DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A whole lot of new turned into a whole lot of fun for Kaz Grala on Saturday during the NASCAR XFINITY Series season-opener at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
Driving in a new series, with a new team and a new manufacturer, Grala survived a five-overtime epic and dodged crash after crash to score a fourth-place finish in the PowerShares QQQ 300, taking home a top-five finish in his series debut.
Though it wasn’t a win like Grala experienced during his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut a year ago — when he came through a crash on the backstretch to go from seventh to first on the final lap — the 19-year-old from Massachusetts pretty much chalked it up like he took home the trophy anyways.
“The win last year in the truck was obviously really cool and a lot of fun, but this might be the most satisfying race I’ve ever been a part of before,” admitted Grala after the race. “I’m not going to lie, we didn’t have the speed we were hoping for. We only qualified 29th, but we were able to play our strategy well in the race.”
“My crew chief Shane Wilson and spotter Chris Lambert did an amazing job getting us up in position, and plate racing … there’s a little luck involved for sure, but I really think you can strategically position your car to be safe, and we were able to be on the right end of that today and be in contention at the end.”
Grala somehow snuck through an 18-car pileup on the backstretch during the first overtime attempt to move into the top 10, using the subsequent tries to finish the race methodically picking off car after car from there.
“I really wish I had an onboard camera for that, because that’s probably the coolest view anyone has had from a NASCAR vehicle before,” Grala joked. “Last year was pretty cool in the truck on the last lap, but this topped it for sure. We had to be five or six wide down the backstretch … there was smoke everywhere, there were cars spinning, and we couldn’t have made it through by more than an inch on all four sides of the car. That was a wild one, but that was really our make or break moment, because we were able to position the car to make it through that without a scratch on it.”
“That allowed us to really fight and be in contention there. I think we got up to eighth or 10th and we worked our way up even further into the top five and grabbed fourth at the finish. It was a lot of fun. It was wild, but it was fun.”
Many teams were getting close on fuel at the finish, with 23 extra laps of racing not in the plans, and Grala was no exception.
“I was beginning to think I might run out of fuel, but I can’t say that it was frustrating because if you had told me going into my first Xfinity race I’d be in contention in the top five, I’d have thought you were crazy,”he said. “Running up there in the hunt for the win was unbelievably fun, and I think my adrenaline was at an all‑time high. If they threw another three restarts at me, I was going to be ready for them, whatever it took.”
Leaving Daytona, Grala said Saturday’s race wasn’t just a statement for him — it was a huge shot in the arm for one of the XFINITY Series’ underdog teams as well.
“This is huge for us. It’s huge for morale, but it’s huge for points, as well. You can come out of Daytona in a pretty bleak position in points, so it’s great to be able to be in this position rather than on the other end of it.”
“I think this is really going to set the tone for our whole season. It’s huge for us as an organization. Today was a lot of fun and it’s going to be a fun 33 races this year.”
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 24-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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