid runs put together early in the season could prove to be vital later, as they look to be a part of the title hunt.

Kaz Grala

In a move not a lot of people expected during silly season, Grala left the truck series after one successful season with the eventual championship winning organization, GMS, to move a lesser-funded XFINITY Series team in JGL Racing.

To his credit, he’s made the move work. Sure, he may not be winning races as he did a season ago, but he is making the most of the opportunity given to him. He started off the year with a fourth-place finish at Daytona, and since captured three top-20 finishes, including a 12th at Phoenix and a 14th last weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

So far, Grala is showing that his past success wasn’t a fluke, and the talent is there, which is essential for a young driver like him to do to make a name for himself.

Ross Chastain

In the past two seasons, an underdog team has made the XFINITY Series’ playoffs. 2016, it was Ryan Sieg, in 2017, Jeremy Clements; could 2018 be Chastain and JD Motorsports?

It is possible with the way they have performed early, as Chastain has already equaled his 2017 total in top-10’s (two) and hasn’t finished outside the top-20. However, the most prominent sign of improvement came at Fontana.

The team qualified well, ran near the front during the entire race, and finished tenth. A day that isn’t typically associated with Chastain unless if at restrictor plate track.

If the No. 4 can continue to have days like this, they will be a playoff team.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

ASHLEY ASKS…… Kaz Grala

After a successful season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Kaz Grala will move up to the NASCAR XFINITY Series with JGL Racing.

Popular Speed’s Ashley McCubbin recently caught up with the 18-year-old to get his thoughts on the year ahead, and this past season.

POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts on the opportunity for 2018?

KAZ GRALA: I’m really excited about it. I think being able to run 33 races for me will be huge. I look at this season in the trucks, running 23 races. We had 16 regular season races and I feel like I learned so much that those last seven playoff races, even though we got knocked out after the first three due to bad luck, I think we would’ve been strong contenders. That was after only 16 regular season races.

The XFINITY Series has 26 regular season races. So I feel like over that period of time, I’ll have ample amount of time to get comfortable, get a grip in those cars, (and) learn the tracks as a lot of the tracks in the playoffs are tracks that you go back to for a second time. I think it’s a big learning opportunity for me so in the second half of the season, like this year, I should be able to get aggressive and crank out results and see if we can be contenders in the playoffs.

PS: What are your goals and expectations?

KAZ: Well, I mean it’s the same as the goal that I set for myself going into this year in the trucks – which is a bit of steep one, but I was able to do it this year, so hopefully next year is the same. But, I want to make the playoffs. I think for those first 26 races, that’s going to be every driver’s goal in the series – to make the playoffs, so I think that’s a reasonable goal for me to set. It won’t be easy by any stretch, but I’m up for the challenge. I don’t think I’d be a racecar driver if I wasn’t looking for a challenge.

PS: What track are you most excited to get to?

KAZ: Well, the road courses are definitely a stretch that excite me. They all take place within a month of each other around August, so that’ll be an exciting time. I get to race at Watkins Glen, which is a place that I’ve raced at in K&N (Pro Series) and won a few sportscar races there. I love it. But then I get to go to some road courses that I’ve never raced on before – Road America, Mid-Ohio, and then the Charlotte roval. So a little bit of a new, with a bit of old, but all sounds fun to me.

PS: How would you grade your 2017 season?

KAZ: I would say at times it was an A+, but at times it was a C, so I’d average it to be a B or a B+. It was really up and down. We had a quite bit of bad luck. We had a bunch of races that we didn’t finish or didn’t finish well, just because of silly stuff in being in the wrong place at the wrong time or the two motor failures. We also had some incidents where we got caught up in someone’s else crash, so unfortunately that really hurt us in the points and ultimately at Talladega, that took me out of the playoffs. As far as when things were going right and no crazy unforeseeable thing happened, we had good speed. We were a strong top-five, at least top-10 contending truck every week. That was enough to make the playoffs, and be competitive in the playoffs. I think when it came playoff time, we were definitely a top-five truck.

Rusty Jarrett | NKP

I feel really good about my 2017 season. I learned a ton, and I think I’ll be able to take everything I learned all year long to the XFINITY Series and hopefully be able to start a little further along next year than this year. Because this year not only did I have to learn the trucks, but I had to learn all the tracks, too. Since I just turned 18 in December of last year, in previous seasons, I wasn’t old enough to run any track bigger than Gateway. So this was my first year really running the big tracks and next year, sure I’ll have to run the XFINITY cars, but at least most of the tracks that I’ve been too before and that style of racing I’ve gotten used to. It seems to me like it will be less of a learning curve next year than it was this year, but of course the competition level is also higher. It won’t be any easier by any stretch.

PS: Take us back to Daytona in February. What was it like for you scoring your first career win on the biggest stage?

KAZ: That was huge for me. I think, to be honest with you, that was a huge part that propelled me into being able to have this opportunity for 2018 and beyond in the XFINITY Series. So, I can’t thank GMS Racing enough for bringing me a fast truck to Daytona. We sat on the pole and of course, that’s a huge tribute to everybody at the shop and on the team that built that truck in the off-season because qualifying at a superspeedway is all about the truck, aero and the engine. So GMS Racing and Hendrick Motorsports knocked it out of the park there.

But we were able to survive the race, play our cards right, put the truck in the right place at the right time, and capitalize on that win. That allowed us to breathe easy the rest of the regular season knowing that we’d be in the playoffs. It sure would be nice to pull off the same thing next year. Wouldn’t that be great?

PS: NASCAR just got done the first year of stage racing. What are your reflections?

KAZ: I really like it. I like watching it. Of course, I was in the truck races, but I like watching it in the XFINITY and Cup races. I think it’s pretty exciting. It definitely ramps up the intensity of the races earlier, which is different from past years. But it doesn’t seem to be my forte so far, so we’ll see if I can get better at it next year.

I feel like there’s been very few races that I’ve finished all three stages in the top-10. I seem to either get one or two, but getting the third just doesn’t seem to work for me. so that’s something that I think I could improve at. We’ve seen the stage points make a huge impact on your points standings, and especially in the playoffs. So I think that’s something that I want to learn and get better at, but something that I need to so I can stay competitive.

PS: What are your plans for the off-season?

KAZ: I don’t have a whole lot of plans, actually. I’ll be heading back home to Massachusetts for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. But, as far as racing, I don’t have a whole lot. I’m hoping to be able to run the Rolex 24, which I have run the last two years. But I don’t have any confirmation yet as to whether I have a ride or not, so we’ll keep you posted.

The 2018 NASCAR XFINITY Series season kicks off with the PowerShares QQQ 300 at Daytona International Speedway on February 17.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

Categories
XFINITY

Kaz Grala Making Move to XFINITY Series in 2018

After scoring his first career Camping World Truck Series victory this past season at Daytona International Speedway in 2017, Kaz Grala is getting set for the next step of his career.  The 18-year-old will run the full XFINITY Series schedule for JGL Racing in 2018.

“I am beyond excited about the opportunity to drive for JGL Racing next year full-time in the NASCAR XFINITY Series,” said Grala. “I’ve been watching XFINITY races since I was a little kid, so to be able to cDompete at that high of a level is nothing short of a dream come true. I can’t thank James Whitener (owner of JGL Racing) and everyone at JGL enough for this opportunity. Bring on Daytona!”

Grala currently enters the truck season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway ranked seventh in the standings with one win and 11 top-10’s in 22 races.

“Roush Fenway Racing is obviously a very successful organization, and I think the relationship with them will be extremely beneficial to myself and JGL Racing,” added Kaz. “Plus, I am from Boston, so the alliance feels right at home for me. Ford’s enthusiasm and aggression for building the best program possible is exciting to me, and I can’t wait to be a part of the Ford family next year.”

JGL Racing has continued to get stronger with each season involved in the series, missing the playoffs by a single spot this past year with Dakoda Armstrong.

In addition to signing Grala, JGL Racing announced that they will switch from Toyota to Fords in 2018 as part of a newly formed alliance with Roush Fenway Racing. 

“These are exciting times for the JGL Racing organization,” said James Whitener, owner of JGL Racing. “We appreciate the support we have received from Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing over the last few years. We felt that in order for our team to make the next step in our growth process that we needed a more robust technical alliance behind us – and this opportunity with Ford Performance and Roush Fenway Racing provided us that and made the most sense. We look forward to finishing out the season in our No. 24 car and then we will turn our attention to 2018 and getting all of the proper pieces into place.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

Categories
Trucks

Grala, Briscoe Eliminated from Truck Series Playoffs

Even though Kaz Grala and Chase Briscoe have shown speed all year long, they find themselves as the first two eliminated from the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs.

Grala entered Saturday’s Fred’s 250 at Talladega Superspeedway eighth in the standings, needing a good run to advance following a 10th at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and fifth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

An engine change following qualifying put him at the back of the field to start the event, but he was able to work his way up into the top-10 before being taken out in a wreck on Lap 19. Cody Coughlin got into Chris Fontaine, and although Grala slowed up to avoid them, he was turned from behind by Ryan Truex.

Although Grala struggled through the summer months with four consecutive crashes, he had begun the playoffs with four straight top-10’s before Talladega.

“That’s tough to swallow,” Grala said. “The guys did a good job to get the engine changed, and from what I could tell, we were the fastest truck out there. We were in a position to earn points at the end of stage one, which was pretty unbelievable. I’m not quite sure what happened, but everything checked up. I slowed down, and I think I was going to miss it and then the truck behind us couldn’t get slowed down fast enough, got into us, and turned us up into the wall ending our day.

“It’s the end of our championship hopes, unfortunately, which is tough to take in.”

Briscoe’s troubles on Saturday started early, as well, as he went behind the wall on Lap 7 after leaking fluid. The team discovered there was a pinched o-ring in the valve cover on the No. 29 Ford, changing it and getting him back out there only 10 laps behind the leaders.

Throughout the event, it looked possible that he would still move on after John Hunter Nemechek was involved in a wreck on Lap 54, but Nemechek gained enough positions to keep the sixth and final transfer spot.

The Brad Keselowski Racing driver had been consistent with 11 top-10’s in 19 races this year, but a 11th at New Hampshire and third at Las Vegas, combined with a 22nd at Talladega, proved not to be enough.

“This is just the situation we were dealt in the playoffs, and you have to go out here and perform,” Briscoe said. “Honestly, if we run better at Loudon this doesn’t happen. The good Lord has a bigger plan, and I am not sure what that is. As much as this sucks right now, I am still grateful and fortunate to be running race cars for a living. I have to think big picture, but it sucks. I really wanted to get Brad his first championship, and Austin still has a shot. We still have some races we can win, and that is what we want to do.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

Categories
Trucks

GRALA on CINDRIC: “That was a Dump and Run”

The Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park produced yet another exciting final-lap finish for the fifth straight year. 

Kaz Grala used strategy and a fast Chevrolet Silverado to put himself in position to win his second NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race of the season.

Pole-sitter Austin Cindric was able to rebound from a pit road equipment violation and close the gap on Grala with seven laps to go. 

With two laps remaining, Cindric, who had ten-lap fresher tires, caught Grala and shoved him square in the bumper in lieu of attempting a pass. That move sent the leader around and allowed Cindric to cross the line first.

“That was a dump and run,” Grala said. “To be honest, I know he’s racing for a playoff spot, and I get that, but he didn’t try to pass us – he just ran us over. Last year, you can say what you want about the finish, but they both finished one and two; they were both facing the right direction. Honestly, I don’t even think he braked for turn five. I know he’s a great road course racer and I had a lot of respect for that, but I lost some right there because I don’t race like that.”

The move surprised Grala as the pair are best friends, spending time as teammates back in their bandolero days. 

“I knew he had a playoff spot on the line, but he didn’t need to lift someone’s rear tires off the ground going into five,” he added. “That’s just not a good place to do it. If you have to move a guy for the win – you gotta do what you gotta do, but you have to time it well, though, and that wasn’t proper right there.”

Cindric expressed post-race that he would have preferred to pass Grala cleanly, but knew he had to get the job done to clinch a playoff spot. 

“I feel like this is what NASCAR racing is about,” Cindric said. “You have to win to make a playoff position. You can’t finish second. “Everyone made a move in the last corner. I figured I might as well change that.”

The CTMP road course has produced exciting finishes, which have been highlighted by Chase Elliott moving Ty Dillon in the inaugural event, and John Hunter Nemechek and Cole Custer going door-to-door last year.

The question posed following controversial incidents typically ask if NASCAR should step in or was it just hard racing? 

“Personally, I know in my position I should say yes. But thankfully as a race fan myself, I don’t think so,” Grala said. “I think it’s good to have exciting racing and contact. Last year was a great finish, and people say what they want, but it was exciting even watching the replays. But at least those guys kept going in the same direction and finished one-two. If I would’ve had a move like that, I wouldn’t have been quite as disappointed with it because a one-two would’ve made sense and less dirty. But there was no need for what happened.

“I don’t think that’s NASCAR’s place, though. I think that’s driver respect. I think that’s what plays a role in it.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Trucks

Five Storylines to Watch in 2017

The Camping World Truck Series doesn’t feature the most traditional start to their season, with only four races in the first four months, as a way to give teams time to prepare for the rest of the schedule.

Though with only two races in the books so far – Daytona International Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway, there are still some storylines developing. As the days continue to count down to Martinsville, here are five of those to watch moving forward.

 

GMS Racing’s Strong Start

Arguably the strongest team in the Camping World Truck Series right now is GMS Racing, even though Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Christopher Bell leads the standings.

In the first two races, with four truck per event, the team has scored three top-fives, four top-10s, and no finishes outside of the top-15. Notably, the early highlight of the year was rookie Kaz Grala scoring the victory in the season-opening event at Daytona International Speedway.

The strong start is no surprise, though, as the team has veteran leadership in Johnny Sauter, and had Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman behind the wheel of their trucks at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The team is also quick to credit the veteran leadership from industry veteran Mike Beam, who joined the organization in late 2014.

“It’s been a dream watching that man work,” Spencer Gallagher told Popular Speed in December. “The revolution and changes that have happened since that man came on have been amazing, and you saw that on the race track. We made statements at every type of tracks – dominated Talladega, we had two trucks that led and ran up front at Texas, and we ran well on the short tracks.”

The success is something which started last year, as Sauter walked away as the champion after finishing out the year with four straight top-five finishes. With the veteran second in points and Grala fourth, they could easily go two in a row.

 

Rough Start for Cindric and Gragson

Sometimes for rookies, they find early success – like Grala – and sometimes they find themselves struggling. Unfortunately, Austin Cindric and Noah Gragson find themselves in the latter category.

In the first two events, Cindric has failed to post a top-20 finish as a result of a pair of wrecks. He got taken out in the Lap 2 crash at Daytona and had worked his way back to the top-10 at Atlanta following a pit road penalty before going for a spin with six laps to go.

Gragson was also involved in that wreck at Daytona, followed by another early race incident at Atlanta. A three-wide move on the first lap didn’t go as planned, with Gragson’s No. 18 Switch Toyota Tundra getting loose and going around, collecting Brett Moffitt in the process. With minimal damage to his truck, Gragson was able to join up at the back of the field for the restart and continue. He used the rest of the day to fight back to a 14th place finish.

Both rookies have shown speed in the first two races, but have yet to come around with the top-10s to match that as a result of a mix of inexperience and luck. With both having short track experience via their backgrounds, a strong run in the next event at Martinsville Speedway could turn their year around.

 

The Surprise: Regan Smith?

Each year, there’s a small budget team that surprises everybody on a weekly basis. For the second straight year, it seems Ricky Benton Racing has made it happen.

After starting off last year well with Parker Kligerman, the team has done it with Regan Smith at the wheel this time. Smith scored a fifth place finish at Daytona, followed by a 12th place finish at Atlanta.

Smith being able to give the team a pair of competitive runs is no surprise, though, as he has proven he has talent. The past Southern 500 winner posted a top-five finish in each of the three seasons he ran in the XFINITY Series with JR Motorsports.

Currently, the team hasn’t announced plans for the whole schedule. RBR plans to run 12 races this year, including the first six races. Though if they continue to remain in the top-10 in points, one has to wonder the possibility of sponsorship being put together for a title run.

 

Further Back Than Expected: John Hunter Nemechek

Going into 2017, everyone thought John Hunter Nemechek would be a championship contender. After all, youngster posted a pair of wins and 11 top-10s en route to finishing 11th in the series standings last year. However, he currently sits 12th in points as a result of finishes of fourth and 28th (flat tire) in the first two events this year.

Despite the rough start, Nemechek believes his team can pull together a strong year.

“I feel like we’re going to be able to contend for wins week-in-week-out,” he told Popular Speed earlier this month. “We’ve kind of changed our mindset a little with the new segment rule coming in. I feel like it definitely be more exciting with the more tracks that that we get to. I feel good about our year. I feel like it’ll be a good year.”

Truthfully, the confidence is well-founded as he was running well at Atlanta before the tire issue and it doesn’t appear NEMCO Motorsports has slowed down at all. With a podium finish in each of the last three races at Martinsville, a win could put these thoughts in the rearview.

 

Early Favorite: Christopher Bell

With an eighth and a victory in the first two races, it appears as though Christopher Bell is emerging as the early championship favorite this season. Notably, he’s also faced adversity in both of those races. The eighth at Daytona came after being involved in three wrecks, and the Atlanta victory only happened due to him fighting his way through the field on a restart as a result of the late-race strategy.

The expectations surrounding Bell started last year, though, as he was one of the four drivers to qualify for the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and closed out 2016 with no finishes outside of the top-11 in the final nine races. Besides, being the primary driver for Kyle Busch Motorsports naturally brings pressure, as everyone knows what they’re capable of with past titles.

As long as Bell can keep a calm head on his shoulders and focus on the consistency he finished 2016 with and not the over-driving from the beginning of his career, he could very well walk away this year as the champion.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

Categories
Trucks

Grala Talks With POPULAR SPEED About Wild Daytona Win

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Just over three hours before the first checkered flag of the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season waved at Daytona International Speedway, the greatest moment of Kaz Grala’s young career was winning the pole award for Friday night’s race.

That changed when the caution flag waved on the final lap of the NextEra Energy Resources 250.

As GMS Racing teammate Johnny Sauter battled for the lead with ThorSport Racing’s Matt Crafton and Ben Rhodes, the three made contact and wrecked, which resulted in one of the few “Big Ones” that occurred in the event and has made restrictor plate racing so notorious.

Grala escaped the melee with the lead, which ultimately gave him his first truck win in his 10th career start.

He became the youngest Daytona winner in Truck Series history at 18 years old.

“I couldn’t see a whole lot, but I believe I saw the door number of the 27 (Rhodes),” Grala said. “Typically, when you see a door number when you’re going straight, that’s not a good sign.

“I figured I’d keep my foot down and pull left and cross my fingers to see how this thing turns out. Luckily, it turned out well for me.

“For me personally, and for GMS Racing, the win was huge for the organization.”

Before the race, Grala was overwhelmingly excited for winning the pole. It seemed like he could barely contain his energy knowing that he’d start on the front row at Daytona — “The World Center of Racing.”

His enthusiasm after the win was even greater. After his post-race press conference, he spoke exclusively with POPULAR SPEED, and his voice had the same volume and fervor that he had when he was in Victory Lane.

As a rookie, his goal was to get the experience of running a full race at the 2.5-mile track. Although he was competing to win as every driver does, he would have been content to push Sauter, who dominated the race and won the first two stages, to a second consecutive victory at the speedway.

The win all but guarantees his spot in the playoffs, and he was also awarded five playoff points as every winner gets under NASCAR’s new format.

“This completely changes the dynamic of our season going forward,” Grala said. “We can really relax, learn, spend some times working on things for the playoffs. There are a lot of mile-and-a-halves that I’ve never been on before.

“We’ll just ride this wave and see how the season plays out. We couldn’t be in a better position and that’s all thanks to [crew chief] Jerry Baxter and all of GMS Racing.”

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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News

KAZ GRALA SNEAKS BY LAST-LAP ‘BIG ONE’ FOR WIN AT DAYTONA

By Reid Spencer (NASCAR Wire Service) – DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — In the space of 100 laps, Kaz Grala went from youngest NASCAR national series pole winner at Daytona International Speedway to youngest NASCAR national series race winner at Daytona.

What happened between the first green flag and the checkers, however, could fill volumes.

Miraculously, Grala slipped through a wild wreck on the backstretch on the final lap of Friday night’s NextEra Energy Resources 250 to win the first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race contested in stages under NASCAR’s new competition format.

That final wreck, ignited when Ben Rhodes spun from the outside lane off the bumper of ThorSport Racing teammate Grant Enfinger, wiped out veteran contenders Johnny Sauter, Timothy Peters and Matt Crafton.

RELATED: In-car look at last-lap melee

But Grala — 18 years, 1 month and 26 days old — drove through the melee as trucks bounced off each other like pinballs on either side of him. Grala claimed the trophy for his first national series victory and the five playoff points that go with a race win under NASCAR’s new scoring system.

Austin Wayne Self took the runner-up spot, followed by Chase Briscoe, and the father-son combination of John Hunter Nemechek and Joe Nemechek in fourth and fifth.

“That was freaking awesome! I can’t believe we won Daytona,” Grala said in Victory Lane. “I couldn’t see a lot there. I knew it was a little bit risky. It was the last lap, and we had to do what we had to do.

“I saw coming out of (Turn) 2 it starting to get crazy. There wasn’t going to be any way I was going to be lifting (off the accelerator). I was just going to go low, cross my fingers and close my eyes a little bit.

“Luckily, it worked out for me. I just can’t believe it. It’s so surreal.”

Self put it much more succinctly.

“When all hell broke loose, we were in the right spot.”

The race didn’t wait until the last lap to get crazy. On the second lap, Briscoe, racing for the first time in the Truck Series, gave Noah Gragson’s Toyota an off-center tap on the rear bumper, sending Gragson bouncing off the outside wall in Turn 1 and out of control.

By the time the smoke cleared, 17 trucks — one more than half the field — had sustained varying degrees of damage in the wreck.

Gragson, Austin Cindric and Ryan Truex couldn’t continue. Same for Ross Chastain and Clay Greenfield. John Hunter Nemechek stayed on the lead lap but fell victim to a flat tire as Stage 2 of the race came to an end with Sauter in the lead.

“I took a few hard hits out there,” said Gragson, who was unhurt in the wreck. “Just a bummer. I didn’t want to end the race like this, but I had a good time for the lap I got.

“Felt like the 29 (Briscoe) hit me in the wrong part of the bumper going through the tri-oval. It just got me loose, and it got pointed into the outside wall.”

In the final 60-lap stage, all four GMS Chevrolet pitted early on Lap 68. Though Spencer Gallagher and ultimate sixth-place finisher Scott Lagasse Jr. drew speeding penalties while exiting pit road, Sauter reclaimed the lead, with Grala trailing him, when Christopher Bell’s Toyota got loose in Turn 4, slowed and spun off the bumper of Timothy Peters’ Tundra.

Sauter, the defending series champion, looked to be in control of the race until John Hunter Nemechek’s spin off Turn 2 on Lap 95 of 100 caused the fifth and final caution and set up a chaotic two-lap run to the finish.

Wrecked on the backstretch, Sauter was credited with a 15th-place finish but collected two playoff points for winning both the first and second stages, each lasting 20 laps.

Bell, one of the preseason favorites for the championship, sustained heavy damage in three wrecks, including the last one, but his seemingly indestructible No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra made it to the finish line in eighth-place, salvaging a respectable result from a potentially disastrous night.

 

Finishing Order

1. (1) Kaz Grala, Chevrolet, 100 laps, 0 rating, 56 points.

2. (22) Austin Wayne Self, Chevrolet, 100, 0, 35.

3. (16) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 100, 0, 39.

4. (19) John Hunter Nemechek, Chevrolet, 100, 0, 34.

5. (9) Joe Nemechek, Chevrolet, 100, 0, 36.

6. (25) Regan Smith, Ford, 100, 0, 31.

7. (14) Scott Lagasse Jr, Chevrolet, 100, 0, 0.

8. (4) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 100, 0, 33.

9. (27) J.J. Yeley, Toyota, 100, 0, 0.

10. (13) Myatt Snider, Toyota, 100, 0, 30.

11. (17) Cody Coughlin, Toyota, 100, 0, 26.

12. (8) Ben Rhodes, Toyota, 100, 0, 38.

13. (3) Spencer Gallagher, Chevrolet, 100, 0, 0.

14. (7) Matt Crafton, Toyota, 99, 0, 23.

15. (2) Johnny Sauter, Chevrolet, 99, 0, 42.

16. (11) Grant Enfinger, Toyota, 99, 0, 21.

17. (5) Timothy Peters, Toyota, 99, 0, 35.

18. (31) Todd Peck, Chevrolet, 99, 0, 19.

19. (28) Wendell Chavous, Chevrolet, 98, 0, 18.

20. (10) Korbin Forrister, Toyota, accident, 71, 0, 21.

21. (21) Bobby Gerhart, Chevrolet, garage, 41, 0, 0.

22. (6) Brett Moffitt, Toyota, accident, 20, 0, 15.

23. (23) Tyler Young, Chevrolet, accident, 12, 0, 14.

24. (32) Travis Kvapil, Chevrolet, engine, 11, 0, 13.

25. (24) Terry Jones, Toyota, accident, 4, 0, 12.

26. (12) Noah Gragson, Toyota, accident, 1, 0, 11.

27. (18) Austin Cindric, Ford, accident, 1, 0, 10.

28. (20) Ryan Truex, Toyota, accident, 1, 0, 9.

29. (15) Clay Greenfield, Chevrolet, accident, 1, 0, 8.

30. (26) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, accident, 1, 0, 0.

31. (29) Stewart Friesen, Chevrolet, accident, 1, 0, 6.

32. (30) Tommy Joe Martins, Chevrolet, accident, 1, 0, 5.

___

Average Speed of Race Winner: 129.724 mph.

Time of Race: 1 hour, 55 minutes, 38 seconds.

Margin of Victory: seconds.

Caution Flags: 6 for 29 laps.

Lead Changes: 15 among 10 drivers.

Lap Leaders: K.Grala 1-13; C.Bell 14-15; S.Gallagher 16-17; B.Moffitt 18-19; J.Sauter 20-43; T.Peck 44; T.Peters 45-46; C.Bell 47-48; J.Sauter 49-51; B.Rhodes 52-68; C.Bell 69-70; B.Rhodes 71-73; J.Sauter 74-98; M.Crafton 99; K.Grala 100; C.Coughlin 101

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): J.Sauter, 3 times for 49 laps; B.Rhodes, 2 times for 18 laps; K.Grala, 2 times for 12 laps; C.Bell, 3 times for 3 laps; S.Gallagher, 1 time for 1 lap; B.Moffitt, 1 time for 1 lap; T.Peters, 1 time for 1 lap; C.Coughlin, 1 time for 0 laps; M.Crafton, 1 time for 0 laps; T.Peck, 1 time for 0 laps.

Wins: J.Sauter, 3; M.Crafton, 2; Joh.Nemechek, 2; C.Bell, 1; G.Enfinger, 1; B.Moffitt, 1.

Top 10 in Points: 1. J.Sauter, 4030; 2. M.Crafton, 4026; 3. C.Bell, 4025; 4. T.Peters, 4024; 5. Joh.Nemechek, 2133; 6. S.Gallagher, 402; 7. B.Rhodes, 387; 8. A.Self, 279; 9. T.Kvapil, 257; 10. R.Truex, 250.

___

A maximum of 150 points can be attained in a race.

The formula combines the following categories: Wins, Finishes, Top-15 Finishes, Average Running Position While on Lead Lap, Average Speed Under Green, Fastest Lap, Led Most Laps, Lead-Lap Finish.

Categories
Trucks

Grala Going Full-Time With GMS Racing for 2017 Truck Season

Kaz Grala got his first taste of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series after running nine races this season. In 2017, he’ll be racing full-time with the team that gave him the opportunity, GMS Racing.

Grala, 17, will drive the No. 33 Chevrolet for GMS with Jerry Baxter as crew chief. Baxter comes over from Kyle Busch Motorsports where he served as Christopher Bell’s crew chief in 2016 and finished third in the championship standings.

The two worked together for a late model race in 2015 and over the past few days, they have discussed plans for their new partnership.

“I worked with [Jerry] briefly last year over at KBM when I was driving their late models,” Grala told POPULAR SPEED. “He came up and helped us at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, so I got work with him a little bit there. I’ve really gotten to know him over the last week with greetings, texts, phone calls, trying to get this deal all worked out.

“About a week ago, the news came out that he was up for grabs. And I don’t think there was any doubt that he was the right match for me and for GMS Racing. He’s not only going to help my season and career, but he’s going to benefit the GMS Racing organization.”

Grala has raced multiple types of vehicles in his ascending career. The Westborough, Mass. native has been behind the wheel of sports cars, late models, and K&N Pro Series stock cars and credits his experience in helping him transition from K&N to trucks.

“Jumping up from the K&N Series to the Truck Series was a huge change,” Grala said. “They drive much differently than the K&N cars. But I’ve driven so many different types of cars, and different types of tracks — having that experience of adapting really helps me getting into the truck.”

In his part-time schedule racing trucks this year, he posted three top 10s with his best result coming at New Hampshire in September, where he finished seventh.

Ben Kennedy drove the No. 33 for 19 of the 23 truck events this season and made the series’ inaugural Chase after winning at Bristol Motor Speedway.

When asked if Kennedy will continue to race for GMS, he said he only knows he and reigning truck champion Johnny Sauter will be full-timers and is unsure of the rest of GMS’s 2017 driver lineup.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Trucks

Grala Earns Best Finish in Fourth Truck Series Start

Saturday night’s Drivin’ For Linemen 200 proved to be an eventful race. However, amidst the drama and exciting battles, 17-year-old Kaz Grala posted an impressive eighth-place finish in his fourth NASCAR Truck Series start. He surpassed his previous best finish of 10th at Dover International Speedway, earned one month ago.

“We have a really good team and feel like my confidence increases every time we race the truck,” Grala told POPULAR SPEED. “Even though our last race was a month ago, that confidence and momentum stays with you. We’re looking for small victories, and tonight I believed we achieved that.”

Beginning 16th, the driver flirted with the top 10 but remained on the outside for most of the event. As the laps ticked down, the No. 24 team capitalized on their efforts. Grala stayed out of trouble and, with good strategy, climbed into the top 10, finishing eighth.

“That was a heck of a race,” Grala said. “We came from 16th up to 8th, and honestly, I think we could have had an even better day with a few small touch ups. This is definitely something we can build off of, and to have gotten my career best (finish) so far in the series at the only track I haven’t been to on the schedule, I’m very pumped up.”

The current K&N Pro Series East regular drives part time for GMS Racing, gaining him valuable track time in the Truck Series. While he won’t be back in the No. 24 Allegiant Travel Chevrolet until August at Bristol Motor Speedway, Grala feels like he’s getting more comfortable with the series and learning how to be a smarter racer.

“After these four truck races, I’ve learned the effects of aero, the radial tires, and I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with pit stops,” Grala said. “The most important thing I’ve learned, however, is how the veterans in this series race and how they are able to put a race together.

“It’s a much different, aggressive style than anything I’ve raced before, but there’s more respect out there than anywhere. I feel like I’m starting to understand how these races and racers go about this, and I think we’ll be right up there with the best of them in no time.”

EMAIL STEPHANIE AT stephanie.adair@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @S_Adair98

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.