JOLIET, Illinois — The role of the underdog is one Gray Gaulding has become used to playing.
After seeing success in both NASCAR Pro K&N series, it looked like he was on his way to stardom as a part-time ride in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with Roush-Fenway Racing opened up in 2016. However, after nothing was able to develop further, Gaulding’s star appeared to fade, spending the last few years of his career bouncing around between lower-funded teams.
That was until a ride opened up with SS Green Light Racing opened up.
“It’s been, it’s probably been the most fun I’ve ever had racing every week in my career because you know, the last two years has just been such a grind to stay in the sport, you know, not having a sponsor,” Gaulding told POPULAR SPEED.
Just having the ability to have one consistent ride has been welcomed for the 21-year-old, saying that it means everything.
“The pressure of me not being in a car and having to do all this other stuff, me and Patrick (Donahue, crew chief) are actually able to sit down and work on our cars and get better because we, this small group, is all we got,” Gaulding said. “We make sure we’re all on the same page and we all come to the track and do our jobs.”
He is not taking the opportunity lightly though, providing solid season so far with 12 top-20’s in 14 races, and currently sits one spot outside of the playoffs.
“I love being the underdog, but I feel like the beginning of the year compared to now, people know we’re going to show up and be fast and do the best we can,” Gaulding said. “The results have been great. I mean, we’re one spot out of the playoffs, and the guy in front of us is a Joe Gibbs car, so that’s, I feel like that’s pretty solid so far.”
The highlight of the year by far though for the No. 08 team was at Talladega Superspeedway, where they started eighth and came home with a second-place finish. A performance that had team owner, Bobby Dotter, in tears.
The day at ‘Dega was not the only strong performance for the team though, with Gaulding competing inside the top-10 all day at Iowa Speedway, before running out of tires late and falling back to a 14th place finish.
“Iowa was just a solid day,” Gaulding said. “We ran in front of some Gibbs cars and just was up there, you know, up there all day long. That’s what we need to do. But a lot of things got to go our way too. We got to make sure we, our pit stops are good. Patrick’s been making great calls lately, and I feel like I’ve been doing a great job, me and my spotter, working traffic and not really getting stuff in our head. We know what our job is, and we just got to go do it.”
However, despite the success, there is still struggles the Virginia-native faces on a weekly basis.
“It’s still a grind,” Gaulding said. “A lot of people don’t know this, but I mean I’m out during the week and doing events. Shaking hands, kissing babies, doing whatever I can to get sponsors to come on board.”
Sponsors have been a struggle for the No. 08 team, so much so that Gaulding took it upon himself to ask the fans for by launching sponsorgray.com, where anyone can go to the site and donate money to fund the team.
“From, just from the fan support and even some of my peers in racing, it just shows that you know, at the end of the day, if you’re going through a rough time, I mean, what better deal than to go to the people that care about you the most,” Gaulding said. “Your race fans, your friends, your family, and the people in the sport that are our friends. We actually got a few sponsors off the deal.”
This experience, along with teams he has worked with the past, has opened Gaulding up to the not-so-glamorous side of the sport.
“A lot of people look at NASCAR drivers, NASCAR teams, we got all the money, we show up, we laugh, we smile, we go home, we race and we go home, but for our team and myself, that’s not how it works,” Gaulding said. “We grind for every opportunity, every sponsor, and we appreciate the ones that do support us.”
Despite the hills to climb, Gaulding believes in his team’s ability and has set a standard that he hopes to attain.
“I think the goal this year is just keep building on what we got working, but also, I looked at the schedule a couple of days ago and the tracks that are coming up, probably the next 10 tracks, I don’t think I could have picked a better 10 tracks coming up for me,” Gaulding said. “From Bristol, the road courses, Kentucky, and Daytona next week. I mean all those tracks are right up my alley, especially the road races.”
He isn’t counting himself out of the playoffs either, as despite the strong competition surrounding him, he still believes in his ability to make the 12-driver field.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you probably saw the 08 and this team in the playoffs,” Gaulding said. “That’s what we’re shooting for. We’re one spot out, and we’re going to give them hell at Daytona and do the best we can for the rest of the year.”
Gaulding currently sits 13th in points, 81 points outside the cutoff.
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